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Dear Amy,

I'm attending college in a small, historic community. Not much info or statistics is given about violence on campus. It happens all the time, yet no one talks about it. We're lucky if we get a ten second mention on the evening news, which isn't even local. There is no listing for domestic abuse, suicide, or any other crisis hotlines in the phone book, and the hospital and police aren't much help with providing that info, either. I've talked to several girls on campus about this, and we all agree that violence, on campus and off, is being widely ignored. I even spoke to one girl who was raped on campus, and the campus police treated her like a joke.

I come from a larger city, and you would think that, the larger the town, the more violence goes unnoticed, but I think I was wrong. The people in this community have really stuck their heads in the sand on this issue, and pay no attention to the people who suffer because of their ignorance. I've heard of campus groups hosting "Take Back the Night" rallies and similar assemblies where people gather to speak their minds and tell their stories. I think this campus is a prime candidate for such an assembly. I would like some info on hosting something like this.

Can you help us?



Dear Frustrated,

Unfortunately, your note didn't shock me both because sexual assaults consistently go underreported on every campus and in every community and because bigger cities do tend to be more conscious of the realities of their communities. In small towns, people tend to deny injustices -- "not in our town" --otherwise, they might have to admit some responsibility. In cities people are more invisible/anonymous so a direct connection isn't as obvious.

Just last year there was a study released by the Department of Justice that confirmed how underreported sexual assaults are on college campuses. They estimate the number is somewhere around 30 sexual assaults for every 1,000 students. The problem is two-fold. In part the universities don't have sound policies so when someone attempts to report an assault so they go unreported or get written off as something else. The other problem is that women often don't want their experience to be described as rape -- because the word itself has negative connotations, or because they don't want to get the rapist, usually a colleague in trouble. Or because their assault didn't involve ripped clothing so they don't think that it was violent enough for rape.

Technically rape is oral, anal, vaginal penetration that is against your will or that you didn't give consent for or that you outright said no to. These are things to keep in mind as you begin to organize - in fact, you might want to get a copy of the Department of Justice study.

As a starting place, you might encourage your university to have a sexual assault policy that includes similar language and a clearly delineated course of action. Organizing a Take Back the Night March is a great idea. These usually happen in the spring and range from a handful of female students at a speak-out to a massive campus-wide march. There is actually an organization located at the University of Louisville that provides resources for those wanting to organize a Take Back the Night.

Let me know what happens and good luck with all of your organizing.

- Amy


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