University raises awareness of sexual assault

Students take the "It's On Us" pledge during Sexual Assault Awareness month.

Students take the “It’s On Us” pledge during Sexual Assault Awareness month.

Nationwide, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. The prevalence of relationship violence, sexual assault and stalking on college campuses has become a topic of national concern, sparking a coast-to-coast “It’s On Us” campaign to raise awareness for the issue in 2014.

In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness month this April, FIU hosted a series of events geared to empower students with knowledge about the on-campus services available to them and how to identify sexual violence.

“I think it’s a very hot issue right now, especially since many artists are coming out as advocates for victims, like Lady Gaga, who is herself a survivor,” said senior journalism major Jocelyn Talavera. “It’s something that if it doesn’t directly affect you, it’s easy to ignore or just brush to the side, so if more tangible and accessible information is provided to students during college, I think it would help bring awareness to the issue and educate people.”

In a discussion on how to reduce the rates of domestic and sexual violence in the United States, hosted by FIU’s It’s On Us committee, activist Tony Porter spoke about breaking out of what he calls the “man box,” or the masculine, sex-driven gender roles assigned to men in American society.

“In order to effectively distance ourselves, we are taught early to have a lack of interest in the experience of women and girls,” Porter said, “except in the area of sex.”

Tony Porter discusses breaking out of gender stereotypes with FIU students

Activist Tony Porter discusses breaking out of gender stereotypes with FIU students.

One of the ways to break out of the “man box” is to encourage interest in the female experience outside of sexual conquest.

The annual Miami SlutWalk, a march to end victim shaming, took place April 8. Hosted by FIU’s chapter of the National Organization for Women, the event aims to change the conversation surrounding rape, shifting the blame from victims to rapists.

Advertising senior Angelika Licina feels the SlutWalk raises important awareness about putting an end to blaming victims for their abuse.

“It’s really unfair how many women are shamed and blamed for rape because people say their clothes were too revealing or they drank too much,” Licina said. “The best way to stop sexual assault in college is by increasing awareness, and I think events like this are a way for both women and men to acknowledge the severity of sexual assault and how important it is to report it to the police.”

FIU NOW also hosted a screening and discussion of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about the retaliation and harassment victims of assault face on campuses nationwide.

Take Back the Night, an entire month of tabling and events hosted by the FIU Women’s Center and its partners, raised awareness for the campus resources on available to members of the FIU community and where they can seek help should they fall victim to sexual assault.

In one such partnership with FIU’s Interfraternity Council, men dressed in heels to “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” an annual event to raise awareness about the hypersexualization of women.

The Women’s Center also displayed 6,000 purple flags on the GC lawns this month, a visual reminder that someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the United States.

Additionally, the Counseling and Psychological ServicesVictim Empowerment Program, which provides support services for victims of abuse on campus, tabled on campus throughout the month and provided sexual awareness training for resident assistants.

“Traditionally aged college students are at particular risk for sexual assault and relationship violence, and its prevalence among college and university students throughout the U.S. has been widely documented,” said VEP Director Sharon Aaron. “Institutions of higher learning are specially positioned to impart information and support growth on a variety of levels—intellectual, ethical, civil and social—and FIU is committed to doing so.”

In an ongoing awareness effort by the university, the Haven “Understanding Sexual Assault” course aims to create a healthy and safe university environment by teaching students about sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.

“In response to national discussions and concerns about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, and given FIU’s ongoing commitment to promote a safe and healthy learning environment for all students, we are diligently working on implementing the online training requirement,” said University Ombudsman Tony Delgado. “This course will help students learn about the resources on campus, how to report and how to intervene as an active bystander.”

Haven is a free, one-hour, online training program available to all students now on myFIU. It will be mandatory for all incoming students starting Spring 2017.

“I think [sexual violence] is a very important issue that needs to be addressed,” said computer engineering sophomore Gabriel Paz. “I think the class is pretty helpful, and I think if the information was included in the formal student orientation, it would be helpful.”

Talavera said: “I think FIU is pretty transparent with this issue. I see things everywhere promoting It’s On Us. If you just look around campus, there are posters on buildings, CAPS is always in GC tabling. They make themselves available to the student body, which I think is very proactive. They’re not ignoring the issue.”