Breaking the stigma of sexual assault – or at least trying to

By Alicia Adams
Staff Writer

The University of West Florida is making strides in the fight against sexual assault, but that doesn’t mean the world has changed.

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and has been designated so since 2001. The president of the United States proclaimed it on April 1, and officials from cities across the country are committing themselves to the prevention of sexual violence.

Each year since 2000, UWF Wellness Services has held Take Back the Night (TBTN), an international event intended to educate, protest and bring awareness to sexual violence, according to the website.

This year, TBTN was held on Thursday in the Field House. The event included information fair, promoting campus and community resources, and ended with a campus march. According to the website, more than 500 students have attended each year.

Another resource the university offers is R.A.D. classes, coordinated by the UWF police department, which is coming up this weekend, on April 8 and 9. R.A.D. stands for Rape Aggression Defense and is geared toward female students, faculty, staff and even members of the community. The cost is $15 for your first class; however, you may attend any additional courses in the United States or Canada for free. As of right now, there is not a class geared specifically for men, but the R.A.D. program does offer a course on how to handle aggressive behavior for men and women. To sign up for this weekend’s class, call or email the UWF Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit at 474-3274 or crimeprevention@uwf.edu.

Although UWF administrators – along with college campuses across the nation – are working to advocate against sexual abuse, it is still a real and serious social issue that has not gone away.

Here are some statistics, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN):

  • Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
  • The majority of victims are under 30, with 54 percent being between 18 and 34.
  • One out of every six women has been a victim of sexual violence.
  • 82 percent of juvenile victims are female.
  • 90 percent of adult victims are female.
  • Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely to be assaulted than the general population, and college females ages 18-24 are three times more likely.

Although it is true that males also are affected by sexual violence, the statistics aren’t as high, according to RAINN:

  • College males ages 18-24 are five times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than non-students.
  • 1 in 33 men has experienced sexual violence.
  • 1 out of every 10 rape victims is male.

No matter the age or gender, sexual abuse happens and has long-term effects on its victims. Survivors are far more likely to experience PTSD, contemplate suicide, use drugs, have problems with work or school, have trust issues, and more, according to RAINN.

When survivors of sexual violence are told they are overreacting, lying or that they were “asking for it” (as was the case on our own UWF Students Facebook page just this week; see screen shots), victims are far less likely to report the crime. (The offensive comments were deleted by an administrator.)

Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 rapists will walk free. Out of that same thousand, 310 rapes go unreported; 57 reports lead to an arrest; 11 cases get referred to prosecutors; seven will lead to a felony conviction; and only six rapists will be incarcerated.

Six rapists are held responsible for their actions. Out of 1,000.

Sexual violence goes unreported so often because victims fear retaliation (20 percent) or they believe the police won’t do anything to help (13 percent), according to RAINN. This is because they are told that they wore “sexually welcoming attire,” consumed alcohol or drugs, or fabricated the story because they felt guilty. According to society, if women would just stay quiet in their homes, they wouldn’t get raped. Society says that rape can’t be that big of a deal on college campuses, because there aren’t any “ominous, dark alleys.”

Although UWF is taking part in the fight against these senseless acts, it’s still happening right here on campus, as well as worldwide, and the stigma is still there.

The problem is still evident, and close to home. Originally, this article was meant to be a source of information about the R.A.D class and similar programs; however, while searching for sources, I came across some disturbing evidence on the UWF Students Facebook page proving that the stigma against sexual assault is prevalent today. People who believe sexual assault isn’t a serious matter, and that women in some cases deserve it, still exist. They go to school with you.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, there are many resources to help – here are a few:

  • Crisis counseling at Wellness Services on campus (Building 960, or call 474-2420 after hours to talk to a counselor)
  • Lakeview Center — Trauma Recovery Program, Pensacola (850-494-5656)
  • RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline, accessible 24/7 (800-656-HOPE)
  • Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program at NAS Pensacola (850-293-4561)