Opinions

Confronting Sexual Assault at Furman

By Hayley Cunningham

With the end of holiday break, Furman’s campus is alive once again, characterized by the familiar mixture of excitement, anxiety, socializing, and continuous smiling that comes when large groups of young men and women interact for extended periods of time. The multitude of functions and get-togethers held each week means that the average student, feeling especially carefree before their first round of tests and papers, may find themselves caught up in social activities that can stretch into the early hours of the morning. As fun as such socializing can be, it’s important to recognize that late-night frivolity can quickly lead to sexual assault, an often overlooked danger that became all the more real after Furman’s Chief of Police Tom Saccenti emailed the university regarding an alleged sexual assault that took place on campus last Friday.

While many students use partying as an opportunity to let go of their inhibitions and have a good time, our inhibitions also serve an important purpose. Many fail to acknowledge the dangers that arise when alcohol meets poor judgment. Between 20 and 25 percent of women will experience an attempted or completed rape during their time at college. In 43 percent of sexual assaults, the victim had been consuming alcohol, and in 69 percent of cases, the perpetrator had been consuming alcohol. Even more alarming is the fact that knowing someone personally or through a friend does not reduce the risk of assault. On college campuses, 90 percent of rapes are committed by dates, friends, or acquaintances of the victim. Victims were on a date with their attacker in 35 percent of completed sexual assaults. While these statistics refer to college campuses in general, Furman is not exempt from these realities.

“Furman is a safe campus, and we’re proud of that,” said Jason Cassidy, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students. “But Furman is an open campus made of human beings and people who make poor choices and do bad things sometimes.”

All this is not to say you need to lock yourself in your room on Friday and Saturday nights, allowing fear to prevent you from interacting with others. With the right information, you can empower yourself and reduce your risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault.

Defining Consent

According to Furman policy, sexual assault includes non-consensual and deliberate sexual touching (including unwanted kissing) or penetration. Someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot give consent. Even if someone agrees to perform a sexual act, if he or she is intoxicated, legally he or she has not given consent and can file rape charges.

“There’s the old saying, ‘No means no.’ But being under the influence also means ‘no.’ A lot of people don’t realize that,” said Connie Carson, Vice President of Student Life.

Additionally, inviting someone into your residence or going on a date with that individual does not qualify as consent. Because consent can be withdrawn at any time, just because a person has consented to an act in the past does not mean they consent to that act in the present or future.

“We really want to encourage students to communicate when it comes to sexual relationships,” Cassidy explained. “That’s the foolproof way of making sure people understand that there are consenting individuals on both sides.”

Communication when sober is required before performing any sexual act. Without it, you run the risk of doing something you will regret or being accused of rape.

While many sexual assaults result from misunderstandings and lowered inhibitions produced by alcohol consumption, some perpetrators are not making a mistake when they decide to violate someone. In these cases, a victim may protest but still be unable to prevent the attack. Although there are some actions you can take to reduce your risk, Carson was adamant that sexual assault is never the victim’s responsibility.

“Sometimes bad things happen to really good people, and it’s not that they did anything wrong,” Carson said. “Just because something bad happened to you does not mean that it is your fault.”

Responding to Sexual Assault

If you believe you have been a victim of sexual assault, you can take action to see that your perpetrator is punished appropriately. You are under no obligation to press charges if you are the victim of sexual assault, but it is important to preserve evidence of the assault so you will be in a better position to press charges should you choose to do so.

“[Victims] don’t know what they want to do and when they want to do it. We are never going to force them to do anything.” Cassidy said. “But this will give them more options down the line when they are ready to make those decisions.”

To preserve evidence, victims should not bathe, urinate, brush their teeth, wash their hands, change clothes, or eat or drink. Do not move any items where the assault occurred, and call the University Police (864-294-2111) or 911 for help. Even if you call the police, you are still under no obligation to press charges.

If you do find yourself a victim of sexual assault, it is important to seek medical attention to prevent or treat sexually transmitted diseases, as well as to prevent pregnancy. St. Francis Hospital, Greenville Memorial Hospital, and Greer Memorial Hospital administer rape exams at no cost. It is also important to seek emotional assistance and support after such traumatic experiences. Counseling is available through the Furman Counseling Center, and the local Julie Valentine Center offers counseling and support for victims of sexual assault.

Victims of sexual assault have the option to press charges and pursue disciplinary action through the South Carolina Solicitor’s Office, through Furman’s student conduct system, or both. Even if there is not enough evidence for the courts to find the accused guilty of rape, Furman’s Discipline Committee has the ability to hold the accused student accountable. Unlike the legal system, which requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, the Discipline Committee requires only a preponderance of evidence. According to these standards, it only has to be more likely than not that the perpetrator committed the act for him or her to be punished. When deciding whether or not to press charges, it is also important to note that Furman offers limited immunity to students who report sexual assaults. If the victim or witness had been drinking underage at the time of the assault, that individual will not be punished for consuming alcohol.

Once the proper authorities have collected evidence and victims have received medical and emotional help, victims of sexual assault at Furman should contact one of Furman’s Title IX coordinators. Title IX coordinators enforce Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, which covers discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault.

“We want [victims] to get connected to a Title IX deputy coordinator because we are aware of all the options and can make sure those are accessible to students,” said Cassidy, a deputy coordinator.

A list of coordinators and their contact information can be found on the Furman website at http://www.furman.edu/sexualmisconduct. Coordinators can meet with victims and make them aware of the options available to them and where they can express concerns they may have.

“If [the perpetrator] live[s] in the same housing unit, similar area, same classes, we want to make some accommodations, and you don’t have to file reports or press charges to do those sorts of things,” Cassidy said. “Those are things we can do immediately for a student.”

University Resources

Furman University has recently distributed a new pamphlet to students entitled “Discrimination, Harassment, and Sexual Misconduct,” one example of the many ways the administration is working to prevent sexual assault on campus and educate students. The Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention (SHARP) group on campus has been active since 2005 and works to provide education, programming, and resources to students. This organization consists of faculty, staff, students, and Greenville community members who strive to prevent discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct. SHARP issues magnets with important contact information to students at the beginning of each school year, raises awareness at a men’s basketball game every year, and sponsors educational programs throughout the year.

“The biggest thing we want students to know,” explained Carson, chairperson of the SHARP committee, “is that the resources do exist at Furman, that you don’t have to go off campus, but you are certainly welcome to go off campus.”

SHARP does not exist only to support those who have been victims of sexual assault. The organization also works to arm students with knowledge they can use to protect themselves.

“People do things in groups they wouldn’t do one on one, and people do things under the influence of alcohol and drugs that they wouldn’t do otherwise,” Carson cautioned. “It doesn’t mean you can’t go to a party and have a good time, but I always say be smart and know where you’re going, know who you’re going with, and know who you’re leaving with.”

Carson also offered general advice for navigating the party scene.

“Always be aware of your surroundings. Do things in groups. When you’re just getting to know people, you don’t know everyone’s intent. You don’t know how well people handle alcohol and substances. Know your surroundings, and know your limits.”

While you may want to throw caution to the wind, do not completely abandon your inhibitions. It is important to have a friend or group of friends with you at parties — especially if you are going anywhere after dark — so that you can watch out for one another.

The issue of sexual assault is too complex to cover within the constraints of a single article. If you still have questions, there is a wealth of information on the Furman website, and Title IX deputy coordinators welcome any questions students have.

“Please report,” Cassidy said. “We want to at the very least support our students and help them know what their choices are and make informed decisions. We never want victims of sexual assault or sexual misconduct to be doing this alone.”

Categories: Opinions

Tagged as:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s