Here's the article that I wrote for this issue of the paper.
The recent rape of a University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) student in her dormitory reminds the university community that violence against women on college campuses is a constant concern. A warning informing students of the rape was issued last week to UTSA students who live on the campus located in North San Antonio, prompting campus officials both at UTSA and St. Mary’s to stress ways to possibly prevent rape and other acts of violence against women. The St. Mary’s police department offers Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) courses, a program of realistic self-defense tactics and techniques for women. According to the website, RAD “is a comprehensive, women-only course that begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance, while progressing on to the basics of hands-on defense training.” “When I got here, the program was already strong. We’ve been offered to be paid before, but we’ve all turned it down,” said St. Mary’s University Police Officer Sgt. Andrew Adam. “We believe in the program.” The program lasts 3 days and costs $10 to cover the cost of materials, and includes a lifetime membership so that women can keep their skills up-to-date. A recent class featured 10 people, and was taught by Adam, St. Mary’s University Police member Corporal Chris Flores and San Antonio Police Department member Beth Hish. Although she feels safe on campus, freshman D’neshia Frederick feels more confident after taking the course. “When that time happens, it happens,” Frederick said. “I’m prepared and I won’t freeze. I have knowledge that I will survive.” “It opens your eyes,” freshman Ryan K. Sanchez added. “It teaches you about the possibilities of being assaulted. It’s an actual class, they teach you…actual facts…[and] what’s considered what, and what you can do about it.” Members of the St. Mary’s chapter of Amnesty International are joining in the national organization’s Stop Violence Against Women Campaign, which addresses issues of women’s rights in countries such as Turkey, Afghanistan, Russia and Colombia, as well as in Ciudad Juarez. But the United States also needs to remain vigilant on women’s rights, said second year student Floyd Contreras, Student Group Coordinator of St. Mary’s Amnesty International. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA), the first legislation to address violence against women, expired last Friday. Multiple national organizations like Amnesty International are hoping that VAWA will be reauthorized in Congress. As part of their “700 Women” Campaign, named after the estimated 700 women assaulted or raped by their partners everyday, Amnesty International also created an online petition to encourage legislators to renew VAWA. The petition had over 93,000 signatures by the time the Act expired on Sept. 30. “(VAWA) is an amazing piece of legislation,” Contreras said. “Right now we’re encouraging students to visit 700women.org and sign the petition. I hope a lot of people signed it.” According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (endabuse.org), VAWA in 1994 and its renewal in 2000 was “a giant step forward for our nation.” Its passage meant that our federal government finally acknowledged the harm caused by domestic and sexual violence, and put resources into helping victims,” the fund stated on its website. VAWA funds law enforcement training in domestic abuse to encourage arrest and prosecution of offenders, expansion of services to children who witness domestic violence and are victims of sexual violence, and inclusion of stalking as a crime. With VAWA’s potential renewal in Congress, these organizations hope to build on the foundation of the act by developing stronger protections for violence against women victims. Issues of violence against women and rape are especially relevant for women on college campuses today. According to a 2000 U.S. Department of Justice study, among college students nationwide, about 25 percent of women reported experiencing completed or attempted rape. Between 50 and 80 percent of general sexual assaults occur when one or both people involved have consumed alcohol, and 90 percent of rapes involve alcohol, the study reported. “In 49 out of 50 states, it’s a felony to have sex with someone you know to be or should know to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” said Brett Sokolow, President of The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, Ltd. “The law protects you – you can’t effectively consent.” Sokolow visited St. Mary’s on Sept. 21 to give an interactive presentation titled “Drunk Sex or Date Rape: Can you tell the difference?” The program examined in detail a court case involving two students’ drunken sexual interaction after a party, and asked the audience to judge whether or not a sexual assault had occurred and the role of alcohol in the case. “At the time of sex, do you understand who, what, when, where, why it’s happening?” Sokolow asked. “What the law does is protect you when your ability to judge the consequences and control events is gone.” The audience asked questions about the situation and the legal standards involved, as well as details about how alcohol affects people physically and mentally. Once the audience's questions were answered, students, faculty and staff acted as a jury, deciding whether or not the male student was guilty. The results were approximately equal. “Intelligent, reasonable people from the same school – split down the middle,” Sokolow said. “Every Thursday night, half of you are bringing one set of assumptions to the table, and the other half are bringing a completely different set.” Sokolow asked students to consider what lessons they could take away from the case and asked them to examine their own habits and behaviors. “You go out, you drink, you hook up, and the next day you don’t make eye contact in the cafeteria. Nobody really asks questions,” Sokolow said. “You need to ask questions. By the time students come to your desk, as an attorney, it’s too late. In a criminal courtroom, we don’t ask who was irresponsible, we ask who was culpable.” The first challenge comes right after the incident, when the victim faces the decision of reporting the crime. The 2000 U.S. Department of Justice study also found that many women do not report sexual assault for a number of reasons: embarrassment, not clearly understanding the legal definition of rape, not wanting to define someone they know who victimized them as a rapist or because they blame themselves for their sexual assault. In addition to alcohol as a major factor in campus sexual assaults, most victims know the person who sexually victimized them. “For both completed and attempted rapes, about 9 in 10 offenders were known to the victim,” the study reported. “Most often, a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, classmate, friend, acquaintance, or coworker sexually victimized the women.” At St. Mary’s, in the past four years there are, on average, two reported forcible sexual offenses per year. These statistics include allegations officially and anonymously reported to the university, and are reported even if alleged victims requested that no investigation be conducted. “Because of the Clery Act, we must report everything reported to us,” Adam said. “Actual alleged assaults are lower.” The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is the landmark federal law that requires U.S. colleges and universities to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. The "Clery Act" is named in memory of 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman Jeanne Ann Clery who was raped and murdered while asleep in her residence hall room on April 5, 1986. Although according to national statistics, less than one in 20 completed or attempted campus rapes are reported, St. Mary’s police officers attribute the lower rate of reported and attempted sexual assaults to the school’s caring community and increased sexual awareness education. “Our campus is good for looking out for one another,” Adam said. “Girls are starting school with a greater knowledge of what to expect.” The efforts of the campus police department are also a large factor in campus safety, Adam said. “We have been more proactive by the dorms, doing foot patrols,” Adam said. “We’re making [the campus] aware.”