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A stifiling stigma

RECENTLY the University introduced a new program toencourage victims of sexual assaults to report any occurrences of sexual violence. The Survivor Support Network, which debuted earlier this month, brings professors, administrators and graduate students together to create a network to encourage students who were sexually assaulted to overcome the stigma that exists and, in turn, encourages them to seek help.

These efforts to increase the resources available to the victims of sexual assault are certainly necessary and a move in the right direction. However, an unacceptable stigma still exists that causes many sexual assaults to go unreported at the University. In order to help change this, the University should do more to educate the entire student body about the true nature of sexual assault and help remove the stigma that is entrenched in our society. Each one of us also plays a role by working to together to condemn sexual assault and get rid of the stigma that is associated with it.

According to Claire Kaplan, director of sexual and domestic violence services at the University's Women's Center, "the stigma is not just at the University. It is rooted in our culture and it is difficult to overcome." Kaplan says victims of sexual assault are often blamed for what happened to them because there is a false perception that the victim could have avoided it, which causes many sexual assaults to go unreported.

The number of reported sexual assaults at the University is certainly far lower than the actual number of incidents. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), only 41 percent of sexual assaults are reported nationally while the majority goes unreported. In the 2006-2007 academic year, the University only investigated three reports of sexual assault while, presumably, many more went unreported.

As a result, many of the perpetrators of sexual violence remain free to possibly assault again. Many victims also do not come forward to seek help. As Kaplan said, "victims have trouble dealing with sexual assault and it derails their lives." Seeking help is crucial to ensure that the victims of sexual assault begin to recover from the trauma they have endured. In order to encourage greater reporting of sexual assault, more has to be done to remove the social stigma that still surrounds sexual assault.

The University currently has several programs to help educate the student body about sexual assault. Sexual Assault Peer Advocacy makes presentations to fraternities, sports teams and other organizations about the various aspects of sexual assault. The group One in Four makes similar presentations, but is composed of men and makes presentations to mostly male audiences.

These groups certainly do a great job of educating students at the University about sexual assault. However, to be effective, the sexual assault education program must be mandatory for all students.

Certain groups, such as fraternities, are required to have some sort of sexual assault education, but large numbers of students pass through their four years at the University without receiving any sort of instruction. Kaplan suggested that a mandatory sexual assault education occur during orientation before students enter the University because "...timing is important to teach people... someone can get raped their first day at the University." This mandatory sexual assault education during orientation should also include the students' parents to instill early on that sexual assault is not acceptable and that help is readily available.

Educating students about sexual assault at orientation is just the beginning of the process. There should be a constant process of awareness and advocacy about sexual assault at the University. Each one of us can take the initiative to educate our peers and to report suspicious behavior to make sure that sexual assaults do not go unreported. We should come together as a community to say that sexual assault is not acceptable and that we will not tolerate it.

The problems associated with sexual assault can only be overcome if we support victims and punish perpetrators. As Pat Cronin, President of One in Four, put it, "the stigma associated with reporting cases of sexual assault and rape, cannot be resolved with a few token programs or solutions -- it takes all of us."

Sam Shirazi is a Cavalier Daily associate editor. He can be reached at sshirazi@cavalierdaily.com.

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