By Kim-Vi Sweetman
The issue of sexual assaults on campus is much more complex than last week’s article might have you believe. It goes beyond the idea of alcohol, and beyond numbers on page.
“Each case is very unique in its own way,” said Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick in an interview. “These are very damaging incidents, and it doesn’t just go away after a day or two.” Roderick would know; this is a subject he has devoted his life to and has helped victims through the ordeal. Students should feel comfortable reporting any level infraction, even if it seems like the result of immature behavior. Every case counts.
What is the reality of our campus’ sexual assault cases? For one, some of the cases that have contributed to the spike did not occur this year, but last year, or the year before. Not all of the cases were rape either. As last week’s article mentioned, there is a scale in level of assault, from unwanted touching all the way to rape. The increase in reports of unwanted touching is also contributing to the increase in reports of sexual assault.
What does this tell us? It tells us that students are becoming more comfortable with Public Safety, a good trend for the community.
“[Students] need to be comfortable calling Public Safety when they find themselves in a difficult position,” said Roderick. “The officers’ focus is student safety while they’re out on patrol. It’s not out looking to catch students in some technical infraction, it’s about the overall safety of the campus and making sure that you guys have a safe environment to conduct yourselves in.”
Usually, students seem to exhibit concern where alcohol is concerned, but Washington College has its medical amnesty policy for a reason. Students are encouraged to call for help when faced with a potentially fatal situation. Certainly alcohol also factors in cases, as Roderick tells us.
“The things that I see that concern me are the heavy drinking and the exposure that our students put themselves in…that’s not using good judgment.” It’s not the only trend. The alcohol is definitely not an excuse: a victim is still a victim. This comes into play especially with student on student cases of sexual assault.
Students on student violations are more likely to go unreported, Roderick said, as this behavior gets brushed off as “immature,” “stupid,” or the result of too much to drink. Reporting an assault by another student also gets messy for all involved, as students start picking sides. Students should know that there are a multitude of resources for victims of sexual assault, both on and off campus. Public Safety offers self-defense courses, such as R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense). The Health and Counseling Centers help students both physically and emotionally. Public Safety also works with other response groups, the Chestertown police, and the Chester River Hospital Center.
It is important to remember that these are crimes, no matter what the appearance. Nobody wants it to escalate to rape. “This is a crime of violence,” Roderick reminds us. “Nothing shy of that.”
The only way the statistics will change for the better is for students to report incidences to Public Safety so that the perpetrator can be dealt with and the community educated. If a student reports to Public Safety, it doesn’t mean that a decision has to be reached immediately. Reporting to Public Safety allows the student to learn about her or her options, and how they can proceed. If legal action is taken, Public Safety will help the student throughout the entire process, from initially pressing charges through the process of feeling safe again.
Roderick has another important comparison. “It’s kind of equated to, ‘These are your brothers and sisters. Treat them that way.’”
We are a community here are WC. We should always strive to act like the best one.