What parents and students should know


Susan B. Sorenson

This is the call that all parents dread. It usually starts with “Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.” What follows is an often rambling account of sexual assault. What many parents need to know: Victims may find the story as traumatic as the assault itself. I have spent my life working with students and studying violence against women. Here’s how you can help them avoid and recover from sexual assault on campus.

First, get your head out of the sand. The chances of a girl being sexually assaulted in college may be higher than the chances of entering school in the first place. The most common time is between orientation for freshmen and Thanksgiving. Girls (I call them that because that’s what they call themselves), as well as TGQN students – transgender, non-binary / genderqueer, questioned or unlisted – are the main victims.

A 2019 survey of 181,752 students at 33 major universities nationwide found that 25.9% of undergraduate girls had experienced “non-consensual penetration, attempted penetration, forced sexual touching, or an inability to consent. »Since their registration. One in four chance is too great to ignore.

Post-COVID anxiety will be intense

Second, the pandemic matters. In 2021, there will be essentially two classes of freshmen on campus: real freshmen and those starting their second year after months of virtual teaching. The rush and anxiety that comes with going to college is sure to be more intense after the pandemic. Moreover, after so much physical distancing, we all experience a repressed desire for touch and privacy.

What can be done? Changing the attitudes and behaviors of men and boys is what will reduce sexual assault. Easier said than done. So I shifted my focus back to prevention and spoke with victims, their mothers and fathers and wrote a book. Their stories were heartbreaking.

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Which brings us to point three: In the midst of collecting bug spray and laundry soap, take the time to talk about sexual assault. If this conversation makes you uncomfortable now, imagine what it would be like to talk to her after a sexual assault. Bring it today, even if you’re blushing and goofing. List the risks of aggression. Tell her you want to know if she was hurt. Make a commitment to stay with her no matter what. Ask her what she thinks someone might expect from a parent in this situation. The conversation, however unsettling, will help her anticipate her own needs.

Fourth, forget the rules. It won’t help her to tell her not to go to parties, not to drink alcohol, to wear nail polish that changes color if her drink has been spiked. Save your breath. Most children are so excited and relieved to finally be in college that they have dropped out of their first year. If she is assaulted after breaking any of your rules, she may feel ashamed and be reluctant to turn to you for help. Try this instead: “If something happens to you, I don’t care if you’ve broken a rule or done something that looks silly in hindsight, I want to know.”

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If there’s one rule you can come up with, it’s probably “watch your gut.” Encourage her if she feels uncomfortable in a situation, find a way to get help and get out, even if it means being rude, loud, or forceful. Most sexual assaults on campus are committed by someone the victim knows; it’s the boy next to her in physics, not a stranger breaking into her dorm. We do such a good job of training our daughters to be polite that many victims fear hurting the abuser’s feelings or creating a scene and overriding their specific feeling that they are in danger.

“I’m here for you” is the best answer

Fifth, if you receive this call: listen, listen, listen. Parents usually ask questions to try to understand the shock. “A feast of fraternity? Were you drinking Did you just meet him? Did you go to his room alone? To a recently assaulted person, it may seem like judgment and blame. Another common and counterproductive response is to succumb to your understandable emotivity. Tears, anger, and vows of revenge can overwhelm a victim when they need all the resources for themselves.

Remember, you were not the one who was assaulted. This first conversation might get a little complicated and families figure out how to move on, but the process can be unexpectedly painful. Victims report that the most helpful response is sympathy and reassuring calm: “I am here for you.

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Getting help is important. Local and national resources such as RAINN and the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline can help victims and parents. Campus staff and professors who have advocated for victims for years can be useful allies, and most colleges offer a wide range of free resources, from the chaplain’s office to counseling and psychological services to centers. cultural.

Think beyond traditional resources. Yoga and training are some of the activities that can help her stay connected to her body.

Over 750,000 full-time undergraduate girls are expected to be sexually assaulted this year. If you are one of the parents who are told, do not struggle alone. Find a safe place or person (not your child) for support and advice. Rest assured, seemingly fragile individuals and families can be remarkably strong. You will all grow up.

Susan B. Sorenson (@afterCSA) is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the new book “After Campus Sexual Assault: A Guide for Parents”.

If you need help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to connect with a qualified supplier in your area.

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