Sexual assault is a broad term that encompasses any forcible sexual activity that occurs without the victim's consent. It is a crime of violence, power and control, and it is one of the most under-reported crimes in the United States (only about 16% of sexual assaults are ever reported to police).
Sexual assault is defined at Old Dominion University as rape; forcible sodomy; sexual penetration with an inanimate object; fondling or touching of an unwilling person's intimate parts (genitalia, groin, breast or buttocks, covered or uncovered); or forcing an unwilling person to touch another's intimate parts. Included in the offense of any of these acts are persons known to the victim as well as persons unknown to the victim. The offending acts can be committed through the use of force, the threat of force, by intimidation or not forcibly or against the person's will if the victim is incapable of giving consent (due to the substantiated use of alcohol or drugs or for other verified reasons).
Stalking on college campuses is occurring at an alarming rate, and it now appears that college students are at a higher risk of being stalked than other populations.
Old Dominion University defines stalking as repeatedly contacting, following or remaining in the physical presence of another person when the contacting person knows or should know that the contact is unwanted, that the contact causes the other person reasonable expectation of imminent physical harm or that the contact causes substantial impairment of the other person's ability to perform the activities of daily life. Contacting includes, but is not limited to, telephoning, transmitting letters or notes or contacting through the use of electronic media.
Relationship or dating violence is a pattern of physically, sexually and/or emotionally abusive behaviors used to assert power or maintain control over another in the context of an intimate relationship. These behaviors can include verbal as well as physical behaviors.
Old Dominion University defines sexual harassment as unwelcomed and unsolicited conduct of a sexual nature, physical or verbal by a member of the university community. A variety of sexual conduct directed at another may be considered sexual harassment including, but not limited to: offensive sexual innuendos, advances, propositions, threats, jokes, suggestive comments; graphic or degrading comments of a sexual nature about a person's appearance, whistling in a suggestive manner or obscene gestures; uninvited physical contact or touching; solicitation of sexual favors through implicit or explicit promises of rewards or threats of punishment.
The first three weeks of the academic year is a time when students are at a high risk for becoming a victims of sexual violence. Having a conversation with a student about sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking and sexual harassment can help them have a successful and safe college career. By talking with the student, you can raise their awareness about sexual violence and create a safe space for them to come to you, if they are victimized.
In the immediate aftermath, your student will need gentleness and acceptance. They will needs your nonjudgmental support. When someone has been victimized, one's sense of control and power has been taken away. Part of regaining control requires allowing your student to make their own decisions about reporting, medical attention and counseling. Make sure that the student has the information and support to make decisions regarding the incident and respect those decisions. Some immediate things you can do to help include:
- Understand that your student may not want to tell you about their situation. There is a perceived need to protect the parents from trauma.
- They may also feel ashamed and/or be afraid of being blamed for the incident.
- Listen! Be available to your student. Making yourself available will help them feel safe and secure.
- Each survivor has a different recovery pace. The student may want you to be with them or not. Allow the student to make that decision.
- Do not blame your son or daughter for what they did or did not do. This can cause more harm than good and may result in your student shutting down from you completely.
- Suggest that they seek out an advocate, on-campus (Women's Center, 757-683-41009) or off-campus (Response Sexual Assault Crisis Services, 757-623-2115), to support them.
Responses to Violence
Experiencing violence can lead to long-lasting effects as these crimes are a violent, coercive or manipulative invasion of privacy and space, and it can be a humiliating and terrifying experience. Sometime people fear for their lives, in other cases, the assault may not seem life threatening or dangerously violent, but still radically affects the survivor in all aspects of life. Each of us reacts to trauma in a different way and responses to assaults may occur immediately or be delayed. Survivors may experience a range of effects after an assault.
The Healing Process
It is important to know that these feelings and reactions are normal. They may not seem logical but they are common to people who have experienced a traumatic event of any kind - experts call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For survivors of sexual assault, there is a more specific name: Rape Trauma Syndrome.
Survivors may never be themselves again but they can recover. Everyone recovers at his or her own rate of speed. Sometimes it may feel that they have begun to heal, only to feel worse again. This too is normal.
Knowing that these feelings are normal and that others have experienced these feelings can help. Talking with people who are supportive can also help with the recovery process. Making that first step to contact the Women's Center or Response Sexual Assault Crisis Services or other resource office can make a big difference in how a victim feels.
The Women's Center at Old Dominion University is a one-stop resource for students to receive advocacy and support services. Support services through the Women's Center include crisis companionship, options identification, referrals, decision-making information and support groups.
Counseling, crisis-intervention and medical assistance is available through Response Sexual Assault Services (622-4300) and through campus services such as the Women's Center, Counseling Services and Student Health Services. A victim may choose to contact any of the services for support and information whether or not they will report the assault to ODU Public Safety or the Police.
Incidents of sexual assault can be reported to university authorities by contacting the Vice President of Student Services, a residence hall staff member, the Women's Center, Counseling Services, Student Health Services or the Department of Public Safety. Each of these areas has individuals trained to handle reports of sexual assaults.