Groups advocate for rape victims
Students want UNM to “Start by Believing”
Sexual Assault Awareness month is over, but some UNM organizations continue their work to prevent assault on campus.
Shaya Rogers, a member of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, said her organization, along with the Women’s Resource Center and other entities on campus, hosted several events to raise awareness of sexual assault throughout April. She said the events included a discussion panel, a clothesline project, bystander intervention training and a handprint project.
“We did four events, one every week throughout the month,” she said. “We’re done now, but we have started sort of a new campaign, in light of what’s going on.”
Rogers said the new campaign is called “Start By Believing.”
“It’s a campaign to do exactly as it says, to start by believing, and make sure your first reaction when someone confides in you is to listen and believe,” she said.
Not believing someone who confides that he or she has been assaulted could lead the person to feel unsupported and could deter that person from reporting the incident or seeking help, Rogers said.
“If you have the wrong reaction, if you have a negative reaction, if you have an aggressive reaction, it can really make someone who’s been victimized feel really bad, and feel like they don’t have anyone,” she said.
The Graduate and Professional Student Association passed a resolution Saturday that urged UNM to become a “Start By Believing” campus.
Summer Little, director of the WRC and co-chair of the Sexual Assault Response Team, said if people confide that they have been sexually assaulted, the only job the listener has is to believe them and provide support.
“I think it’s really important to understand that it’s not about the perpetrator, or the investigation, or anything like that,” she said. “It’s about believing someone who confides in you, and providing support and resources and really checking yourself so that you’re not making those judgments.”
Little said about 12 percent of sexual assaults get reported.
“I know for sure that we have more victims at UNM than have come forward,” she said.
About 1 in 5 female college students are sexually assaulted, according to a press release from the White House.
Rogers said a culture of blaming the victim could contribute to why assault is underreported.
“We do know that it is something that is underreported, partly because of rape culture and because of the idea of people not believing and people assuming that it’s something you did wrong, rather than holding the person who’s to blame accountable, which is the person who is sexually assaulting,” she said.
Little said sexual assault is defined as penetration of a body cavity without consent, while sexual abuse is touching or fondling of a sexual nature without valid consent.
“That is the key, without felt valid consent,” she said. “We understand people have sex. We want those encounters to be healthy, with healthy boundaries, with safer sex practices and freely chosen. And that means that each partner is looking for enthusiastic consent throughout that engagement.”
Rogers also said the actions need to be explicitly consensual.
“If they’re quiet, that’s not consent, that doesn’t count,” she said. “If they say no, or they’re not comfortable with it, that’s not consent. If they’re too drunk or high, that’s not consent and that’s not the appropriate time to have sex with someone.”
Little said the WRC has been doing bystander intervention training to help people recognize what to do if they do witness sexual violence.
“The important thing is to get educated on what (bystander intervention) is, understand what violence is, understand ways to intervene safely,” she said.
Intervention can also include helping someone leave when they’re drunk or calling people out on inappropriate jokes, Little said.
“It can be as easy as saying ‘Hey, that is really not funny,’” she said. “Rape is never funny, that’s just not OK.”
While sexual assault is often talked about from a female perspective, Rogers said men are also victims.
“Sexual violence is prevalent on our campus and in our society and it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman or what your sexual preference is or anything,” she said. “It affects us all.”
Little said she also thinks that sexual assault on males is a problem that goes underreported.
“The statistics are nowhere near where they are for women, but I think that’s because we don’t have good statistics,” she said. “I think there are many, many more victims who experience sexual assault and haven’t come forward.”
There are various resources for sexual assault victims on campus, such as SART, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners and Student Health and Counseling, Little said. She said the services and the Start By Believing campaign are open to everyone.
“All of these services are open to men, they’re open to the (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) community, they’re open to everyone,” she said.
Rogers said her organization has been trying to reach out to others to help stop assault.
“We all need to be together on the issue or else it’s not going to be solved,” she said. “You can’t just have a couple of us caring and everyone else not.”