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April brings local and national efforts for sexual violence awareness

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Kimberly Bartner

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Jasmin Enriquez said she vividly remembers falling asleep with all her clothes on.

It was an exceptionally cold night in the fall of her freshman year, when she decided to stay the night with her male friend. Enriquez said they had been “basically dating,” constantly texting each other for a month and a half and hanging out after meeting at an apartment party earlier in the semester.

Enriquez said she also remembers him giving her drinks that night before she went to sleep next to him, but she trusted him. She said he was older, he knew the ropes of college and he cared about her.

“I woke up and my boots were off and my underwear and pants were at my ankles,” Enriquez said.

She said he was having sex with her while she was asleep, and after realizing what was happening and forcing him to stop, Enriquez turned over and went back to sleep because she didn’t know what else to do. She said she was “terrified.”

“I knew something wrong had happened, but I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t know how to deal with it either,” she said.

Before coming to Penn State, Enriquez (senior-communications, arts and sciences) said she had never thought about sexual violence, adding that she imagines other students rarely think about it either. But Enriquez, along with other students and professionals, agrees sexual violence is a problem both on college campuses and nationwide.

Enriquez said there has to be a change in the way sexual assault is addressed. In 2011, she came up with the idea for Sexual Violence Awareness Week. This Saturday marks the beginning of the second Sexual Violence Awareness Week — an effort hosted by Penn State organizations and the University Park Undergraduate Association to educate students about sexual violence. The week runs in tandem with national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, held every April.

Sexual violence, as defined by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, is any type of unwanted sexual contact including rape and sexual assault, Kristen Houser , PCAR vice president of communications and development, said. Rape involves penetration without consent, according to the National Institute of Justice , while sexual assault covers a wide range of unwanted behaviors made against a person’s will and without his or her consent, but does not include penetration.

Abby Yochum , a member of Peers Helping Reaffirm, Educate and Empower at Penn State, said a common misconception among students is that these sort of sexual scenarios do not happen, but that this is not true.

“People are often reluctant to think of sexual assault and how much it occurs and where it occurs, which is on our campus by regular students just like us,” said Yochum (senior-security and risk analysis), who is also the PHREE student leader for Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

An estimated 20 to 25 percent of college women will experience completed or attempted rape over an average five-year college career, according to a 2010 Fact Sheet from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Houser said one in four women and one in six men experience a sexual assault before the age of 18. Offenders start in adolescence, she said, and will bring those behaviors with them to college, where common scenarios present “opportunities for an offender to exploit.”

Because college presents more access to alcohol and drugs, Houser said people assume alcohol or a miscommunication caused rape. But Houser said this is not true.

“Rape is not a result of miscommunication,” Houser said. “It is a result of somebody deciding that they are going to sexually penetrate another person whether they like it or not. You do not penetrate by accident.”

Houser said another miscommunication about sexual violence and rape, in particular, is that it is committed by a stranger.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center 2010 fact sheet, among college women, nine out of 10 students sexually assaulted and raped knew their assailants.

“I think people assume rapists are these scary, creepy guys, but they’re the guy next door,” Yochum said. “They’re all these different men that you would never expect.”

Enriquez said her experience with sexual violence proves that stranger rape is not the only type of rape that exists. She said people are “raised to think that if he will rape you, it will happen the first time he meets you.” But Enriquez said she knew the man who raped her for almost a month and a half before the incident.

Enriquez said she did not seek support right away because she was “embarrassed.”

“It hurt all the time, and I kept having flashbacks [of what happened], but I never recognized it [as rape],” she said.

At Penn State, the Center for Women Students offers a list of medical, legal and emotional resources on its website for students who have experienced sexual violence. According to the website, the university will pay for basic rape-related care at Mount Nittany Medical Center, the General Medicine Department and the Women’s Health Department at University Health Services.

Counseling and Psychological Services provides students with licensed psychologists and counselors, and a Sexual Assault Committee creates policy and provides information and assistance to students, according to the website.

The website also states there is a Policy Statement on Sexual Misconduct and Abuse in the Code of Conduct to let students know that Penn State does not tolerate that behavior.

PHREE is one of a few peer education organizations that help educate and promote awareness of sexual violence to students. Men Against Violence works to oppose violence against women by advocating for healthy masculinity, according to the Center for Women Students website.

The University of Michigan takes a comprehensive approach to sexual assault on campus with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center , director of the center Holly Rider-Milkovich said.

The center provides 24/7 crisis intervention and support for students who have experienced sexual misconduct and offers outreach to dormitories and hospitals when students need support.

Rider-Milkovich said prevention is “taken very seriously” at Michigan and that “having fewer victims down the road is what we are really aiming for.”

All first-year students at Michigan are required to participate in a program aimed at educating students about sexual misconduct and societal norms as they enter college. Students pick from 120 workshops offered by the university and complete a three-hour education course called Community Matters.

Rider-Milkovich said these programs began to help to set community norms and to send a message to students about acceptable behavior and the expectations along with that. One of those expectations, she said, is that students seek and receive “positive, affirmative and sober consent before sex.”

Michigan offers specialized programs with student volunteers to reinforce these messages because, as Rider-Milkovich put it, “peers listen to peers best.”

“We really want knowledgeable, well-trained and experienced students with a passion for this work to be the voice of this project,” Rider-Milkovich said.

Enriquez said one of the reasons that she chooses to be open about her experience with sexual violence is because it allows others to be open as well.

“The more I come out about it, the more people tell me about their experiences, and the more people tell me about their experiences, the more I tell about my experience,” Enriquez said. “It makes me sick how many people I know, [which is] a vast majority of the women I know, who have been sexually assaulted.”

When Enriquez first started planning Sexual Violence Awareness Week in 2011, she reached out to UPUA members to let them know sexual violence is a problem. She said that at the time it was “disappointing that our student leaders [weren’t] doing something about it.”

Initially, UPUA said it would pay a small amount to support the week of events, Enriquez said. But in 2012, UPUA agreed to sponsor the week with more money, and the first Sexual Violence Awareness Week was held.

This year, UPUA will sponsor the week with more than $26,000, Enriquez said.

UPUA on-campus representative Caleb Fernandez, one of the writers for the legislation, said he wanted to make the week of events something people look forward to every year and will help students learn “sexual violence is no joke,” as previously reported.

A lot of that money will be used for “Only Do It With Consent” neon T-shirts, which Enriquez said will bring “social change.” The T-shirts, she said, act as a reminder to people that there is a message, rather than just being T-shirts.

Yochum said both men and women need to be educated on what sexual violence is. Yochum said students are now in a “cultural age where we are finally telling men not to rape,” rather than telling women how not to get raped.

She said she hopes the week will teach students about bystander intervention, which is when people are in situations where they can stop sexual violence.

Houser said there has been better awareness and prevention for sexual violence in recent years. She said there is less of a stigma attached to rape and more people are reporting, but there is still more to do.

“There is a difference between preventing rape and avoiding rape,” Houser said. “Preventing means no one will commit it because we are intervening early, while avoiding rape means someone is going to do it, it’s just not going to happen to me. Avoiding works only one person at a time, while preventing works for everyone.”

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Kimberly Bartner

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