Dear Bernard,

Our daughter is leaving home to go away to college. Her mother and I are hearing a lot about sexual violence on campus. Does it really happen that often? What can we do to keep our daughter safe? 

Signed,

Concerned in Springfield

Davies

Dear Concerned, 

Parenting a young adult who is leaving home for the first time can be challenging. As parents, we want to protect them from harm and be reassured that they will be safe. While every student is different, most first-year college students are seeking independence and want more control over their lives. On the other hand, many parents find they have less control over their young adult and must find new ways to influence them and learn to let go. Developing, renegotiating, and maintaining a trusting and respectful relationship is perhaps the most important part of continuing to have influence over one’s child. 

I’d like to be able to reassure you that your daughter will be safe on a college campus, but the reality is that sexual violence is a serious problem on college campuses, in our communities, nation, and our world. One-in-five women and one-in-six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. Sexual violence occurs to people of all genders, sexual orientations, identities, cultural/racial backgrounds, and economic status. The CDC defines sexual violence as “engaging in sexual activity without their partner’s freely giving consent.” Many people imagine sexual violence occurring on a dimly lit street when a stranger jumps out and attacks someone. While this does occasionally happen, it is much more likely to occur by someone that is known to the survivor. Often alcohol or other drugs are involved. Boys and men most often experience sexual violence when they are children, or in male-dominated environments like prisons.

Sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes because many survivors experience feelings of shame, and fear being mistreated by the criminal justice system, and/or by our society, which tends to blame the survivor. 

Who commits sexual violence? While most men are not sexually violent, over 90 percent of sexual violence is perpetrated by men. Sexual violence often occurs between a more powerful person and a more vulnerable survivor. Perpetrators can gain this power due to their physical size and strength, by holding a position of power or privileged status, or by manipulating the survivor. People below the age of 18 and those who are incapacitated, including under the influence of alcohol or drugs, cannot give consent. The first term of college is often the highest-risk time for sexual violence on college campuses, particularly for freshmen women. While younger people are more vulnerable to sexual violence, it can also occur in long-term relationships, including marriages. 

What can you do to keep your college student safe? 

Educate yourself on the nature of sexual violence. April is Sexual Violence Prevention Month. The Center for Community Counseling is offering an event titled “Promoting Healthy Masculinities & Reducing Sexual Violence: a gathering of mentors of men on Tuesday, April 27 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Since men are often the perpetrators of sexual violence, it is extremely important that boys and men get involved with violence prevention.  

Talk about sexual violence together. What is their awareness of it? Unfortunately, it is likely that someone who they go to school with has experienced sexual violence or unwanted sexual behavior. Encourage them to learn about and get involved in sexual violence prevention activities on campus. Find out what prevention services are available at the college. Many colleges include sexual violence prevention education in their student orientation, have safe-ride services, and services to support survivors.  

Be a good role model. Demonstrate respect and mutuality in your relationships. Respect children’s boundaries. Encourage boys and men to become more involved with sexual violence prevention. 

Learn bystander intervention skills and ways to recognize and safely intervene with situations that could lead to sexual violence. For further information: www.nsvrc.org/bystander-intervention-tips-and-strategies.

Donate your time and/or money to organizations that work to prevent violence and provide support for such as Sexual Assault Support Services sass-lane.org/and Womenspace www.womenspaceinc.org.

We can reduce sexual violence. To do so requires all of us to learn more about it and become actively involved in its prevention. 

Jon Davies, Ph.D, Licensed Psychologist, Director, McKenzie River Men’s Center.