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The Blog
The blog posts on this webpage are written to get people thinking about different sexual assault issues. The posts featured in this blog are primarily for informational purposes and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the Division of Criminal Justice. To learn more about Sexual Assault and programs related to sexual assault in Colorado, please visit the SARP Home Page.

Understanding the Science of Trauma to Improve Sexual Assault Reporting

posted Mar 22, 2016, 7:16 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Mar 22, 2016, 7:18 AM ]

        Traumatic events can trigger various physiological responses depending on the individual. When met with a potential threat and your brain has to act quickly and it is very common for individuals to go into a “fight” or “flight” mode. You either confront the perceived danger or run from it. Fight or flight reactions might be the better-known responses to danger, but research also identifies another potential response, the “freeze” effect. According to Dr. Rebecca Campbell the physiological reaction of freezing during trauma is termed Tonic Shock or Tonic Immobility, and can be very common in sexual assaults (Marx, Forsyth, Gallup, Fuse, & Lexington, 2008; Galliano, Noble, Travis, & Peuchl, 1993; Suarez & Gallup, 1979). 

        Advances in neurobiology and physiology help us better understand the connections between the brain and body when and individual experiences a traumatic event. According to Dr. Campbell, when the brain perceives a threat, real or not,  it activates a neurological chain reaction which leads to the release of several different hormones depending on what is needed. When various hormones are released into the body, they result in different reactions. For instance,  when an individual is exposed to physical or emotional trauma the adrenal system is activated in the body. Adrenaline helps facilitate a  fight or flight response, or a spike in natural painkillers such as Oxytocin and Cortisol that can help the body mitigate emotional and physical pain. Due to the physical and emotional trauma associated with sexual assault, it is common for the body to create an ample amount of these morphine-like chemicals to help protect a victim. One of the possible effects that can accompany this systematic reaction is a state in which the entire body shuts down. Dr. Campbell identified this processes when the body shuts down during and while recounting a sexual assault, as rape-induced paralysis. She notes that this state of “freezing” may actually be an evolutionary protective instinct. Similar to other animals such as possums that play dead or look dead, sometimes the act of not fighting back or fleeing (that would trigger a chase) is the safest thing for an organism to do when in danger. According to Dr. Campbell, in this physiological induced state an individual would not be able to move their body and access to certain parts of the brain that help make conscious decisions would be cut off; incapacitated by fear. It is predicted that between 12% and 50% of rape victims suffer from the tonic shock response which it critical to know if you are a first responder or reporting unit. 

    Reporting statistics are notoriously low  in regards to sexual assaults and rapes. According to Dr. Cambell, one explanation is that victims are met with apprehension or disbelief in regards to how they reacted to an attack. Furthermore, It can be hard to understand why someone enduring sexual trauma might not fight off their attacker or, at least, try to escape the situation. Learning more about the body’s chemical response to trauma and how it affects our physiological responses to trauma can help enlighten professionals to this phenomenon and potentially eliminate unsubstantiated judgments that negatively influence reporting outcomes. This information can be equally valuable to victims. It can help untangle and sort through misinformed feelings of self-blame, and redirect the blame and judgments to where it belongs, the perpetrators. Our bodies are designed to protect us from traumatic situations whether we are conscious of it or not, and this science heightens our abilities to understand why and how.        

References:

Marx, B. P., Forsyth, J. P., Gallup, G. G., & Fusé, T. (2008). Tonic immobility as an evolved predator defense: Implications for sexual assault survivors.Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 15(1), 74-90.       

Suarez, S. D., & Gallup, G. G. (1979). Tonic immobility as a response to rape in humans: A theoretical note. The Psychological Record, 29(3), 315.   
  
Galliano, G., Noble, L. M., Travis, L. A., & Puechl, C. (1993). Victim reactions during rape/sexual assault: A preliminary study of the immobility response and its correlates. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 8(1), 109-114. 

Human Trafficking Awareness

posted Feb 17, 2016, 11:56 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Feb 17, 2016, 12:07 PM ]

        Human trafficking is a devastating and dehumanizing act. Because human trafficking is so detrimental to society, it calls forth the need for more awareness and prevention. 9 News recently released an article  that addressed efforts by local nonprofits and the Safe Action Project, in bringing awareness to hotels about human trafficking, sex trafficking in particular. Mile High Women’s Outreach organized the event to educate hotel and hospitality staff on indicators of potential trafficking as well as ways to report suspicious behavior. Attached to the article are documents developed by the Safe Action Project that outline warning signs for various positions within the hotel and hospitality industry.

        The SAFE Action Project documents highlight behaviors and scenarios commonly linked with sex trafficking. The 9news article also included a document from the BLUE Campaign which provides information about Human Trafficking more broadly, providing information on indicators of potential coerced labor situations. While labor trafficking doesn’t immediately grab the headlines like sex trafficking, it affects a wider range of people and can be harder to detect. Furthermore, many instances of trafficking include various kinds of human rights abuses related to both sex and labor trafficking. According to the Huffington Post, human trafficking is fundamentally about, “people working in a climate of fear, not free to leave exploitative and dangerous working environments.” The article notes various elements of coercion which lead to a person being trafficked including threats of force, fraud, and physical/sexual assault among other things. 

        Although the documents provided by SAFE Action Project inform employees in the hotel industry to be aware of sex trafficking, they neglected other potential instances of human trafficking. For instance, hotel workers may themselves be human trafficking victims. As such, it would behoove us to be aware of human trafficking warning signs in any work environment. The media commonly focuses primarily on young women who could be sexually exploited, human trafficking is actually a much more pervasive problem that should be thought about more holistically as a problem that can impact people of all backgrounds. Just like sexual assault, education and social awareness are necessary to prevent and inform a discourse on the issue of human trafficking. 

Author: Stacey McClellan 

Pornography and Sexual Assault

posted Feb 3, 2016, 12:26 PM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Feb 17, 2016, 11:53 AM ]

    American culture is inundated with sexual imagery. We are reminded time and again that “sex sells”. After all, sex is a driving force in nature and may influence our day to day decisions more than we may like to believe. According to some, pornography has been around since ancient times in one form or another. However, what may distinguish pornography in the past from pornography today is the sheer ubiquity of access to pornography through the internet.  Through the internet, pornography has become incredibly accessible, and is viewed by millions daily.  For practitioners working in the field of sexual assault prevention, psychology and sociology effect on the people who view pornography, and on a society in which pornography is viewed strictly as an innate reflection of a biological drive for sex. 

        A report published by the parliament of New South Wales set out to try and find out if the accessibility of pornography impacted the prevalence of sexual assault. Since “pornography” itself does not have a definitive definition and can vary depending on one’s personal views and beliefs, the parliament identified pornography specifically as “material in which the primary concern appears to be to demean women and reassert their treatment as inferiors”. In the research examined, data hinted at a possible connection between instances of sexual crimes and the viewing of pornography. In the same study, they found that pornography was viewed just before or during a sexual assault in forty-one percent of sex crimes committed in Michigan over the course of twenty years. Another example shows that Alaska and Nevada have  a rape rate six times higher than  South Dakota, and Alaska and Nevada have five times the amount of sales of adult magazines as South Dakota. 

    VAWnet.org set out to investigate studies on whether or not pornography does have a direct correlation with the occurrence of sexual assault. The article states that “Virtually all reviews of the research on the potential connections between pornography and sexual violence suggest there is evidence for some limited effects on male consumers but no way to reach definitive conclusions”. One study cited reported that while pornography itself may not cause men to become more aggressive or have misogynistic views towards women, it may reinforce aggressive behavior and biased views in men who are already predisposed to such views. Another important factor mentioned in the article is that studies which expose men to pornographic material and then record results within a short period of time can never replicate the day to day consumption of pornography in a way that reflects how such consumption takes place in reality, over extended periods of time. As a result, it is unrealistic to state definitively that pornography directly shapes or affects behavior and ideas over a long period of time.

    While it might be difficult to fully explicate the connection between pornography and sexual assault, it has no doubt had an influence on the everyday lives of American consumers (e.g. all of us). If pornography is harmless and something to be expected for our population to consume, then we must look at the data to confirm that. Today, the data presented has come up inconclusive, perhaps in part because of pornography’s nebulous definition. In the end, we must decide for ourselves how we think others should be treated, and by extension, depicted.

Author: Natalie Thompson

Self Care for Survivors of Sexual Assault

posted Dec 31, 2015, 8:01 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Feb 17, 2016, 12:09 PM ]

        Each year, the holiday season beckons us to conjure up feelings of joy and nostalgia. For some though, the holidays brings with it depression and loneliness. The holidays can be especially difficult for victims of sexual assault, particularly if the assault occurred in or around the holiday season, possibly by a family member who may be present at family gatherings. Studies show that about thirty percent of child sexual assault cases involve the perpetrator as a family member, and sixty percent of perpetrators are individuals close to the family: i.e. family friends, neighbors, etc. If the survivor does not have the acknowledgement and support of their family, or the family is not aware of the assault, holiday gatherings can retraumatize the individual and put them at greater risk.
    To help victims stay empowered during this time of year, RAINN offers some tips on how to do self-care, both for physical and emotional well-being. Physically,survivors should listen to their bodies’ needs. For instance, the amount of sleep someone gets impacts their mental and physical health. During this stressful time of year, survivors may want to make time for a ritual nap to catch up on extra sleep. Exercise is another way to engage in self care. Exercise should energize the individual and help them work through mental barriers and stresses during this time of year. Additionally, a daily routine adds structure to an individual's schedule, which should provide them with a measure of stability to help relieve additional stress. The holidays also frequently give us reason to eat unhealthy foods on a regular basis. Like exercise, eating healthy foods can energize the individual, and give them an edge to overcome holiday stress and anxiety. All to say, emotional well-being is strongly tied with physical health.
    Meditation and reflection are other ways to help relieve stress as well. Both meditation and reflection help bring the body into sync with the mind (mind being defined in this context as the individual's thoughts and emotions), which helps pull the individual out of their worries and anxieties-things that have the potential to overwhelm the individual-into a space that empowers and calms the individual. The art of journaling can also be a valuable self care tool. Journaling can help survivors engage their thoughts, feelings, and anxieties directly by having the individual put their thoughts on these things on paper. This can be especially valuable if they are uncomfortable explaining their inner thoughts and emotions to someone else. In this way, the individual engages in a dialogue of a kind, dialogue with oneself, which can help individuals sort through their thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Some individuals who journal might even consider journaling inspirational words or quotes to help keep their mind focused and motivated when their need is greatest.
    While individual self care can help survivors of sexual assault take care of themselves, a helpful shoulder to lean is also often appreciated. If you know a survivor of sexual assault, there are many ways to show your support. Often times the simple act of listening can open the space for the survivor to express how they feel and create a space of healing. Friends and family members can also reinforce survivor self care by reminding survivors to take the steps necessary to feel better. Survivors can also access resources such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline. It is also important as a friend or family to be aware of the National Suicide Hotline, and be watchful of potential indications that their friend or loved one might consider suicide. 
    Hopefully what I have written has provided you with some useful basic self care, awareness, and compassion tips. While the holidays can be challenging for survivors, they can also be a time where the survivor overcomes adversity and gets the support they need to create lasting well being and strength. 

Author: Stacey McClellan

Expanding Reporting Options for College Students

posted Dec 29, 2015, 7:20 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Dec 31, 2015, 8:01 AM ]

With the expansion of innovative technologies and an increased utilization of electronic forms of communication over face to face interactions, colleges and universities are looking to expand reporting options for victims of sexual assault. These options include an online resource that allows for electronic and anonymous reporting, a perpetrator matching service, and education around sexual assault as well as local resources. The website is called Callisto and it was developed by a non-profit agency out of San Francisco, Sexual Health Innovations (Singer, 2015). 

    The Callisto system allows students who have been victimized to record the occurrence on a safe and protected site and then gives them the option of saving the data for a later date or using it for a formal report. If you choose to save the recorded information for a later date, the details are time stamped and students can come back and either download the information to bring into the police or they can connect the report to their student email address and report it to their school electronically. There is a demo option on the site that guides you through the website resources and explains the different processes. 

    One unique feature Callisto provides is a matching option if you know the identity of the offender. The matching feature uses distinctive identifiers such as the perpetrator’s Facebook URL and notifies a student if the perpetrator has been recorded in a previous report. Singer (2015) noted that the matching option might help reassure victims that they are not alone in their victimization and the perpetrator is no longer an individual risk but rather a community risk. This can be especially significant when we look at how many sexual assaults are committed by individuals who are serial offenders. The website did note that the matching mechanism is not 100% accurate and may simply indicate that another person has entered similar information.

    Callisto is an innovative approach to sexual assault reporting. It is only offered to a limited number of colleges and universities at this time however. Like most programs in their beginning stages, there are some points of concern. Singer (2015) pointed out the potential for victims to postpone reporting in hopes they will “match up” with another reporting victim. Postponing a report could put other students at risk. There is also concern about the perpetrator identifiers used such as Facebook links. This might expose the victim to the perpetrators Facebook page and possible friends they have in common inducing further stress and anxiety. 
The development of the Callisto website highlights a significant issue in reporting sexual assault, the fear of reporting in person. A quote from a sexual assault survivor used on the website states, “It was hard to imagine coming forward in an immediately public way, but to start by chronicling what had occurred would have been a helpful and important first step”. According to the New York Time article, the non-profits founder, Jessica Ladd, developed the idea for Callisto after experiencing the reporting process first hand. Jessica noted in her experience that reporting in person can be “disempowering and traumatizing”. Although this online resource may help mitigate the problems associated with reporting in person, it highlights both the perceived and real stigma victims feel after being sexually assaulted.  According to Singer (2015) students reported concerns including a lack of confidence that what they experienced was a sexual assault, fear that people will not believe them, or negative social consequences. So, in addition to finding a way to navigate around these negative fears and experiences, there should be an additional parallel focus on eliminating them. 

    First responders and professionals gathering information on a possible assault should be trained and educated on insecurities that follow a traumatic event. By promoting education and sensitivity training with first responders, we can reduce the fears associated with in person reporting and empower victims to take immediate action should they choose to do so. Individuals who have been victimized should be free to ask questions without the fear of consequences, judgment, or stigmatization. Progress has been made on this front, through programs such as “You Have Options,” but for some individuals Callisto helps bridge the gap of reporting in person without fear of further trauma by providing a safe and secure method for students to anonymously report in a way that best fits their needs. However, this should be an evolutionary step forward, not the end goal. The end goal should encompass a world in which victims of sexual assault live free from stigmatization and feel empowered to report any sexual assault.

Author: Stacey McCllelan

Prison Rape

posted Dec 2, 2015, 7:42 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Dec 29, 2015, 7:22 AM ]

    The United States has the highest imprisonment rate of any developed country in the world. According to the Department of Justice, over two million people are incarcerated in the United States, higher than China or Russia. Of these two million individuals, Over 20% of these individuals are pretrial detainees or remand prisoners. For those who have been sentenced to live in prison, or those who do not yet know their fate within the criminal justice system, sexual assault is a specter that looms over the prison setting. While these individuals may have made mistakes, they are still individuals worthy of living in a safe, dignified setting. Furthermore, if prisons are supposedly a place that transforms individual behavior, it is essential these individuals be provided a safe space to reflect on their circumstance. However, the transformation of individuals that takes place is moe often negative than positive. One of the contributing factors to the negative experience of inmates is the threat of sexual assault in prison. The will of those who would act wickedly to their fellow inmates, or guards charged to maintain order and safety, leads to an environment which cultivates more hardened individuals and “post-release crime." 

    In a story put out by the ACLU, one female inmate named Dorothy describes the power that guards have in the lives of inmates. Guards are required to watch every aspect of a prisoner’s everyday life, including showering and going to the bathroom. Dorothy goes on to describe how one guard began to ask sexual favors from her in exchange for food and normal distribution of basic hygiene products. When she continued to refuse the guards advances, she was raped by him. Her report of the abuse fell on deaf ears as the administration chose not to investigate her case. Prison guards leverage their authority and status to take advantage of others, and do substantial physical and even greater psychological harm to those who they are ostensibly supposed to look after. Compounding the problem is the lack of reporting of these assaults that occur in prison. Sexual Assault disclosure is already a difficult issue with many victims, but reporting issues are amplified to an even greater degree in prison stemming largely from the, “ecology of incarceration.”

    The psychological damage and humiliation that results from a sexual assault in prison from either a guard or another inmate has both short and long-term consequences to both the individual and to the wider community. Prison rape and sexual assault causes social, emotional, and cognitive stresses in the individual so severe, it sometimes leads to suicide. In other individuals, their victimization causes intense feelings of anger, not just at the perpetrator of an assault, but at the authority figures that were supposed to protect them. It leads these individuals to take on the characteristics of the perpetrator in order to reassert themselves, which occurs with the individual taking violent action against others in order to reassert themselves as strong individuals.Sexual assault is predominantly an act motivated by power and control. As such, a victim of prison rape lashing out is the reflection of the victim’s attempt to take back control of their situation.

    It is unacceptable for the United States to have two million people incarcerated in its prison system. It's worse that the institutions meant to keep the public safe and reform these individuals is contributing to the further proliferation of violence in our communities. Our fear of people we deem dangerous and our desire to put them away in prisons creates fertile ground for retraumatization and violence of people within the criminal justice system which in turn, replicates itself in society at large.

Author: Natalie Thompson

Catching Up with Technology: Ghost Apps

posted Nov 19, 2015, 2:24 PM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Dec 2, 2015, 7:53 AM ]

    With new technologies developing at rapid rates, we need to be aware of the possible dangers when they are used to victimize.  One such danger exists with so called “ghost apps”. According to Business Insider, a ghost app is like a private vault for your phone. On the surface, the app presents itself as something innocuous, such as a calculator. However, once the app is opened and the proper inputs are made, it grants the user  access to stored pictures, videos, and other forms of personal information. Ghost apps have been around for several years but recently they have become increasing popular for students who use it to share sexual pictures and videos. According to 9news, Cañon City is investigating over a 100 students who have been sharing nude and seminude photos with one another, some of whom may be as young as 13 years old. Those involved could face charges of possessing and distributing child pornography. 

    This case is problematic because it presents circumstances in which young children could potentially face felony charges under state statute. This case also raises some important questions in regards to the nature of information sharing across a group of individuals. For instance, if a photo was shared from one child to another was voluntarily, are they legally culpable for distributing pornographic material, particularly if their “friend” forwards it on to others? Case investigators are also looking into whether these photo were taken voluntarily or coerced. The Cañon City High Case shows how technology, when not properly understood or used, can have serious consequences. That said there are things community members (parents being the most pertinent individuals in this case) can do to educate young folks in the proper use of the technology at their fingertips so as to be respectful of themselves and their peers. Similar to teaching a young person how to drive, it is important to educate children on the responsible use of useful, but also potentially harmful technology. 

    According to Today Parents in 2012, over 70 percent of teens reported access to some type of hidden online activity. Some of this activity might be attributed to ghost apps.  So how do we prevent, or at least limit children's access to potentially harmful technology such ghost apps? There are several things that parents can do to reduce this risk. Today Parents suggests parents investigate new apps and stay informed. Technology is constantly evolving so it is helpful to keep track of these new developments and educate yourself on what they can do. Another suggestions is to look for redundancy among device applications. If a child has two calculator applications it might be a sign of a ghost app. Next, they advise the use of parental controls. Parental control can provide download restrictions that reduce the risk of children gaining access to potentially harmful applications. The most critical piece of harm reduction is open communication between parent and child. Children may not be aware of the risks involved with ghost apps and other pieces of technology. Perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a conversation about what constitutes a healthy relationships between individuals and how the circulation of explicit sexual photographs of themselves and fellow students is inappropriate, particularly if it is done so without the other individual’s consent. We may not be able to predict the development of harmful technologies, but education and awareness can help foster a healthy respect of potential dangers in using technology without thoughtful deliberation on the potential consequences of such technology. 

Author:
Stacey McClellan

Vicarious Trauma

posted Nov 4, 2015, 10:37 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Dec 2, 2015, 7:54 AM ]

    A study created by a student at the University of North Texas describes trauma as essentially the mind and body’s inability to adapt to an overwhelming, and sometimes life threatening event. Trauma can mimic effects of a life-long disease in that it causes symptoms ranging from hyperarousal, flash-backs, and even physical and mental sensations of numbness. Trauma is more often than not within the histories of people seeking assistance at mental health centers, substance abuse treatment centers, or living in homeless shelters throughout the nation. 
    There is no contesting that sexual assault is a traumatic experience for those who have experienced it, but what about those people who work with directly with this victim population? In what ways does trauma impact those people who choose to work with survivors of sexual violence as a part of their day to day routine? There is a growing body of literature about how professionals who have consistent exposure to survivors of violence can find themselves entangled in the mesh of sadness, cynicism, injustice, and hopelessness. Like ocean waves crashing along a shoreline, the eventual wear and tear workers experience through repeated exposure to the traumatic events of others begins to impact their behavior, health, and sense of self. This is often referred to as secondary trauma, or vicarious trauma. 

    Vicarious trauma can present itself in many different forms and, when overlooked, can begin to affect the everyday quality of life of individuals and those who live with them. One article by counseling.org states that symptoms can present as dreaming about, or losing sleep over patients, free floating anger or irritation, over or under-eating, or the feeling that they are not doing enough for their patients. Physically, it can manifest as exhaustion, talking to oneself, poor communication and poor relationships. Many of these symptoms may start slowly and build over time. Leading to a more difficult time identifying and preventing worsening severity of the signs. 

    A research paper completed by a masters student from the University of North Texas found that in addition to the high susceptibility of secondary trauma among trauma workers in general, workers who had a history of sexual assault or domestic violence themselves were significantly more likely to experience secondary trauma in the workplace. The study suggests people who go into the field to help others as a result of their past experiences may be at a higher risk of being re-traumatized. Interestingly, those who had experienced this trauma in the past and sought counseling following the event were less likely than their counterparts to encounter vicarious trauma and burnout. This not only suggests the importance of trauma work early on for survivors in effecting long term positive effects, but that these same individuals might be better equipped to help others in similar situations learn to sort through their grief.

    Vicarious trauma  is a by-product of the work people in the sexual assault response field do. Professionals and those who chose to help others who are recovering from sexual violence place themselves in a battlefield of emotional and physical suffering. Workers must be able to identify feelings and behaviors indicative of secondary trauma and have a plan to combat it. This may be in the form of continuous counseling to help process the feelings and emotions that naturally will occur in the process of working with survivors. It is vital that individuals placed to assist in the healing process of survivors be able to heal themselves in order to be effective in fostering well-being in the lives of individuals who have experienced immediate trauma.

Author: Natalie Thompson

Yes Means Yes

posted Oct 27, 2015, 7:26 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Dec 2, 2015, 7:54 AM ]

    No means no! This statement has been promoted by many universities and schools worldwide in efforts to reduce the number of sexual assault incidents and encourage reporting of sexual violence. According to PBS news, the focus was initially on the lack of consent given while victims fought off their attackers, looking at signs of resistance and addressing what consent wasn’t there. With the no means no approach to consensual sex, a perpetrator of sexual assault could interpret sexual advances as “allowed” until the victim says no explicitly. In an effort to establish a more definitive and affirmative approach to consent, there has been a paradigm shift from “no means no,” to “yes means yes.” 

    Re-framing to ‘yes mean yes’ when advocating for sexual assault prevention is not only a more positive approach to empowerment, but according to PBS news many campuses see it as an opportunity to clarify consent. The objective is to redefine consent in a way that eliminates ambiguity, is affirmative rather than negative, and marks a reciprocally conscious decision made by both individuals to have consensual sex. This is especially important now that some states, such as California, are creating legislation which will have schools incorporate policies that shift the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused. The second part of this shift is the concept that consent should be given through each step of any sexual encounter. In an article posted by the New York Times, they address how ‘yes means yes’ is being incorporated into sex education in some high schools. These schools are pushing the idea that consent should be given during every step of the engagement despite how uncomfortable or unnatural it may seem. It opens up the need for active communication rather the implication that silence or lack of protest is an indication to keep going. 

    The ‘no’ to ‘yes’ cultural shift around sexual assault prevention does not negate the importance of vocalizing when someone does not want to engage in sexual activity by saying no. Instead, it stresses the importance of letting a partner know, during all steps of engagement, that they are consenting to the sex. This itself reinforces and enhances both parties sexual experience as it opens up communication between both consenting parties which builds trust, compassion, and passion between individuals. By empowering both parties to be active in deciding what acts they are comfortable in engaging in, they better take control of the the experience and prevent potentially harmful misinterpretations.

Author: Stacey McClellan

A Brief Look at Sexual Assault in the Media

posted Oct 22, 2015, 6:57 AM by Brendan Davidson - CDPS   [ updated Dec 2, 2015, 7:54 AM ]

    The media plays an important role in our society. It provides the means by which most of us receive information about what is going on in the world, and can shade perception of problems the community faces. Because of its position as a primary source of information for many people, the media has substantial influence in promoting change and awareness in complex or taboo issues. In the case of sexual assault, the media has contributed greatly to providing awareness of certain aspects of the issue. Of late, many of the stories about sexual assault have been about campus rape and assault.  We see information on college assault on televised news, in online articles, and in social media. Lady Gaga even recently came out with a music video addressing the subject of campus rape head on. However, the media’s coverage of sexual assault on campus is a small part of a much larger story.

    While the issue of campus assaults is a dire one, campus sexual assault is representative of only a fraction of the population affected by this type of violence. The New York Times ran an article comparing the likelihood of sexual assault among women who attend college versus the women who do not. According to the article, women who do not attend college are about thirty percent more likely to experience sexual assault than women who are the same age who are in college. More pointedly, people in underprivileged circumstances experience more violence to a greater degree than other people in society. Unfortunately, as the New York Times article indicates, there is a dearth of research examining the potential correlation between sexual violence, poverty, and education.

    Perhaps part of our fixation on campus sexual violence can be explained by the ease of access to students who are willing to participate in studies about sexual assault. However, because so much information is coming from this select group of individuals, it can be easy to lose sight of those individuals who do not fit into this particular demographic, i.e. students on campus. Put differently, sexual assault impacts all levels of society, but media coverage has done little to cover stories about sexual assault in those communities most vulnerable to this crime. 

    The representation of sexual assault by media outlets of late has been a marked improvement over the historical representation of sexual assault victims. Popular misconceptions of victims of sexual assault level shame and responsibility for the crime onto the victims. Thanks in part to increased media exposure, in addition to the efforts of principled individuals and community organizations, the broader societal conversation regarding sexual assault has made significant strides. The conversation of of sexual assault on college campuses and making places of higher education safer for the people who are fortunate enough to attend these institutions has received robust media attention.  However, it is imperative we as a society do not forget the populations that are already under-represented in regards to services and attention, but are over-represented in regards to violence and crime they experience. 

Author: Natalie Thompson

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