Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. This figure includes those of all genders, age and races. Over 400,000 people become victims of sexual assault each year in the United States, also according to RAINN. Countless others are victims of other forms of sexual violence, including harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking. Since college students are especially likely to experience sexual violence, with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimating that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted during their college careers, there has been a concerted effort in recent years to help students, faculty and administrators alike recognize that they have a unique role to play in preventing sexual assaults from happening. Sexual Assault Awareness Month, first observed nationally in 2001, was created to raise awareness about an issue that touches so many, yet few seem to fully understand.
Pamela Paulmann, a project coordinator for a grant that was awarded to Fairfield University to help prevent gender-based violence and support survivors, said, “Dedicating April to sexual assault awareness allows us to highlight this pertinent and relevant problem on our campus by heightening awareness. Specifically, we aim to start more conversations on what sexual assault looks like and how each of us can help prevent it.”
In other words, the more knowledge that students and others have regarding sexual assault, the better equipped they will be to take steps to prevent it from happening.
“If students are comfortable with recognizing sexual assault, they are more likely to develop skills to intervene in risky situations,” Paulmann explained.
To the same extent that Sexual Assault Awareness Month is about prevention, it is also about remembering and supporting survivors.
“We want to ensure students have the knowledge and language to support survivors so that those affected are able to access the resources they need to heal,” Paulmann said.
To that end, a number of events and campaigns designed to raise awareness about sexual assault had been planned for the semester. Fairfield recently launched “Step Up Speak Up,” a media campaign reinforcing bystander intervention skills to prepare students to take action in situations where they believe someone is at risk of being assaulted. Campus Ministry, in collaboration with Residential Life, the Department of Public Safety as well as students, had also developed an exhibit titled “What Were You Wearing,” in which personal stories of sexual assault are shared alongside the outfits that survivors were wearing when they were assaulted. An interactive workshop called “Escalation,” based on an abusive relationship that occurred between two lacrosse players at the University of Virginia, was also planned. But, what else is Fairfield doing to address the problem of sexual assault on its campus, and just how widespread is it?
Fairfield University is required, in accordance with the Clery Act of 1990, to publish a yearly report, known as the Clery Report, detailing procedures for managing on-campus crimes and disclosing crime statistics. The Clery Act of 1990, which was inspired by Jeanne Clery, a college student who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986, requires that all colleges and universities receiving federal funding issue this report. According to the 2019 Clery Report, there were nine sexual offenses on Fairfield’s campus in 2018, though that is likely to be an underestimation, as research from the American Civil Liberties Union showed that as many as 95 percent of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses go unreported. There are a multitude of reasons why most sexual assaults are not reported, but some of the most common ones include fear of retaliation by the perpetrator, uncertainty that the incident is serious enough to report or a lack of knowledge about how to report an incident. Even of those that are reported to authorities, only about a quarter eventually result in an arrest.
When it comes to making campuses safer, experts commonly cite three main ways to prevent sexual assault. These include holding bystander intervention training, redefining consent and overhauling investigation processes. Fairfield has implemented all of these methods in recent years. One example is the sexual assault training module called “Not Anymore” that all students were required to watch over the summer. These modules provided students with statistics on sexual assault, as well as ways that bystanders can recognize it and stop it in its tracks. Fairfield has also put into place an “affirmative consent” policy. According to the student handbook, affirmative consent is defined as “an active, clear and voluntary agreement by a person indicating a willingness to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way to each other. Affirmative consent is required for all sexual contact and activity with another person.” In addition, the university recently launched a confidential 24-hour phone line to help students dealing with sexual assault.
When asked whether Fairfield was doing enough to prevent sexual assault, Paulmann replied, “there is always more work that can be done.”
She shared additional ways that students and faculty can work to prevent sexual assault and support survivors, including wearing a teal ribbon (teal is the official Sexual Assault Awareness Month color), calling people who tell sexist or inappropriate jokes out on their behavior, attending events to support survivors and facilitating discussions in class that examine gender stereotypes. All in all, Paulmann said the responsibility to end sexual assault rests primarily with the students themselves.
“Having conversations early and often about healthy masculinity, consent, sexual relationships, respect and power will go a long way in addressing the culture.”
If you are a victim of any form of violence, including sexual assault, and would like to make a report or are in need of advice or support, please contact any of these departments:
Department of Public Safety: (203) 254-4090
Megan D. Monahan, JD, Title IX Compliance Coordinator:
Phone: (203) 254-4357
Fairfield Police Department: 911 or (203) 254-4800
Counseling and Psychological Services: (203) 254-4000, ext. 2146