Western honors sexual assault awareness month

Catherine Melvin

It affects most young adults in the 16 to 24 age group and most college-age students are not aware that it does. It is sexual assault.

Kentucky has designated March as sexual assault awareness month. And 10 events will be held on campus and in Bowling Green to educate people about sexual assault and abuse, promote the awareness of it, offer advice and counseling to people who have been a victim and shed some light on the misconceptions about rape.

Three events have already been held to recognize the month. The next event, called Take Back the Night, will be at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Capitol Arts Center downtown. Take Back the Night will provide a chance for survivors of sexual assault and abuse to talk about their experience.

Each Tuesday in March will be filled with activities for students to come and show their support for survivors of these crimes. Each day will also be a chance for any victims to talk about their experiences.

Bobbie Jo Wathen, Rodes-Harlin Hall assistant hall director is the coordinator for the campus events.

“It is important to heighten awareness and let people know that it happens on campus, in the community and in homes,” Wathen said. “We hope to get people comfortable enough to talk about it. Lots of people don’t want to talk about it because it is about sex, but it’s not, it is about power and control.”

One in three females and one in seven males will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, and in Kentucky one in nine adult women have been forcibly raped, said Misti Johnson, director of crisis intervention at Hope Harbor .

“This is about getting college kids aware that it can happen to them,” Johnson said. “College students think that they are invincible, but they are not.”

Students and community members will be able to show their support for the survivors of these violent crimes by signing teal ribbons and contributing the ribbons to The Circle of Hope, a display of autographed ribbons dedicated to victims.

They can also decorate t-shirts of a specific color that designates either child abuse, domestic abuse or sexual abuse. They can then hang the T-shirts on a clothesline in Downing University Center.

“The month is really about celebrating the survivors,” Wathen said. “If you are a victim and you get to the point of coping with what happened to you, then you become a survivor.”

Another focus of SAAM is to educate students on some techniques to prevent sexual assault from happening to them. Wathen said sexual assault happens to people when they think they are the safest, and most rape victims know their attacker.

“It is important for individuals to learn about what they can do to reduce the risk of this happening to them,” Johnson said. “It affects so many college students, and once it happens the moment may be over but the effects can be long-lasting.”

People who do not come forward after being sexually abused or assaulted keep quiet in fear of retaliation of their attacker, judgments of their friends or family and some blame themselves for what happened, Wathen said.

“After the act happens, people want to be done with it and not deal with all of the extra emotion that goes with it,” Wathen said.

After the 10 events have taken place, organizers hope education of sexual assault will increase.

“I hope that we can help decrease some of the stigma surrounding rape,” Johnson said. “Rape is a problem we can talk about and we want people to be aware of the resources in the community that can help them cope with it.”

Hope Harbor offers a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual assault and abuse. The office phone number is 782-5014 and the hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE.

Reach Catherine Melvin at [email protected]