April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Dean’s Office and the St. Thomas Sexual Violence Programming Committee are promoting sexual assault awareness to create an environment where students feel comfortable reporting cases.
According to a Department of Justice study, almost 25 percent of college women have been victims of sexual assault. In 2007, St. Thomas reported six forcible sexual offenses. No forcible sexual offenses were reported in 2008 and 2009, which are the most recent years for which data is available.
Sister Sharon Howell said while no cases have been reported to the police in recent years, many cases are not reported.
St. Thomas “fall[s] under the category of national standing, which is, for every one reported, there [are] probably seven to 10 that are not being reported,” Sister Howell said.
But she added St. Thomas is seeing an increase in the number of students who report cases but decide not to take them to the police.
“As far as students choosing to come forward with those (cases), I think that we are getting better at students feeling safe … doing that,” she said.
Birdie Cunningham, co-chair of the Sexual Violence Programming Committee, said, “Our goal is to provide education, programs and resources to lower and to eliminate sexual violence from happening on campus and also to provide resources for those who have been sexually assaulted.”
Cunningham said she would like to educate students about sexual violence and consent.
“Even though it’s not really spoken about, we need to show that this does happen on our campus and that there are resources on both ends,” she said. “[For] those [who] have been sexually assaulted, or even if you are someone who has sexually assaulted someone, there are resources for assistance.”
The Dean of Students’ Office recently launched a new website that provides several sexual assault resources.
“St. Thomas is following its own convictions as far as trying to create a safe environment for all of its community members, and we appreciate the cooperation for everyone to join us in doing that,” Howell said.
Events this month include Denim Day April 8, which is celebrated in protest of a court ruling that overturned a rape conviction because the woman was wearing jeans. People now wear jeans to protest the ruling. To join the campaign, students can contact the Luann Dummer Center for Women.
The Clothesline Project will also take place the week of April 21-28. T-shirts are decorated in honor of victims and will be displayed on the quad to raise awareness.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month will wrap up with an event called, “Take Back the Night.” The event will include a march to protest sexual violence and a program about those affected by sexual abuse.
Sophomore Libby Meyers said she believes in the importance of sexual assault awareness.
“I will definitely participate in Denim Day,” she said.
She added that sexual assault is “definitely something to be aware of, but for the most part, St. Thomas is a safe place.”
Jackie Destache can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.