Self awareness means safety

Sexual assault is a continuing concern on college campuses around the nation and for good reason. One glimpse at the multiple statistics compiled in regards to the problem would alarm any young adult.

Students of the Anchorage campus need not fear, however. The campus has had exceptionally low incidents of sexual assault over the past years. That is not to say sexual assault is nonexistant. To keep the numbers low students should be aware of the problem and be knowledgeable in defenses against such crimes.

The University Police Department reports annual crime statistics on the university’s website. Statistics for 2004-2006 show a total of six forcible sex offenses being reported. According to Det. Sgt. Michael Beckner of the UAPD only two additional cases have been reported in the last three years: one in 2007 and one in 2009. This number is low for a student body of about 14,000.

“I have friends that work for other universities and they can’t believe that we don’t have the amount of incidents they do,” Beckner said. “I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, but I think the majority of our students are more savvy, smarter.”

Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., has a student body of approximately 6,500. During the same time period, the Washburn University Annual Crime Statistics show a total of 25 reported cases. This significantly smaller college has a much higher rate of forcible sex offenses, but why is this?

“We are a much safer campus,” Beckner said. “Here at the university we have a strong police presence. Potential victims on campus tend to be much more cautious as we offer RAD here.”

RAD stands for rape aggression defense systems. It is a class taught to women by the University Police Department that teaches them how to fend off attackers regardless of their level of physical conditioning. Such defenses can be used for protection against all forms of assault.

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In August 2009 director of the Justice Center Andre B. Rosay presented the PowerPoint slide presentation “Sexual Assault in Alaska” to the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee. The presentation highlighted some shocking statistics, such as every year over 60 percent of sexual assault victims use alcohol and 70 percent of suspects use alcohol.

“Alcohol pays a lot into the problem,” Beckner said.

Marny S. Rivera, the assistant professor of the Justice Center at UAA, takes the same stance as Beckner.

“The strategy most appropriate for college campuses would be controlling access to alcohol,” Rivera said. “There’s a lot of data out there that shows that women on college campuses that are members of sororities are more likely to be sexually assaulted. They’re hanging out with fraternity guys drinking a lot of alcohol, so I think that would be the most important change.”

Alcohol does more than create situations that fuel sexual assault. In addition, alcohol consumption makes it harder to catch suspects due to the fact that much of the incident cannot be recalled due to memory loss from heavy drinking.

With the campus trails and bike paths being veiled in darkness for a large portion of the year it would seem that sexual assault crimes would happen more often, but Beckner has high confidence in UAA’s student body.

“The students tend to do really well. Walking together, watching out for each other,” Beckner said.

One last aspect that should be kept in mind despite the Anchorage campus’s low incident rate is that many sexual assault cases go unreported. According to the American Association of University Women, 65 percent of these attacks go unreported. That would increase the number of cases reported to the UAPD in the last five years from eight to 13.

Sexual assault is a problem on any campus. Universities need information in terms of how many cases are reported, but at the same time no college wants to advertise their sexual assault rates.

“It’s not going to attract students to our campus,” Rivera said. “While it’s a problem, it’s not one that gets a spotlight thrown on it.”

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