Staff Editorial: Opening up a conversation on sexual assault in campus groups

Sexual violence is pervasive on college campuses, and the statistics are jarring: One in four of your female classmates will be sexually assaulted during the course of their college career.

With rush and recruitment starting up across campus this week, current and aspiring Greek life members need to hear the numbers – and jump on board with fighting back against sexual assault.

And now is the time. The first six to eight weeks of the academic year are known as the “red zone,” a time when instances of sexual assault run high, Deputy Title IX Director Tara Pereira told The Hatchet.

But GW-run training sessions, awareness campaigns and help websites can’t make all the difference. We need a more open and frank discussion about sexual assault in Greek chapters – one that encourages reporting and coming forward, and one that makes sexual assault an unforgivable sin.

A strategy that makes sense

To start, the University is focusing sexual assault education on three populations: Greek life members, athletes and freshmen. It only makes sense that the University makes an effort to educate student groups in which sexual assault is most common, and typically involves alcohol.

Is this more unfair targeting by GW administrators? No.

In fact, the University is right to tailor their support to the groups that need it the most.

At the beginning of last school year, four instances of sexual assault were reported in two weeks. Two of these reportedly occurred in Greek townhouses. And there have been other reported instances of sexual assaults in Greek housing in March and April.

Eighty-four percent of women reporting sexually coercive experiences said the incident occurred during their first two years at college, according to An Examination of Sexual Violence Against College Women.

The most shocking element is that the number of people who report instances of sexual assault is frighteningly low. Despite high numbers of sexual assaults, the number of reports at GW was a mere 11 in 2010 and 16 in 2011, according to the Department of Education.

In a somewhat insulated community like GW’s, victims run the risk of encountering their perpetrator in future social situations, decreasing the chances they will report the crime if the options to seek help are not abundantly clear.

It seems imperative, then, that student groups where sexual violence is pervasive become the focal point of educational resources.

Between outreach efforts to freshmen, athletic groups and Greek organizations, administrators will educate nearly half of the student body. It is an effective and convenient way to reach a large population of students in a short period of time.

A student responsibility

The effort shouldn’t stop with University administrators lecturing at students. In fact, the problem won’t be solved with administrative intervention alone. For instances of sexual assault to decrease on campus, students must play an active role in the education process.

Members of Greek groups, athletic organizations and the freshman class shouldn’t think that their work is done once administrative information sessions are finished. Instead, University efforts should be the building blocks for meaningful and candid discussions about how to prevent the spread of sexual violence.

Students involved in these organizations should feel that they are in a safe place where honest conversation can occur – because right now, that is not always the case.

It would help GW’s cause if student leaders who are passionate and well-versed on the issue to get involved as well. Members of Students Against Sexual Assault and Men of Strength would help in the University’s education campaign, as students typically are more responsive to advice from their peers than from University leaders.

The University’s efforts, then, should be a call for student groups to openly discuss the issue and come up with means of prevention, instead of viewing the subject as an unspeakable taboo.

Remaining tacitly silent allows this serious problem to persist.

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