The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). During April, organizations hold programming and disperse information in order to raise awareness of the issue of sexual assault. Programming throughout the month seeks to educate communities about the importance of consent, and to educate people about preventing sexual violence in their own communities. Sexual assault is an increasingly prevalent issue in every community. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be victims of sexual assault at some point in their life.
At SLU, Campus Wellness has been holding events throughout the month to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and has more events and programs planned for the rest of April and into the beginning of May. SAAM is something that Campus Wellness has recognized for several years. The events this year have included “Speak About It,” an award-winning presentation about sexual assault, a trauma-healing yoga session and various workshops and exercises focused on support for survivors of sexual and gender violence, among other events.
Jodi Seals, assistant director for health education and promotion at SLU Campus Recreation, spoke to the UNews about the importance of planning appropriate and impactful events for SAAM.
“We wanted to make sure we had something for everyone,” said Seals. “We have presentations, creative workshops, movement opportunities, advocacy sessions and fun events to engage students wherever they are at in their experience with sexual assault prevention.”
There are several SLU departments and on-campus student groups that are involved with Campus Wellness to hold events for SAAM, such as UNA, Billikens After Dark, Beta Theta Pi, and the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. Seals said that all on-campus groups should get involved in SAAM, because it is such an important issue that affects the SLU community.
“There isn’t a group that shouldn’t be involved honestly,” said Seals. “This is a community issue and we all have a role to play in preventing sexual violence. We try to make sure we have a variety of opportunities for students that may be at higher risk, but we really want as many students as possible to engage in preventative strategies.”
As well as being an incredibly important international issue, sexual assault is prevalent on college campuses as well. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 20-25 percent of female college students and 15 percent of male college students are victims of sexual assault at some point during their college experience. The NSVRC also reports that more than 90 percent of victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
Seals said that planning events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month are especially important because of information like this. She said that it was incredibly important to make sure that students and the college community are able to talk about sexual assault now, because the college years are higher risk times for students to experience sexual assault.
As mentioned, sexual assault affects all communities, and the Saint Louis University community is no different. A quick Google search can prove that. There have been several claims and reports of sexual assault and harassment at SLU made in recent months by students and staff alike.
In July of last year, a former student pled guilty to assault. In the same year, reports from female students and faculty members at the Saint Louis University Medical School were revealed, claiming that there was a culture of sexual harassment within the Medical School. SLU’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity investigated the reports last year. Some of the claims against doctors and officials included in the report detailed how men on the hiring committee would often comment on the physical appearances of female candidates, even going as far as to create a ballot so others could vote. The hiring committee defended this behavior as “a joke.” The investigation found that the doctors were not in violation of SLU’s harassment policy. In addition, last year several SLU athletes on numerous teams were suspended, and one expelled over allegations of misconduct.
Of course, these are just a few of the reports of sexual assault and harassment that have been made surrounding members of the SLU community, but it is clear that sexual assault and harassment are prevalent issues on the Saint Louis University campus.
This is why Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the programming surrounding it is so important. However, Seals hopes that the spotlight on preventing sexual assault continues throughout the year.
“I hope people understand that this is something we need to keep talking about and not just during the month of April,” said Seals. “I want people to leave these programs and start conversations with others about how they can be part of the solution. To feel empowered to do something even if it seems small. I hope people see that support and advocacy take many forms but the most important thing we can do is keep pushing forward for a safer community free from sexual violence.”