Western works to address rape, sexual assault

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Western works to address rape, sexual assault

8:46 p.m. PST March 7, 2016

For millions of college students in America, rape and sexual assault is part of their reality.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives; one in five women and one in 16 men experience sexual assault of varying severity while in college.

In order to prevent and respond to these incidents, Western Oregon University in Monmouth has in recent years expanded its programs, educational materials, off-campus referrals and more to help its 6,100 students.

“Western is far and away light years ahead of other universities,” said Rebecca Chiles, who has worked in the field for nearly 20 years and is now director of campus safety at Western.

Western’s programs follow suggested guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as facilitating dorm-based interventions that reinforce positive norms and skills related to bystander behavior and healthy sexuality. But the school does even more.

Hannah Towle works for the university’s sexual assault survivor center, called Abby’s House.

Towle first became involved with the center as a survivor of rape.

“I was looking for support, care, and just someone to be kind to me, who (understood) what (was) going on,” she said. “It felt nice to finally have a safe space to express my thoughts and emotions without judgement and shame.”

Towle is now the center’s sexual assault resource coordinator and part of the 15-person team of volunteers and staff.

“Having a space like this is invaluable to a survivor’s recovery,” she said.

Towle also took part in the Green Dot program when she first transferred to Western. The Green Dot program is a bystander intervention program that trains students and staff to recognize dangerous situations and prevent them from continuing.

Western is also one of 12 colleges in the country to have the Healthy Masculinity Campus Athletics Project, part of the federal “Campuses Against Sexual Assault” program.

This initiative works with male student-athletes, coaches and administrators to bring awareness and education on sexual assault and train these men to be role models of prevention in their community.

When an assault occurs, Chiles said, the survivor has the option to report to the local police and Western’s campus safety officers.

The campus safety officers said they walk the student through their options and encourage them to file a report with the police.

Rape is the most under-reported crime, with about 63 percent of sexual assaults not reported to the police, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

This is particularly true at universities.

The center reported more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report their assault.

Compared to other universities in the state, Western has the 12th highest number of reported on-campus sexual offenses between 2010-2012, according to 2014 U.S. Department of Education statistics, with 0.32 assaults reported in every 1,000 students.

According to Western’s reports, sexual assault at the school is lower than national averages, but is slightly increasing over time. Assaults have increased from two in 2007 to six in 2014.

Having an increase in the number of incidents reported, experts said, isn’t a bad thing at this point. In fact, it could be an indicator that Western’s efforts are working.

Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, director of Abby’s House, said sexual assault is happening whether or not it is reported, so when a university’s numbers increase, it suggests students are beginning to feel comfortable enough to report to the institution.

She said hopefully one day low numbers will signify that the crimes are not being committed, but that isn’t the case yet.

Chiles, Towle, Dello Stritto and others said there is always more work to be done.

For instance, Towle said, Western’s mandatory online module for incoming students isn’t enough to consistently educate students on what consent is, how to appropriately ask for consent, or what resources are available.

Aside from the resources staff and students have on campus, there are also a handful of off-campus resources, including SABLE House, the Center for Hope and Safety, and Salem Hospital.

Deborah Thompson is the executive director of SABLE House, which stands for Safe from Abuse and Battered Living Environment.

SABLE provides many resources, including a crisis hotline, individual advocates for each survivor to help with things like hospital visits and police paperwork, support groups, and help preparing safety plans for those still in proximity to their abuser(s).

Thompson said the nonprofit serves about 1,000 victims per year.

She said there needs to be more resources dedicated to law enforcement and campus programs to help survivors and bring awareness.

Sexual assault nurse examiners are available at select locations as well, including Salem Hospital.

Towle said this is a topic people don’t want to talk about and something that happens more than most people think. She said it is important we work to break down harmful mindsets and environments.

“Sexual assault is an ongoing issue within our nation’s culture,” Towle said. “(At) Western, (I) see more of a respectful culture, with more spaces … fighting for equity.

“But the outside culture still holds ideals of power and violence.”

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or http://www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist 

Terms Defined

  • Sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”
  • Rape is “a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration perpetrated against a person without that person’s consent.”
  • Consent is defined as the “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.”

Western’s Resources

Some of Western’s resources include:

  • Two groups on campus that focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersexual and asexual (LGBTQIA) community members;
  • Student-fee paid van service available upon request to take students anywhere they need within the city; 
  • An online, anonymous reporting system;
  • About 15 emergency phones around campus; 
  • Trainings for university officials — the most recent of which addressed how to interview survivors of trauma;
  • An internal judiciary process handled by the university’s conduct board and student affairs office.

Sexual assault in the United States

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center:

  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
  • One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them. 
  • More than 90 percent of sexually assaulted victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
  • 63.3 percent of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes.
  • Rape is the most under-reported crime — 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.

Public Resources

  • Center for Hope and Safety is located at 605 Center St NE in Salem. The crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day at (503)399-7722 or 1-866-399-7722 toll-free. For more information, visit hopeandsafety.org or call (503) 378-1572.
  • SABLE House is located at 289 E Ellendale Ave in Dallas. The crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (503) 623-4033 or 1-866-518-0284 toll-free. For more information, visit www.sablehouse.org or call (503) 623-6703.
  • Salem Hospital Emergency Department, located on the corner of Bellevue and Winter streets at 665 Winter St. SE in Salem, performs medical examinations for injury and forensic evidence collection after an assault. For best collection of evidence, the department suggests survivors not shower, bathe, douche or brush teeth before going to the hospital. If possible, they said survivors should save all of the clothing they wore at the time of the assault and place each item of clothing in a separate paper bag, and to bring these items.

Timeline

  • (2010) First sexual assault related grant applied for by Ella Taylor of Western 
  • (2010) Western becomes CASA school
  • (2011) Western introduces online, anonymous reporting system
  • (2014) Western becomes 1 out of 12 schools with healthy masculinity program
  • (2016) Two former Western students convicted of raping another former Western student
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