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Sexual assault coverage alerts students

Jamie Anderluh

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An increasing number of sexual misconduct allegations have surfaced this year, brought to light by social media movements, legal accusations, and the victims who have engaged in them.

The ongoing discussion of sexual harassment and assault calls attention to its prominence in student life. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the majority of victims of sexual assault are under the age of 30, and nearly 70 percent of victims are between the ages of 12 and 34.

“Before I go to college, I want to learn a little bit of self-defense or have pepper spray on me just because it’s not like I’m going to have supervision by teachers in a controlled environment like a classroom. In college, I think the possibility [of sexual assault or harassment] rises,” sophomore Payton Buch said.

Incidents of sexual assault are three times more likely to occur for women in college, according to RAINN. Additionally, the National Sexual Violence Research Center estimates that one in 16 men and one in five women will be sexually assaulted in college.

As students prepare to enter life after high school, the place of sexual education–and the ways in which individuals approach and react to sexual misconduct–can be called into question.

Jessica Caccavallo is a prevention educator at the Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault. Each year, she speaks to students about the implications of sexual misconduct.

“My job as a prevention educator is to teach a pre-school through college level education presentation on a variety of topics such as safe and unsafe touches, dating violence, sexual harassment, rape culture, sexual assault, how and where to get help for sexual violence, how to help a friend or family member, understanding consent, breaking down gender barriers, and busting myths about rape and sexual violence,” Caccavallo said.

Caccavallo spoke to sophomores this month in their health classes, encouraging open discussion.

“Since it is such a sensitive topic, especially for kids who may not be aware of everything and parents who may not be willing to tell everything, I feel that it’s extremely effective to become aware of this issue by having guest speakers who come to talk to us,” Buch said.

Students’ perceptions of sexual assault and harassment vary. Some report a lack of clarity, agreement, or understanding of the issue among their peers; others doubt the reality of sexual misconduct in high school.

“I think sexual harassment is a growing problem in high schools and colleges because people do not realize that sometimes just words can be classified as sexual harassment,” sophomore Carly McKean said.

“There are always going to be those people who aren’t for [this type of education] because everyone is going to have a different opinion, but I think the majority of people do find it effective,” Buch said.

Calling for increased education on the subject of sexual misconduct is one reaction to differing opinions over the issue. Of particular relevance to Caccavallo’s presentation is the Clothesline Project, designed to promote awareness for sexual violence. The Project displays shirts created by survivors of sexual violence or their loved ones.

“One of the first things that we learned about when we started our sexuality unit was the t-shirt project, and we got to walk around and read the t-shirts. Everyone was silent,” Buch said.

The Clothesline Project can make the realities of sexual violence more visible to students.

“I think that when people share their stories, it has a large impact on us, especially knowing that it was so close to home. It’s people in our district; it’s people who can be sitting right next to you who are going through things like this. To be aware and respectful of that is an important thing that students need to learn,” Buch said.

Caccavallo hopes that her presentations can offer hope for the victims of sexual assault and harassment and provide clarity for those who have misunderstandings.

“I hope that students in high school start to look at themselves and reflect on their individual actions and how those actions could impact survivors and others around them. I hope that after hearing me speak on these topics and reading Clothesline Project t-shirts from their district that students are more willing to have these conversations, stand up for others, and most importantly that if someone is a survivor of sexual violence, they receive the resources and support they need to begin to heal and feel safe again,” Caccavallo said.

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Sexual assault coverage alerts students