Talk early, talk often: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and while the numbers have been low in Murray, Roy Dunaway, captain of the Murray State Police Department, wants to help students be aware of what they can do to prevent attacks.

To date, for the current academic year, there have been two reported sexual assaults concerning Murray State students. Both incidents occured off campus, one in December and the other less than a month ago.

Dunaway said if a situation is uncomfortable or unsafe, take the proper precautions to get out of the area.

Events on campus such as Take Back the Night bring awareness to and protest the violence and fear that people encounter when walking the streets at night. SAAM was first observed nationally in April 2001, and in 2009, President Barack Obama proclaimed April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. April is also Sexually Transmitted Diseases awareness month, which started in 2009 to promote education about STDs and how to prevent them.

According to whitehouse.gov, one in five women and one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime.

Those statistics total 18 million women in this country who have been raped, and more than 1 million rapes that occur every year.

The vast majority of these assaults occur when the victims are under the age of 25, and those under the age of 18 are at the greatest risk.

A post recognizing SAAM stated, “These numbers are real, but they don’t tell the whole story. They don’t tell of the broken trust when the attacker is a friend, a trusted colleague or a family member,

“They don’t tell of the suicidal feelings, the depression or of the PTSD. And, they don’t tell of the courage survivors demonstrate when they work every day to put their lives back together.”

Dunaway said many times people do not think about the consequences of posting private information on social networking sites.

“Think twice about what you put on social media, when you use social media to share where you are or where you’re going, friends can find you but others may be able to track you as well,” Dunaway said. “Your safety takes priority over someone else’s hurt feelings,

“It’s easier to patch up someone’s hurt feelings later, than deal with the aftermath of rape or sexual assault.”

StartByBelieving.org, a public awareness campaign to improve the public response to sexual assault, provides specific advice for young women.

“Don’t keep quiet if you see something happening,” Dunaway said. “If you see something questionable or believe another woman’s safety is at risk, speak up, step in, and draw others’ attention to what’s happening, and call for help.”

According to the rape, abuse and incest national network, someone known to the victim committed approximately two-thirds of rapes and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.

The network also states that many incidents of sexual assault and rape go unreported. Ninety-seven percent of rapists never spend a night in jail.

Abigail French, Interim Director of the Women’s Center, addressed the issue of victim blaming. This phenomenon occurs when a victim is held responsible for a crime he or she was in no way responsible for.

“Victim blaming is a complex phenomenon and there is no one reason that society engages in victim blaming,” French said.

Dunaway said watching out for friends is very important.

“Watching out for your friends, and knowing that you can trust them to watch out for you is a key factor in preventing rape and sexual assault,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway gave several other pieces of advice, directed at college-aged women.

He said if alcohol is involved in the incident, do not assume the blame is on the victim.

He encouraged students to see a medical professional, explain exactly what happened and any apparent symptoms or behaviors so that they can administer the correct tests.

He said as a member of the University community, students have access to multiple on-campus resources beyond their decision to file a criminal complaint with the local police department or University Police.

Story by Meghann Anderson, News Editor.