Going beyond sexual assault awareness

Westminster students gather at the University of Utah for a Take Back the Night march to Westminster. The walk was sponsored by Students for Choice as part of college-wide events recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it aimed to reclaim public spaces as safe spaces. Photo by Angie Merkley

Westminster students gather at the University of Utah for a Take Back the Night march to Westminster. The walk was sponsored by Students for Choice as part of college-wide events recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it aimed to reclaim public spaces as safe spaces. Photo by Angie Merkley

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it is important to the local community in Utah. Sexual assault awareness month is not only crucial to spreading awareness and education but also in becoming advocates for survivors.

On a national average, one out of four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Utah is the leading state for reported sexual assault cases, with one out of three women being sexually assaulted.

Whitney Walton, senior international development major and co-president of the Tipping Point, said in an interview that she thinks the reason Utah has higher rates of reported sexual assault is a lack of education and because the topic goes undiscussed.

“We don’t talk about it,” Walton said. “It’s something that you don’t talk about, and if you do talk about it, it’s at home with your parents.”

Walton said there are a few reasons this could cause issues.

“I think it’s problematic that we allow this kind of education to fall onto the backs of parents when I think it should be in a classroom,” Walton said. “It should be public information. What if the parent is the one abusing the child? What if it’s a single parent who is working three jobs and barely has the time to put food on the table, let alone to take the time to teach their children about sex education and consent? What if the parents or guardians don’t have [sex education or consent knowledge] themselves? This spreads misinformation, which directly leads to higher rates of sexual assault.”

In addition to Utah leading in reported sexual assaults for women, it also has the highest reported cases of child sexual abuse in the country. Walton said more education is needed because there are so many factors, including child sexual abuse, that lead to sexual assault in the first place.

“This is really important to understand, because when a child is sexually abused, they are at a sevenfold risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault later in their life,” Walton said. “It’s very interconnected to sexual violence and sexual assault [as an adult.]”

Talking about these topics can be difficult, but it is necessary, Walton said. She said she didn’t think sexual assault is not taken seriously enough among the general population in Utah but more so that the general population doesn’t talk enough about sexual assault period.

“We live in a rape culture,” Walton said. “We are trying to change that culture. Even teaching [children] from a young age about consent [is changing the culture]. If you have a 3-year-old who is being tickled by a family member and the child says, ‘No, please stop,’ and that [family member stops, it’s practicing consent]. That shows the child that they have full control over their body, and that if it’s a family member or not, they get to choose to be tickled or touched or whatever it may be. Addressing low-level boundaries [practices consent].”

Everyone plays a role in sexual assault and sexual assault awareness, according to Walton.

“No matter what profession you’re in, no matter what role you play in society, everyone needs to be trained on [how to handle] sexual assault, because you never know who is going to confide in you,” Walton said. “You need to be prepared to be able to respond in a supportive and healthy way [because] this spreads throughout the whole community.”

Through the community, real change can occur in preventing sexual assault.

“[Sexual assault] is not on the victim, although the [blame and responsibility] usually falls on the victim and that needs to change,” Walton said. “[The responsibility] is not even solely on the perpetrator. It’s really about the people who allow the perpetrator to do and to keep doing what they have done. [Sexual assault] tends to be overlooked in that way. People know it’s happening but they pretend that it’s being taken care of, and that makes them complicit.”

There are ways that students can get involved in spreading sexual assault awareness.

“First, become educated and learn how and why sexual assault is a problem,“ Walton said. “The next thing to do is to see what events are going on around you to spread sexual assault awareness and bring friends. See what your campus, if you’re a student, has to offer or doesn’t have to offer. [Lastly,] it is incredibly important to be believing and supportive with sexual assault survivors.”

The Tipping Point was created in August 2015 and is holding sexual assault awareness events every week for the month of April. Its Facebook page has a complete schedule.