by Mathew Martinez and Lacy Hembree
57 percent. This is the percentage of UCM students who agree with the statement, “I don’t think sexual assault is a significant problem on my campus.” The percentage is so high because many people do not ask the question, “How bad is it here?” Ideally, that 57 percent whould be 0.
The reality is that sexual assault is a problem on every campus, including UCM. Every student should be extremely distressed because sexual assault is a problem on our campus, but they should also be enraged that 57 percent of our student body doesn’t believe it. As long as UCM students don’t understand that sexual assault is pervasive and entrenched in our society – and more importantly on our campus – then we can never begin to solve it.
Not infuriated? Let’s back up. Every year, the university administers the Missouri College Health Behavior Survey to a random sample of students across all grade levels to evaluate the condition of student health. In 2014, 2 percent of UCM students indicated they had experienced sexual assault in the past year. However, sometimes victims may be reluctant to acknowledge themselves as victims, so students are also asked if they experienced “non-consensual sexual contact” in the past year. In response to this question, 3.5 percent of UCM students responded: YES.
Let’s do the math. Fall enrollment for the university – including both undergraduate and graduate students – was 13,379. Calculating 3.5 percent of total enrollment (as 3.5 percent of students said they experienced non-consensual sexual contact) brings the number of estimated sexual assaults of UCM students last year to 468.
So who is doing the assaulting? Data from Haven, the online gender violence prevention course required of first-year students, shed some light on the question. When asked about perpetrating sexual violence, 2 percent of respondents answered, “In the past, I have taken sexual advantage of another person without their explicit consent.”
While this may seem like a small percentage, the reality is a small number of perpetrators can commit a large number of crimes.
A study published in 2002 by David Lisak and Paul Miller, in which they interviewed college men about their sexual histories, found that about 6 percent of the men surveyed had attempted or actually sexually assaulted someone. While some of them only tried once, most of the perpetrators were repeat offenders, each committing nearly six assaults.
One of the survey questions prompted UCM students to rate how important it is was to obtain consent from a potential sexual partner. The results showed that 12.1 percent of students thought it was either unimportant or very unimportant. Many students fail to realize that without explicit consent, what they are doing is sexual assault. YES means YES, everything else means NO.
The reality is: the longer we fail to acknowledge the fact that hundreds of students are sexually assaulted every year, the longer it will take us to collectively move toward a solution to mitigate these numbers. To the 57 percent who don’t believe sexual assault is a problem on this campus: the numbers are real. It’s not just in other colleges or places that you aren’t. Hundreds of your friends and fellow students are being assaulted. It’s a problem and it’s time we start treating it like one.
To the 43 percent who do believe sexual assault is a problem on campus: there is much work to be done. Always have open arms and a loud voice.
To the 100 percent who can make a difference: yell. Scream. Be mad that we are letting these assaults happen. Talk about it with your friends, your professors, the administration. You are the solution to this problem, but only if we start talking about it.
To anyone who has been assaulted: It is not your fault. Please do not be afraid to come forward and tell someone. The best resource is the Mentoring Advocacy and Peer Support confidential victim advocacy line. Their number is 660-441-4855. They can assist you confidentially to figure out your next move and look at your options.
PHOTO TAKEN AT THE NYC NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN’S TAKE RAPE SERIOUSLY RALLY IN NOVEMBER 2010.