NSights Blog

Getting real about the realities of sexual assault

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Learn about what you can do to help yourself and others.

It is not uncommon for the first words that a person thinks of when hearing terms like sexual assault and rape to be: Violent, stranger, forced, and aggressive. There may even be an image that comes to someone's mind about the attacker and the location of where it occurs. Perhaps in a dark alley with the attacker jumping out from behind a dumpster looking disheveled and scary.  These situations do occur and it is imperative to give care, kindness, and respect to those impacted by crimes of this nature and to hold the attacker accountable for their actions. It is also known that these scenarios most commonly play out in movies and TV shows, which can lead to confusion for a survivor of assault when their experience does not match what has been represented in media so prevalently. The realities are that a majority of sexual assaults occur between two people who know each other and do not involve a weapon. Rainn.org reports that seven out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim with only 11 percent of assaults involving a weapon.

We also know that sexual assault in college, and elsewhere, isn't a case of "poor communication" or "misreading the signals." It is a conscious choice from the perpetrator to violate another person at the deepest level. The White House reported that one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college. The numbers are too large to ignore and they require our immediate action and dedication to ensure that all students can receive an education and have a memorable college experience without being impacted by violence. One way that the University of Nevada, Reno is working to combat this issue is through a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). Through this grant there has been targeted outreach to first responders and faculty and staff so that they are more familiar with the ways to assist students who report crimes such as sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking. In the event that a student is impacted by violence, it is vital that the student receive proper care (whether that be physical, emotional, or a combination), that their decisions are respected, and that they are treated with the upmost respect, kindness, and understanding. However, training people how to respond to violence just isn't enough. We need to combat a culture that perpetuates and condones violence so that we can eliminate it from happening in the first place. This is where you come in -- The Bystander.

Ending violence may seem like a daunting and unattainable task. How can I stop sexual assault? That is a question I asked myself for many years. I thought, "I am only one person and this problem is so much bigger than me. What impact can I really have?"

I have also heard from others:

"I don't commit these crimes so I am doing my part!"

"Of course I think this is wrong but what can I do?"

"I will probably just make it worse."

"I haven't ever been a victim, so how can I actually help?"

Do any of those sound familiar?

The best news is that together we can make a difference. Most people are good, kind, and caring and they agree that violence towards anyone is not OK. The reality is that most of those good, kind, caring people will witness violence happening or see things that could lead to violence and they choose not to do anything about it. There is no neutral in this area. Either the choice is made to do nothing or do something ... I am promoting the latter. What if we all made the choice today to do something to stop violence?

Another great piece of news is that through the OVW grant we will be bringing the comprehensive, research-based bystander intervention training Green Dot to our campus community on May 30-June 2. This free, four-day institute is available to all faculty and staff to attend and learn more about being an active bystander as well as become a certified Green Dot instructor. The University will be implementing the Green Dot program for the students in the fall of 2017. By moving our focus to bystander intervention we are encouraging students to speak up and stand up for others we will see a reduction in violence with the end dream of ending violence completely. I know that might sound impossible, but remember that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn't say "I have a great body of research" he said, "I have a dream" and so do I. I can't do this alone though. If this dream is to come true we all need to come together and show that this issue is important and that is deserves our attention, because it does.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and there will be several events on campus to mark the significance of coming together in this important issue that impacts too many lives. As the month ends and we move throughout the year, please treat each month with the same urgency and importance as April. When you see something, say something. Let that co-worker know that those comments aren't OK with you. Ask that student in your class if they are OK if you see them arguing with their partner outside of the classroom. Organize a training for your department on these topics. Learn about the resources available to students who have been impacted by violence. The Green Dot motto is: No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something. We all have a seat at the table in ending violence. I hope you pull up a chair and join me.

Register and find more information about Green Dot here.

To learn more about ways to get involved, getting resources, scheduling a training/workshop for your department, and more please contact Justine Hernandez at jhernandez@casat.org

Justine Hernandez head shot