Recently, a new friend confided in me that her daughter was suffering from PTSD related to a brutal sexual assault last school year. In speaking with my new friend, I could see how very devastated she, her daughter, and the rest of the family are. They are working together to heal and support their daughter and one another. Since the assault, they have learned a tremendous amount about sexual assault on school campuses and what can be done to prevent and heal from them.
To help our communities, this month, we’re using our platform to support the Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign. Observed every April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a movement led by survivors and advocates who focus on sexual violence prevention efforts and education.
To increase awareness, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)’s theme for this year’s SAAM is engaging new voices. By using our platform to address this serious issue, our goal is to shed light on school and campus sexual assault and hopefully inspire others to join the movement.
“Sexual assault victimization, defined as any form of unwanted sexual contact obtained through violent or nonviolent means (U.S. Department of Justice 2008).
According to The United States Department of Justice, “being a victim of sexual assault, especially rape, can negatively impact a student’s mental and physical health and academic outcomes.” Students who are victims of sexual assault and dating violence may experience depression, anxiety, academic failure and are at a higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, domestic violence (DOJ, Love is Respect). Further, the DOJ notes that “In a campus environment, students who are victimized by other students face unique challenges, such as close proximity to perpetrators and difficulty maintaining anonymity.” As a result, the majority of rape incidents on campuses go unreported (DOJ).
Sexual assault is a serious issue at college and university campuses, but what may be surprising to some, is that high schools and middle schools face similar challenges. Like college and universities, high schools and middle schools also struggle with addressing sexual assault. A lack of awareness, training, and policies are all contributing factors. Schools must decide how to address abusive behavior, protect victims, and ensure the safety of all students.
Steps Schools Can Take
Congress notes that “schools can play an important role in providing students with a knowledge base that may allow students to make informed decisions and form a healthy lifestyle.” Education, as form of prevention, can then help students avoid engaging in unsafe dating practices, including sexual assault.
Because the safety of a school environment is tied to a student’s academic success, it is important that schools are informed, educated, and ready to respond to problems such as sexual assault. To address sexual assault, schools can:
- Identify the scope of the problem through campus climate surveys
- Establish or enforce sexual misconduct policies, highlighting comprehensive and sustainable strategies to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including attempted sexual assault
- Invest time and money in prevention, education, and training
- Educate and engage all students regardless of gender
- Provide support services and respond effectively when a student is assaulted
- Improve transparency within the school community, focusing on communicating these kinds of safety issues while respecting survivor confidentiality
- Seek community partnerships
What to do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted
Your safety is important. If possible, get to a safe place away from the assailant. Consider reaching out to someone your trust for support and guidance. You don’t have to go through this alone. The National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) will connect you with a trained staff member, from a local sexual assault service provider, who will walk you through getting support at your own pace. Together, you can discuss options, including medical care and/or reporting to law enforcement. Other supportive services may include speaking to your school counselor or your school or campus’ health or sexual assault center. If you decide to report sexual assault, you can call 911, contact your local police department, or let a medical professional know you wish to report a crime when being treated for sexual assault injuries. Whatever decision you choose, remember that you do not have to go through this alone. There is a large community of sexual assault survivors and advocates willing to help you through this.
Resources for Schools, Students, and Parents