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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

By Pam Moore, student, SUNY Empire State College

April 7, 2016

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and while sexual violence can be an uncomfortable subject, Kelly B., a psychology student at Empire State College, has stepped out of her comfort zone to address several university and college forums about suffering through multiple sexual assaults and enduring the horrors of sex trafficking.  Kelly’s rapt audiences are often stunned as she recalls years of childhood neglect, domestic violence, homelessness and recovery from drugs and alcohol. Sharing these sensitive episodes in her life is emotionally draining, yet also fuels her passionate mission to ensure victims know that sexual assault is never their fault and that they are never alone. 

Kelly’s tale reinforces the message that, aside from the proverbial “stranger in a dark alley,” a rapist can be a friend, relative, roommate, tutor, teacher, co-worker, husband, boyfriend, or someone you just met.  She adamantly reiterates that regardless of drinking, drug use, flirting, clothing, or even if consent was actually given at one point, any violation of your body past the word “no” becomes a sexual assault. This belief is echoed in Empire State College’s Sexual Violence Prevention Policy. 

While there are great educational materials providing personal safety hints, rape hotline numbers or information about outreach programs available, Kelly notes that in those traumatic moments, many victims lose sight of what to do, where to go or whom to call following an assault. Although it may seem difficult at the time, calling 911, filing a police report, reporting to Empire State College’s Title IX coordinator and campus safety are initial steps a victim should consider. Stressing that the post-assault process needs should be addressed by prevention educators as well, she points out how vitally important it is that a victim understands his or her options and goes directly to a hospital, not wash his or her clothes, takes a shower or even brushes his or her teeth, so that evidence can be collected by trained professionals. Following an assault, hospitals, survivor groups and even Empire State College’s Title IX coordinator can help identify and/or provide multiple resources, including access to mental-health professionals, social workers, advocates and supportive crisis services to help with recovery. 

Kelly acknowledges that many assault victims often worry they will be stigmatized in their community or ostracized at their school. They might also be concerned about retribution for reporting and often internalize the event, believing their own behavior, drugs or alcohol use contributed to the assault.These fears often lead to assaults not being reported to proper authorities and victims not getting the appropriate help they so desperately need. Empire State College acknowledges these concerns in its policy on sexual violence prevention and states that those reporting such incidents, regardless of personal drug or alcohol use at the time of an assault, will not be subject to violations of the school’s code of conduct. Additionally, every student at Empire State College is covered under the Students’ Bill of Rights that includes a wide range of rights to ensure that, as survivors return to school, they are treated with dignity and without pressure or prejudice from the school. 

Students are urged to visit Empire State College’s website about the Affirmative Action Office to learn more about the policy on sexual violence prevention, the Students’ Bill of Rights, how to report sexual violence/harassment and where to get help, if you’ve been a victim of those crimes.

For more information about the prevention of domestic violence, please visit New York State OPDV.

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Did You Know

Five students at Empire State College were recently selected to receive the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

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