Working toward a campus free of sexual assault

When people think of sexual assault, their first thought may be rape—but rape is only one form of sexual assault. 

Sexual assault can describe unwanted or coerced sexual touching and fondling, requests for sexual favors, stalking, sexual comments or intimate partner violence. If any behavior of a sexual nature makes a student uncomfortable, students are encouraged to speak up about it. 

One in four female students pursuing their undergraduate will experience sexual assault. Female students aged 18-24 are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than women of other age groups. Male students aged 18-24 are 78% more likely to be a victim of sexual assault compared to their non-student counterparts. 

SUU is not exempt from national trends. In 2019 and 2020, there were three reports of rape, 13 reports of fondling and 16 reports of stalking. 

These numbers do not necessarily reflect the problem because universities only report crimes that occur on campus and other university-owned properties. Places like off-campus housing are not shown on an annual crime report.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, it’s estimated that only 20% of victims of sexual assault will report it to the police. 

Feelings of fear and disgust can drown sexual assault victims, but no one deserves to deal with their abuse alone—that is why SUU offers several resources a student can turn to, especially when they need to report an assault. Every educational institution has a responsibility to respond to sexual misconduct promptly and effectively.

SUU’s Title IX office is committed to making campus a welcoming space for everyone to learn, grow and develop. Every student deserves to pursue their education in a safe environment. If a student files a report, they get to decide how far the investigation goes. Title IX can conduct screening procedures, impose sanctions or pursue criminal charges. 

SUU wholeheartedly supports any students who have been affected by sexual misconduct, which can be emotionally and mentally damaging, causing students to fear places they used to love. 

The Southern Utah University Police Department has a significant role in addressing and responding to cases of college sexual assault. They offer prevention training programs on topics including awareness of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. They also provide a Safe Passage Escort Service students can use to be accompanied by a police officer anywhere on campus. This service is available upon request every hour, every day of the week. 

Students should also be aware of their surroundings when walking around town or campus, especially after dark. If a student gets a bad feeling walking around campus, they should never hesitate to call a friend or request escort service from SUUPD.

Title IX and SUUPD meet monthly to ensure crime reports are accurate. Faculty work to develop reduction campaigns and personal safety programs to promote advocacy, increase awareness and prevent sexual assault. 

Students can also go to Counseling and Psychological Services, where they offer individual and group therapy. Therapy can provide a safe space and give students coping mechanisms to handle their changing environments. CAPS also provides counseling for couples who have any relationship or familial concerns. 

The CAPS website provides links for dealing with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-esteem, sleep and stress—which are common issues after being sexually assaulted.

Other resources include the SUU Allies on Campus, SUU Wellness Center, Canyon Creek Services, Cedar City Hospital, Planned Parenthood and the SUU Dean of Students, Heather Ogden.

A student can confide any information to these resources. All faculty want a community where sexual misconduct is not tolerated and to do their best to assist students in any way.

Nonetheless, reporting abuse and sexual assault is not as easy as it seems. Victims often fear that no one will believe what happened or think it was just a misunderstanding, but every student who experiences sexual assault deserves to tell their story so healing can begin.

If an encounter of a sexual nature explicitly or implicitly affects employment, daily living, or academic performance, it would be worthwhile to take a friend’s hand and talk to someone trustworthy. 

Instead of saying, “What’s wrong with me?” it is time to ask, “What happened to me?”

The solutions to reducing sexual assault are just as complex as the problem. Students should take up safety planning before they get to college.

One concern is establishing consent. Consent is about communication. There should be a conversation whenever sexual contact increases or changes. A ‘yes’ can always become a ‘no’ later. Consent is never something owed to a person, nor does it require an explanation when it isn’t granted. If consent is not explicit, do not assume it has been given.

Perpetrators often use tactics like guilt or intimidation to coerce their victims. It is okay to tell a “white lie” if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Know escape routes for places you frequent. Having code words with roommates and friends can help students get out of sticky situations. Every student deserves to have their boundaries respected.

Reducing sexual assault rates at SUU should not be just the efforts of the faculty and administration. SUU is willing to start difficult conversations about sexual misconduct, but ultimately it is up to students to get involved and share important information. 

A student does not have to be a hero or even stand out from the crowd, but individual actions matter. Every student should promote social norms that protect against sexual violence and use strategies like direct, distract and delegate if sexual assault is witnessed in public. 

Some students may not be victims of sexual assault, but implementing bystander intervention while being sensitive to issues of sexual misconduct can make a huge difference in a student’s life. It is an uphill battle, but certainly one that deserves to be fought.

The SUU Title IX Office is located in the Bennion Building room 111.

Story & Photos By: Addie Horsley