As a controversial Rolling Stone magazine cover story about a girl claiming rape at University of Virginia fell apart, sexual assault on campuses took the national spotlight, shedding light on the difficult topic and myriad opinions about it.
To help spark thoughtful conversation on the sensitive subject and to educate students and staff, local colleges and a university in the Bradenton-Sarasota area are using April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“Our approach is to educate all year long, with a focus on prevention,” said Tammy Walsh, vice president for student life and dean of students at Ringling College of Art and Design.
The focus on prevention is key among the four colleges — Ringling, New College, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee — who recognize the issues, which get attention on much larger campuses, are also important issues for smaller campuses.
The campuses will hold a variety of events throughout the month of April to encourage students to learn more about healthy relationships, giving consent and being a good bystander.
The Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign began in 2001 and is backed by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. According to statistics, about one in five women and one in 71 men in the United States have been raped. The issue starts young, 79 percent of female victims report that they were first raped before age 25 and 28 percent of male victims report that they were first raped at age 10 or younger.
On college campuses, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the statistics. The majority of these crimes on college campuses are never reported, according to campaign materials.
But the campaign is more than numbers.
“Those statistics have faces behind them and those faces have stories behind them,” said Cassandra Corrado, a 22-year-old student at New College who has been instrumental in organizing the college’s events and programming around sexual assault and advocacy for victims and survivors.