No parent wants to think something bad will happen to their student in college. Sexual assault and dating violence on campus is an especially distressing topic.
The statistics are scary: an estimated one in five women will experience sexual assault during her college years.*
How should we talk about this with our sons and daughters? Where can we find support? I spoke with Jessica Ladd-Webert, Director of the Office of Victim Assistance at the University of Colorado Boulder, to get insight.
Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. It is important to receive consent when involved in sexual activity. Consent means permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. Simply stated, consent for sexual activity is “positive, enthusiastic cooperation” in both words and actions.
Yes, our sons can be victims of sexual harassment, assault and dating abuse. It is important for parents who have students of any gender to read this article. For the purpose of this article, I refer to she, her, etc.
Partner abuse is when one partner in a relationship, whether new or long-term, uses physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse to gain and maintain power and control in the relationship.
The hard fact is that, unless she confides in you, you may not know. Trauma reveals itself differently with each person and there may not be obvious red flags. However, sudden social or academic changes can signal an underlying serious problem. Express your concern. Use “I” statements:
At an OVA, like the one at University of Colorado Boulder, trauma-informed counselors/advocates will help your daughter understand her options, which can include reporting the incident to the school and/or the police, or getting support through counseling. These services are often free. If your student has concerns about who will be informed about the assault she should ask the offices/people she talks to about their confidentiality policies. If she decides to report the crime and the campus or local community has a sexual assault advocacy program, they may be able to go to meetings and court appointments with her.
It is your student’s decision to report an assault, or pursue disciplinary action or file criminal charges. There is no single correct way to respond to a sexual assault. If you hear from her soon after the event, you can remind her that the first 72 hours are crucial. She can seek medical attention to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy and to collect evidence of the sexual assault.
Campus counseling centers and offices of victim assistance welcome calls from concerned parents. They will provide general information, but they must respect your student’s privacy and, without her permission, they can’t reveal whether she’s made or kept an appointment or share information about her case.
You may need to call a friend, too. For more information, and to find local resources, visit The National Sexual Violence Resource Center website at http://www.nsvrc.org/ or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network at http://www.rainn.org/.
*In January, 2014 President Obama cited this statistic while announcing the formation of a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
Other recent articles by Diane Schwemm:
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