Protecting Our Youth Against Campus Sexual Assault: 3 Key Strategies

Today's blog is for mature audiences: ages 18 and over.

Today's conversation is not an easy one to have, but it is critical.  What I am about to share may seem exaggerated and even fabricated.  Tragically, it is not. In the words of Susan Marine (Former Associate Dean of Student Life at Harvard University), "Sexual violence has always been part of the college experience". We know this to be an accurate statement from studies conducted on "campus violence at our universities and colleges" which date as far back as 1987 (CNN Films, The Hunting Ground).

Before I offer you 3 Key Strategies for Protecting Our Youth Against Campus Sexual Assault, it is important to understand that the recent case at Stanford University (in which an accomplished swimmer was convicted of sexual assault against a female student) is one of thousands which occur each year in the United States.Today, one out of four female college students will be a victim of rape or sexual assault. Male student victim numbers are far less, largely due to lack of reporting.CBS Evening  News (June 23, 2016) reported that The Big 12, one of the major conferences in college sports, ordered an accounting into how Baylor University handled sexual assault allegations after "three university students filed suit this week against Baylor claiming they were raped and the school did nothing." One victim, who knows twenty other female victims, referred to  Baylor University as "a hunting ground for sexual predators."

Why don't we hear more about this? 

There are several reasons:
  • Universities and colleges are big businesses. Because they are selling a product and do not want bad publicity, they will do what needs to be done to protect their brand. 
  • In order to protect themselves first and to suppress the rape or assault,  universities and colleges discourage victims from going to the police.  They do no want a public record. Therefore, they prefer to handle the assaults "in house", with their own campus resources.
  • Victims who do report are frequent targets of on-going threats and violence. In a recent study, 88% of victims sexually assaulted on campus did not report (Washington Post & Kaiser Foundation, 2014).
  • In 2012, 45% of colleges reported zero sexual assaults. (Washington Post, 2014). However, over 100 colleges and universities are currently under Federal investigation for sexual assault.
As with many social injustices, I believe it takes a triage approach: prevention,intervention  and protection in order to address this issue. First, it is important to establish laws which will hold offenders and universities accountable. Another important preventative measure is to educate young people about the culture of violence and the rights of each and every individual to live,study, and work in a safe environment. And yes, parents and guardians have a responsibility to teach young people how to respect one another and treat each and every person with dignity and human regard. However, I believe the legal system is lagging way behind in addressing this problem, and we cannot wait for the universities and colleges to step up and do the right thing. Too many young people continue to be victimized. But until that happens, we must face the disgusting fact that many sick individuals view our college campuses as Hunting Grounds. 

CNN Films, 2015 
"Any parent sending a child off to college should consider this required viewing." 
- New York Magazine

Secondly, it is critical to have sources of intervention: crisis centers, help-lines and websites, counseling and support services, safe reporting procedures, etc. Organizations such as RAINN  (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) have helped thousands of youth and continue to do so. For many victims, RAINN has been their only life-line. Therefore, we must have methods of prevention and intervention in place; we must also have protective measures in place as well.

I want to make clear this isn't about "victim blaming". No victim is ever to blame. However, we must also embrace protective strategies any time we put ourselves in harm's way. When a soldier steps out into a mine-field, he/she wears protective armor. When a football player suits up for a game, he is in full protective gear. The minute we get into our cars, we strap on our seat-belts. Everyday, we implement protective measures in order to lessen our risk of harm. Tragically, going off to college is no different.

Let's take a look at 3 Key Strategies for Protecting Our Youth:

1. PLAN AHEAD.   Parents, educate yourself and your young adults about the culture of violence on our college and university campuses. 
  • Do your homework. Read articles with your daughter or son about the culture of violence which exists on our campuses. Study the facts by researching the universities and campuses to which your children are applying and/or are attending. A recent article, Breaking The Silence: Addressing Sexual Assault on Campus (Huffington Post, January 2015,Tyler Kinkaid) lists 94 colleges under investigation. Know what is going on and where. No university is immune. 
  • As difficult as it is to watch, view the film The Hunting Ground with your college-bound or college age children.  Discuss it with them.  Learn from it. Know what is going on.
  • Whenever there is an item  in the news such as the Stanford University assault case, do not shy away from talking about it.  What can be learned from it? What is your son or daughter feeling about it?  Listen to them.  Together, start thinking about and writing down some ideas for "protective boundaries" (to be discussed).
Plan Ahead

2. PREPARE YOURSELF with insights into the profile of an offender.  Offenders typically implement 3 phases when targeting and assaulting victims. Knowing this pattern will  help youth to implement appropriate "protective boundaries".

 3 phase plan: 
  • Identify their victim : Perpetrators tend to be repeat offenders, but not always.They usually know or know of the victim, or they may single out a victim they do not know within any given situation. Either way, offenders target the more vulnerable students: freshman; those who walk alone or spend time alone or who separate from their friends at social gatherings; those who appear naive or unaware of the risks of social behaviors; and those who seem to respond to flattery easily or who trust easily. Many victims have revealed that they "knew and trusted the offender"or they "thought he was a friend". Remember, offenders are not interested in you - they are assessing your vulnerabilities and how to use them to their advantage.   
  • Intoxicate their victim: After an offender has identified a potential victim, the second phase is to get them intoxicated. Perpetrators use alcohol and drugs as weapons. They use them to render victims more vulnerable, make them easier to over-power, and to break down their defense mechanisms or inhibitions (their gut instincts or levels of trust, their ability to fight off or defend themselves, their ability to get or call for  help). Offenders want their victims weakened or unconscious! 
  • Isolate their victim: The third phase is the most dangerous. Perpetrators may appear concerned about the victim's well-being or pretend to have feelings for her/him. They may offer to take her/him home.They may ask the victim to go back to their place to sleep it off, to take a taxi with them, to step outside to get some fresh air. Offenders want to isolate victims from their friends or from anyone who may be a potential witness to the crime. Offenders want their victims alone!  
          *Note - Tragically, many times perpetrators offend in groups or in gangs (fraternity sexual  assault rituals or gang rapes). Under any highly charged social settings or  circumstances, do no allow yourself to be isolated or separated from your friends or sources of support.  

3. PUT PREVENTATIVE STEPS  into an action plan with protective BOUNDARIES.  Once you have an understanding of the epidemic of sexual assaults on our campuses, your awareness is increased and heightened. This is good. Secondly, now that you have a clear picture into the mind of an offender (and of the  3 phase plan for offending), you have the power to implement preventative steps. And although we can never prevent 100% an assault from happening, we can absolutely decrease our risk of victimization.

When I am speaking to young people about issues such as this, I ask them and challenge them to come up with their own "action plan" with their preventative steps.  I call these steps boundaries. 
  • Boundaries are healthy. They are good.  
  • Boundaries safe-guard what is important to you.
  • Boundaries are  not about pushing others away. Boundaries are about creating a safe space to protect what matters to you. 
  • Boundaries message others about what you will do or won't do.  
  • Boundaries message others about what you will accept and what you won't.  
  • Boundaries message others about your worth - and how important it is to you!
My Personal Boundaries
So, just as I do with other young people, I am going to ask you to make a list of your boundaries with regards to how you want to protect yourself  given the new knowledge you have gained.

My Personal Boundaries

Healthy Parameters                                                             Unhealthy Behaviors

(Example)
1. Going out in groups.                                                           1. Drinking (amount ?)
2. Never leaving my group of friends at parties.                    2. Leaving with a guy, intoxicated.
3. Always designating a sober friend at social events.           3. Going to a stranger's place. 

Spend as much time on this as needed!  This is a fluid self-protective action plan. Change it. Add to it. Alter it.  As you learn more about yourself, your college culture and environment, and you learn from your choices, revisit it and reinforce your boundaries! YOU are your first line of defense!

When your boundaries come from you, you are  more likely to implement them. 
You have the knowledge.  You have the power!  Now, take action!!

In closing, I want to share with you that when I was in practice, I worked largely with survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and trauma. I worked with adolescents, teens, young adults, adults, and many couples. Although their narratives varied, most victims' assaults, rapes, molestation, etc. occurred within "closed systems", which means there is a hierarchy of power established to protect its brand and its reputation at all cost. Universities and colleges are examples of "closed systems"; however, they are not alone in perpetuating this cultural epidemic of sexual violence. Parents, guardians, and young people (ages 15 and over), I ask you to read a previous blog which addresses this issue more thoroughly:  Sexual Abuse Thrives in the Secrecy and Silence of Closed Systems. Although we cannot live in fear, we must be informed; we must be vigilant; and we must be proactive in protecting our youth. 

For more resources regarding sexual assaults on our college campuses,
 please visit and support See Act Stop and RAINN ( 800 - 656 HOPE)

For more wellness strategies and tools, please visit Holli Kenley - Keys To Recovering!
Follow us @ Holli Kenley

Kenley's Keys to Recovering!

* Note - Some of the information in this blog was based on the film The Hunting Ground (CNN Films, 2015), and on additional research of my own.






Popular posts from this blog

How To Tech-Protect Our Kids: 4 Must-Reads and an APP!

~ Helen ~ Grateful for My Sister and for the Gift of Healing Together