If you were told you your daughter had a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted during her college years, what would you do? Would you think twice about letting her go away to earn her degree? Would you step up your own efforts to ensure she’s selecting a school that takes such a shocking and horrific matter as seriously as you do?
As a mother of two daughters, these were the questions running through my mind as I watched The Hunting Ground with nearly 40 others this past Sunday at Comcast’s new XFINITY store in Troy.
The Hunting Ground, a documentary that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, chronicles the growing number of sexual assault incidences (of females and males) on college campuses in the United States and the failure of college administrations to adequately deal with this escalating epidemic.
After the viewing, the audience engaged in a panel discussion with three experts: Beth Morrison, president and CEO of HAVEN; Kole Wyckhuys, prevention education program director at HAVEN; and Laura, a sexual assault survivor.
Many participants asked thought-provoking, impactful questions of the panelists, particularly around what can be done to help reverse this pervasive issue. Here are five actionable recommendations from the panelists:
- If you’re a parent who will soon be visiting campuses with your child, educate yourself on the college’s or university’s track record with how sexual assault cases have been handled in the past. When touring campuses, ask university representatives direct, tough questions pertaining to sexual assault responses, incident rates and reporting. Don’t accept watered-down responses.
- Advocate for early education on sexual consent and respect with your local middle and high schools. HAVEN offers a wonderful educational program that aims to break the rape culture by teaching young people how to intervene and hold their peers accountable.
- Do your part to hold our universities accountable. Take action, and contact your legislators as well as university trustees.
- Many people are guilty of placing blame on victims, and they don’t even realize it. Questions like “was she drinking” or “what was she wearing” assume at least partial blame on the victim. Help bust these rape myths: Don’t stigmatize, and be aware of what you’re saying.
- Finally, start talking with your kids when they’re young – in an age-appropriate manner, of course. Constantly remind your children that you will always support them and believe them. Reinforce to little kids not to keep secrets – even if another adult tells them to. Continuously build their buckets of courage.
The promising news is that as a result of this documentary and the ongoing work of the two former University of North Carolina students, who became campus anti-rape activists after being assaulted themselves, change is starting to happen. In 2014, President Barack Obama launched the “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual assault on campus. More than 100 colleges and universities across the country are being investigated for how they’ve handled sexual assault cases on campus.
For more information on how you can support survivors, help pass legislation and hold schools accountable, visit www.SeeActStop.org.
Michelle Gilbert is a HAVEN board member and vice president of public relations for Comcast in Michigan.