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Breaking the Silence

Sexual Assault on College Campuses and Suffolk University’s Fight for Safety Rights

The month of April is dedicated to more than just warm weather and flowers. April is also Sexual Assault Awareness month and the city of Boston and Suffolk University are combating this crisis with determination by educating residents and students alike.

Specific areas of Boston have become more prone to criminal activity. The North End, the Boston Common, Dorchester and the Financial District have all become hotspots for sexual assault in the past few months. Boston, due to its numerous colleges and universities is more prone to sexual assault. Last year alone a total of 113 sexual assaults were reported in the Boston area. The number of incidents has risen in the past few years and, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in Massachusetts alone, 4,418 adolescents and adults are sexually assaulted every year. “These problems represent the type of society we live in,” said one Suffolk University policemen and resident of Dorchester, adding that, “it’s disturbing but this type of stuff happens.” The Suffolk University Police Department (SUPD) have emphasized nighttime patrols around these areas and have placed preventing sexual assault as a top priority.

The quantity of policemen is not the sole focus for the SUPD. Enriching the quality of student’s knowledge about safety and city life is another goal for the SUPD. “I know that I’m safe but I also want to be knowledgeable about what’s happening,” said one Northeastern student. “Bad things can happen to good people and I want to be ready for what is potentially out there.”

Suffolk University is fighting sexual assault by turning their female students into fighters. “Women are in control of their own fate and are just as strong as men or anyone else,” said Suffolk University Crime and Prevention Officer, Jameson Yee, and added that “women are empowered.” Women, particularly from ages 16-19, are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey. This age range pertains to females in high school and college, making it imperative that these young women learn how to defend themselves.

The RAD or “Rape Aggression Defense” program teaches women how to protect themselves and is available at Suffolk University, which is led by Officer Yee. These twelve hour, female-only courses are offered every semester at the university over the span of a few weeks. The program strives to teach females through visual and physical techniques how to defend themselves from perpetrators. The first class is typically dedicated to exposing the female participants to the environment that threatens them through visual aid. The second and third classes are structured around learning the physical training needed to combat outside dangers.

Officer Yee and the other RAD certified instructors encourage females to “Remember that you are always in control and you only become a target when you do not take preventative steps like traveling in a group, staying in lighted areas and being constantly aware of your surroundings.”

The SUPD and Officer Yee have teamed up with other university police to thicken the patrol to protect college students. Boston is home to about 150,000 college students, so the reinforcements are spread thin. Boston itself is a distinctive city with factions of diverse communities. “Everyone here is so protective of their own neighborhood,” said Yee, “these factions within Boston make it harder to have a presence in every part of the city.” However, despite Boston’s divisions, the SUPD and other campus police departments attend to all conflicts pertaining to endangered students. Maintaining the safety of students and their environment is one of the primary goals for campus police.

The importance of campus safety has received national attention. College campuses are one of the most high-risk places for sexual assault to occur. Families sending their children to college do not expect for there to be an abnormally high chance for them to be sexually assaulted. However, according to the National Institute of Justice, the risk of attempted or completed rape victimization on campuses is expected to climb between 20 and 25 percent in the next few years. College campuses are accidentally designed to have niches of vulnerable areas; not all parts of campus can guarantee a student’s safety. The statistics have been deemed unacceptable by administrators and families.

The National Institute of Justice had also found that a college with 10,000 students could experience as many as 350 rapes per year. The need for action and resilience is more imperative as ever since more young adults are attending college, which also means that the risks are greater.  The long lasting results of sexual assault on campuses tend to make the victims withdraw from their academic responsibilities, drift away from friends and families and neglect their studies. This “silent epidemic” is affecting more than just the reliability of campus safety and many of these victim’s voices go unheard. The national grassroots organization, AAUW Empowering Women, found that 42 percent of raped college women do not tell anyone about their assault. Students also have physical and emotional problems that form as a result of their attacks. According to the American Medical Association, 80 percent of victims suffer chronic physical or psychological problems over time.

The SUPD and other campus police are fighting these statistics, but they are not the only group enforcing social change and addressing the issue. There are many organizations and different actions that are being taken around the Boston area to combat sexual assault. The city is home to an organization known as BARCC or “Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.” BARCC is dedicated to aiding survivors of sexual assault and their families with the resources needed to heal and raise awareness. Each year BARCC holds an awareness walk. The 2013 walk was held on Sunday, April 13 and Suffolk University coordinated an entire team to participate this past year.

Suffolk University also fights for social change and awareness through student-based mediums. Sophomore, Breanna Brown, took a “Women & Crime” course and developed what she learned in class into a movement that has a whole day dedicated to their cause. From the class she was inspired to make T-shirts to raise sexual assault awareness. The purpose of the T-shirts are to craftily send a message to people through participants like Brown and other students.

Brown’s class found another source of inspiration for their logos and designs for the T-shirts after being moved by one story about a girl who was raped. Brown explained how the raped girl had brought her case to court but the judge ruled in favor of her rapist because the judge believed that the girl’s jeans were too tight. According to the judge, the girl had “given consent” because there was no way her rapist could have gotten her jeans off without consent  to be raped. The rapist was deemed innocent.

Startled by this story of unfairness and sexism, “Denim Day” was born. Every April 23rd is filled with females wearing denim jeans to show that tight jeans are not the same thing as consent. Officer Yee believes that consent is not a widely understood principle. “People don’t understand what the idea of consent means. Society doesn’t completely know what ‘consent’ includes and excludes,” he said. “Now, the media has desensitized ideas of consent.”

Brown and her advocates are trying to rein in the true definition of consent. This year Brown’s “Women & Crime” class will wear the T-shirts that say, “Consent has no blurred lines” and “I mustache you for consent” on Denim Day. Brown urges for young people to understand that the power to bring change and awareness to pressing issues like sexual assault are not limited to politicians. She wants students and people alike to know that social movements come through devotion, hard work and passion, and that young people have the advantage of using social media as an outlet.

Enforcing change can come from a variety of outlets, including the media. The national online “collegiate guide to life” or HerCampus.com has used its online presence to spread the word about sexual assault. The website is meant to serve as a forum for young female college students to write about topics that they find relevant and important. Suffolk University has a sector of HerCampus which consists of a girl-only staff that writes for the website.

College campuses are one of the most high-risk places for sexual assault to occur. According to Julia Martin, contributing correspondent and senior top editor for the Suffolk edition of HerCampus, “We do have writers that write nationally that cover sexual assault. As a national organization we focus on sexual assault. We get emails about editorial ideas that we can write about, and sexual assault awareness month was one of those”. Those available on the national HerCampus website could serve in raising awareness by making women realize that they are not alone and sharing their voices. Martin said, “At Suffolk University we never realized that we weren’t talking about it as much and because we have a public forum on the national level our writers should take the opportunity to voice themselves.”

Now, students are speaking out and acting up to raise awareness about sexual assault. There is solace that comes out of the darkness because together, students, administrators and law enforcement are uniting to fight the odds. They know that one of the true purposes of college is to strive for academic excellence and in no way should the possibility of sexual assault be part of a student’s college career. The Suffolk University community, in particular, shows immense devotion to raising awareness and creating solutions to combat sexual assault. The Suffolk University playground, Boston, is also rising slowly to the occasion of making their plethora of universities safer. Sexual assault can no longer remain a silenced issue and now, due to the actions taken by students, universities and higher bodies of law, sexual assault is being recognized as the national epidemic that it is. The silence is broken.

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