By, Tulsi Patil and Kierra Hammons
Its the reason rape is one of the most under-reported crimes in our community. Its the reason most sexual offenders will never face the consequences of their crimes. Its the reason rape culture still exists in people’s lives.
“There’s a lot of stigma that you will be … chastised that you could have done something to prevent this and you didn’t,” said University Police Department Chief Rick Shell. “And that’s where we’re working, in law enforcement and in the community, to try to erase as much of that stigma as possible.”
The numbers are harsh and difficult to accept, but they are a reality that is inescapable.
According to the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey, 37.1 percent of women in Alaska face sexual violence. The 2013 University of Alaska Campus Security and Fire Safety Report disclosed totals for forcible sex offenses on UAA’s main campus: one in 2010, four in 2011 and three in 2012.
As of Aug. 3, there are 1,222 sex offenders registered within the city of Anchorage — 164 of which are registered within the area of UAA’s ZIP code.
Everyone is at risk, but with education, safety can be increased.
What is the “Red Zone”?
Between the start of school and Thanksgiving, university freshmen are at particular risk for sexual assault. This period has been dubbed the “Red Zone,” and a Campus Sexual Assault study conducted in 2007 showed that more than half of sexual assaults on college campuses occur during this time.
“College freshmen … have moved out of the house — naturally you get freedom that you’ve never had,” said UAA Title IX investigator Jerry Trew.
But despite this luxury, West Virginia University has identified this as a contributing risk factor for the Red Zone. It is important for students to act carefully in spite of this freedom in order to ensure their safety.
Preventing sexual assault
The first way to prevent sexual assault is to avoid becoming a perpetrator. Sex is a mutual, consensual act, and sex without consent is assault.
According to the Red Zone Awareness Campaign, consensual sex has three components between partners: verbal consent, a sober state of mind and mutual agreement.
A lack of “no” doesn’t mean “yes,” and proceeding to a new stage of sexual activity without a verbal, sober and mutual “yes” entails sexual assault. Protect yourself and your partner by communicating consent each step of the way.
Trew said he recommends a suggestion a student brought to his attention: “Always assume it’s a no until the other party gives an enthusiastic yes.”
Though the cause of sexual assault lies with assaulters themselves, this is not a perfect world and everyone can take precautions to protect themselves against potential assault.
The university has a number of sexual assault prevention programs, including Rape Aggression Defense classes and monthly sexual harassment training for university employees.
Aside from these programs, there are several ways to make one’s university experience safer. Don’t accept open drinks from strangers. Go to parties and other locations with a friend.
“We want friends to look out for each other,” Trew said.
Talk about boundaries and consent with each of your partners so actions and intents are clear.
Sexual assault can come from an escalation of simple misunderstandings between partners. Ambiguous language or role play can send the wrong message, so it is critical to discuss the meanings of vague phrases, such as, “Take me home with you.” If you and your sexual partner have not had this discussion, make time for it — and in the meantime, only use clear phrasing to avoid a dangerous misunderstanding.
But even with precaution, some things are out of one’s control. And if this happens, don’t shy away from the help offered on campus.
“If something doesn’t look right or feel right, report it,” Trew said. “We take it seriously.”