The cluster of blue and silver Pinwheels for Prevention have been spinning all week on the Boatwright lawn to raise awareness for child abuse. But another form of abuse has been spinning itself more subtly through the social interactions on our own campus. There have been three reported sexual assaults in the past four weeks.
Dean Juliette Landphair of Westhampton College said: "In essence, on traditional college campuses (including Richmond), sexual assaults typically involve two students who know each other, both have been drinking, women are the victims and men are the perpetrators, and the victim often does not initially define what happened as an assault. It takes weeks or even months before she realizes that what happened is legally considered a sexual assault.
"In addition, in the immediate aftermath, the victim rarely reports to 'official' sources such as our office or the URPD. They do not tell their parents. If they tell anyone, they tell a friend. Yet, the experience is devastating. It is life-changing."
While Landphair graciously offered online links to information and stories of strength that are used to help sexually victimized students through their ordeals, her words concerned us. Nearly every social interaction of every single day on campus involves at least two students who know each other and, particularly on the weekends, who have been drinking. We expend so much effort trying to be less inhibited in social settings, so how do we learn to simultaneously keep our guards up around people we are meant and want to trust?
Dean Joe Boehman of Richmond College was less forthcoming.
"Honestly, I don't know that there is a statement that I could make," he said. "If anything is processed as a case we handle it through our conduct process. So I don't comment on anything related to any situation that may or may not be happening. So there's really nothing for me to say."
We understand his hesitant stance and the need to uphold due process of law. He also suggested we speak to the URPD. But how can we learn to approach this situation in the future if there is an imbalanced willingness among our highest authority figures to talk about it? We spoke to the URPD.
Chief David McCoy said statistically the University of Richmond had had more sexual assault cases during the 2010-2011 school year than in previous years. He said he would have liked to believe that students were becoming more confident and willing to talk about these incidents because awareness needed to be raised about the issue.
He said he hoped students would report sexual assault cases, but said he realized there were many reasons people had not come forward. "In a small would like to believe that students were becoming more confident and willing to talk about these incidents because awareness needed to be raised about the issue."
If the reported case becomes a criminal offense, McCoy said he would do everything he could to support and protect the victim. "The care that the University of Richmond puts into the way its students are treated is phenomenal," McCoy said. "Richmond has done a great job at providing counsel to those in need."
The easy access to Counseling and Psychological Services on campus attests to this. As does the fact that Dean Landphair speedily responded a staff members' email inquiries about sexual assault issues on campus within the hour -- around midnight.
Dean Landphair said: "The key mission of the Westhampton College Dean's Office is to strengthen women intellectually and personally. The Westhampton dean's staff are professionally and passionately committed to responding to sexual assault survivors with respect and care."
So where do we find the Richmond College dean's staff in this tangle? Perhaps the recent rape cases are a sensitive topic for the men's half of the campus, which represents the "perpetrators," but is this a valid reason for one half to respond with strength and one with silence?
Our student body is a mass of young adults, but we still need guidance at times. Everyone does. So if our friends are statistically the ones who either hurt us or are hurting our other friends, where do we turn?
The answer is we must turn to each other. Both Westhampton College and Richmond College students are responsible for creating an environment on campus in which victims of sexual assault feel safe reporting the crimes against them. Better yet, University of Richmond students should work toward creating a campus where sexual assault is a rare occurrence and not one that seems to happen with frequency. This means that we as a student body cannot afford to be silent.
Statistics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology show one out of eight women will be raped while in college. Eighty four percent of women who are raped know their assailant. Will this statistic increase before students decide to speak out about the issue present on our college campus, or is it time to break the silence?