Learn about available resources and how you can help change the culture around sexual assault.
By: Amanda Cardinal
In today’s social and political climate, many people hear the words “sexual assault” or “rape culture” and have visceral reactions. While the mere mention of these phrases make some roll their eyes or shut their ears, others are all too familiar with the severity of the issue and the trauma it can cause. Many people, especially college students, have heard the definitions and the statistics. However, many never stop to think about what they would do if it happened to a friend or how they can make a positive, cultural change.
According to studies done by the U.S. Department of Justice, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. While some don't report because they don’t consider what happened to them serious enough, others simply don’t come forward due to lack of proof, fear of retaliation or not being believed. These fears are very common, which is why it's important that people are aware of the numerous confidential services available for OSU students and Stillwater residents.
“The first thing I would want promoted from a student to another student is OSU victim advocates,” Olivia Pendleton, prevention specialist at Oklahoma State University Student Conduct Education and Administration says.
Victim advocates are trained to respond and can talk to survivors about resources on and off campus. These advocates will report incidents to OSU police without any personally identifiable information, which keeps the victim’s identity confidential.
“Students choose to report confidentially because they might not want to make those next steps, or maybe they’re just not ready yet,” Pendleton says. “So seeking someone that can offer them those resources and our different processes on campus without any personal identifiers being attached is sometimes a better option.”
Any counseling services are also confidential. On campus this includes the OSU Student Counseling Center and the Psychological Services Center. Off campus, Wings of Hope provides victim advocates, individual and group counseling, and a 24-hour help hotline.
Whether a victim wishes to remain anonymous or not, they should always be examined after a sexual assault. The specially trained SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) nurses from Stillwater Medical Center are issued a number and kept on file at the Stillwater Police Department. Even if a victim doesn’t wish to file a police report right away, they have the option of going to the police department, identifying their exam and filing a report.
In an interview with Sergeant Leah Storm of the OSU Police Department, and OSU Public Information Officer and Associate Director of Communications, Carrie Hulsey-Green, Storm says, “It’s whatever is most comfortable for that victim, that's how we want them to report it."
However, Hulsey-Green notes that “if a victim stays anonymous and doesn't at least give their name to the police, there is no way for the police to move forward with a criminal investigation.”
If a victim chooses to report non-confidentially and the assault occurred off campus, they can report it directly to the Stillwater Police Department. If the assault occurred on campus however, they can report to OSUPD. After a report is filed with OSUPD, an investigator will come and get more detailed information.
“It may be 24 to 48 hours afterward depending on the trauma level,” Storm says. “We try to minimize how many times the individual has to tell the story because we understand trauma.”
OSUPD has three female officers on call 24/7 in case any victim feels more comfortable speaking to a woman. OSU police officers all go through domestic violence and sexual assault training to understand trauma and how to approach it, as well as how to incorporate it into their reports.
While many victims are afraid to report their assault to the police because they were drinking underage or using illegal drugs when they were assaulted, Storm say this is a common misconception.
“Victims are not prosecuted for those crimes that they were committing at the time that they become a victim,” Storm says.
Storm adds that this information is important because it also takes away your ability legally to give consent. “Just because they had been drinking or taking drugs still does not give anyone the right to victimize them,” Storm says.
If the victim as well as the assailant are both OSU students, they can also report the incident to the Office of Student Conduct. Student conduct will perform their own investigation, which can result in university ramifications rather than legal ones.
Student conduct and the Title IX coordinator can put in place interim safety measures. Whether it's switching classes, changing living arrangements or establishing a no-contact order between the complainant and the respondent, student conduct will coordinate reasonable arrangements to ensure safety.
Although they believe that violence is never the victim's fault, OSUPD promotes multiple personal safety measures all students should take.
OSU offers the Orange Shield app, which features an emergency button that will call OSU Police and initiate GPS tracking, as well as iReport, which allows anonymous reporting of crimes. Safe Walk can also be accessed through the app and the blue phones on campus. Safe Walk is composed of student employees who will walk students wherever they need to go on campus or in the greek community. While they can’t go onto Washington street, Storm made sure to mention that once you cross University, Safe Walk will walk you to any on-campus housing.
“As long as they can physically walk and they're not having any other issues associated with alcohol consumption, they are fine to go,” Storm says, “Our basis is their safety. Even if they’ve drank too much that doesn’t mean they're going to jail for public intoxication.”
OSUPD also offers the RAD System. RAD (Rape Aggression Defense Systems) is a comprehensive course for women that teaches about awareness, risk reduction and avoidance, in addition to hands-on self defence training. OSU has multiple nationally certified RAD instructors who offer these classes multiple times a semester.
Preventing sexual assault goes far beyond personal safety measures. According to Pendleton, a combination of language, thought and action equal change. In order to change the culture around sexual assault, she says we have to start by examining our language. This includes cutting out phrases like “I raped that test,” or other language that normalizes rape and implies it being a positive act.
This language is evident of a deeply ingrained mindset in which common notions like “boys will be boys” color our perceptions of the world around us. “Phrases like that excuse poor behavior," Pendleton says, "and we have to change that way of thinking."
Next we have to change our actions. If you see someone who is in, or could potentially get into, a risky situation, don’t be a bystander. Whether that means no longer turning a blind eye when you see someone who is too drunk leaving a bar with someone or you hear friend making light of sexual assault, say something.
While not everyone will be sexually assaulted in their lives or even know someone who was, there is still a toxic culture surrounding sexual assault. It's up to everyone to take those steps in analyzing our personal behavior and whether or not our thoughts and actions have a place in the world we want to build.