The campus climate around sexual assault at Pacific University is changing. It is becoming easier to talk about and fewer instances of sexual assault are going unreported however, rape culture is still alive and well, according to Pacific Campus Wellness Director Kathleen Converse.
In the past couple years, Campus Wellness has escalated its straight forward approach to sexual assault. Campus Wellness now requires incoming students to attend ‘Let’s talk about Sex and Pizza’ events, to start conversations about healthy relationships, sex and sexual assault. In October, Campus Wellness held events to promote the nationwide ‘It’s on Us’ movement.
Former Vice President Joe Biden started the ‘It’s on Us’ movement to encourage people to take responsibility for ending sexual violence. At the ‘It’s on Us’ events at Pacific, Campus Wellness saw signs of progress toward fewer cases of sexual assault. Within a few days, more than 100 Pacific students said they made the ‘It’s on Us’ pledge, recognizing non-consensual sex as sexual assault and vowing to intervene in situations that may lead to sexual assault.
Many students also made meaningful statements about why they want to end sexual violence and how they plan to help. Campus Wellness has also seen progress since beginning its ‘Let’s Talk About Sex and Pizza’ program.
“We are creating a shifting culture so Pacific is a place where this conversation is normal, where we are not sweeping it under the rug, we acknowledge that this is an issue,” Converse said.
Converse believes there is evidence to suggest that more people are coming forward to report sexual assault. In the 2016 Pacific University Clery Report, which analyzes on-campus crime data, there were eight reported rapes on the Forest Grove campus in 2016 and in 2015 and three reported rapes in 2014.
“This is not necessarily a rise in sexual assaults, but a rise in reporting,” Converse said. “I think the increase in numbers is more about how we’ve made it safer to come forward, not that there has been an increase in sexual assaults.”
Still, there is a long way to go until sexual assault is no longer an issue. A survey from last spring revealed that one in ten women, one in 22 men and one in seven non-binary students have experienced sexual assault while at Pacific.
“Rape culture is still a very pervasive issue nationally,” Converse said. “When we break down the components that contribute to rape culture, the statistics haven’t changed in the past few years.”
One of the key points of rape culture is victim-blaming according to Converse.
“Of the people on campus who’ve experienced sexual assault, only 14 percent came forward, which is slightly better than the average of ten percent,” Converse said.
These numbers would be much higher if victims did not fear being blamed for their assault. The other key component of rape culture according to Converse is holding perpetrators accountable. Converse said in 6 of every 100 cases of rape, the perpetrator ends up in jail.
“If people believed victims just as much as those accused of sexual assault, it would be much harder to get elected President after multiple accusations of sexual assault arise,” Converse said. “The idea that someone who was accused of sexual assault is holding the highest position in office right now, proves that rape culture is alive and well.”
Because one in eleven students at Pacific has encountered sexual assault, Converse, Campus Wellness as well as the Counseling Center, are here to provide these survivors with as much support as needed. Converse stressed she and the counselors at the Counseling Center are confidential resources, meaning they are not obligated to report any instances of sexual assault to anyone.
They can help without making a report, by helping survivors to process what has happened, or making academic or housing accommodations to give students the time and space to cope with the assault.
“There are a lot of survivors on campus and I believe them and I see them and there are support services available if they want them,” Converse said.