By MEAGHAN MCINTYRE & KATE SELTZER
In light of a recent report that showed an increase in the numbers of reported rapes on campus and two incidents of sexual battery on campus this semester, students have voiced concerns about the presence of sexual assault and the impact it has on their sense of safety.
“It makes me feel more worried being a female that I can’t simply walk along campus without having the slight fear that someone would approach me like that,” said sophomore accounting major Sophie Cooper.
“I was only shocked that there was an email sent out about it,” said alumna Sierra McCahon. “Sexual assault happens often at UMW, it is just often not reported.”
As UMW witnesses a rise in reported rapes and sexual batteries, there are students who expressed feeling a sense of unease and lack of safety on campus, particularly at night.
“As a general note, I think that most college students in the U.S. don’t have the luxury of feeling safe on campus like they used to,” said sophomore and communication and digital studies major Andrew Schneidawind. “That includes UMW.”
Cooper said she avoids walking home to the UMW Apartments by herself at night at all costs. “[The] emails do affect how I see the safety of the campus at night anywhere outside of campus grounds.”
The second email about sexual battery on campus was particularly concerning to students because it happened in the center of campus at while it was still light out and there were many people around
“The one reported by the UC also made me nervous because I walked by there about two hours before it happened and walk near there by myself close to nightfall sometimes after class,” said junior English creative writing major, Laura Schneider. “That part of campus always felt safe and fun, especially watching people throw frisbees and hang out with friends on Ball Circle. I feel more vulnerable there now, and that’s not a good feeling.”
The first email alerting students of a sexual battery drew criticism from students because it mentioned that alcohol can impair the judgement of potential victims. Although in a previous article for the Blue and Gray, Chief Michael Hall asserted that this was not the intent of the statement to victim-blame, some students still felt it could have been better stated.
“I did not like the way the police officers noted in the email that the alcohol and drugs impaired the victim,” said sophomore and psychology and English double major Claudia Woods. “The language used definitely placed fault on the victim, whether that was their intention or not. It does not matter if you are sober, drunk, wearing a tight dress or pajamas, sexual violence is never okay.”
Some students felt the University is not doing enough to both prevent sexual assault and educate students about consent.
Woods suggested taking a more personal approach to the topic, as opposed to the virtual training students complete. “I don’t think the online training we did before freshman year was impactful enough,” she said. “It could be a lot more effective if you are in a classroom with a professor and many different people of all backgrounds and different perspectives around you.”
“We can’t obviously prevent every single case of sexual battery, but we sure as hell can do a lot better at educating people than we are now,” Schneidawind said. “Even the best systems of teaching consent can be improved.”
But, other members of the UMW community said they appreciated the resources the university already has in place.
“I will say that UMW has an excellent support group for survivors and very amazing therapists in the Talley Center,” said McCahon.
Others also referenced the outside sources that exist if students wish to speak to someone off campus. “There are many resources out there, Empowerhouse, RCASA, FAHAAS… RCASA provides FREE counseling services, group therapy, hospital accompaniment and 24 hour hotline so if you don’t want to go to someone on campus because you’re afraid for your privacy there are outside resources,” said Woods, who volunteers with the organization.
Some students felt that the #MeToo movement has contributed to a rise in reported rapes and sexual assaults.
“I’m a survivor of sexual assault myself and was terrified to report it at first, but I was given a lot of support by family and friends,” said Schneider, who noted that her assault did not take place at UMW. “I feel more brave to talk about it now that more people are coming forward.”
Chief of UMW Police Michael Hall agreed and added that he thinks the school has been influential in creating a more comfortable environment for students to report.
“I think a lot of that is contributed to the me too movement which is a great thing and the other component is working with the Title IX office on campus, making students aware of their options and hopefully making them feel comfortable coming forward and telling their story,” said Chief Hall. “We want them to know they have the support of the university and the university police department.”
A junior who wished to remain anonymous voiced her empathy for her fellow survivors.
“I’ve been where you’ve been or currently are. It’s not easy and it took me a few days to process what happened to me. I wanted to deny it but I couldn’t because I knew I had to show the person who hurt me that it is not okay to cross the line.”
She said she stands in solidarity with them, and offered advice that she had learned from her own experiences.
“It is not your fault at all. It was not because you had something to drink. It was not because of the clothes you were wearing. I’m sorry for what you have either been through or are going through. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it. Processing it will take time, so take it as fast or slow as you need to. Some days will be harder than others, but you are a survivor and you are stronger than you think.”