By Matt Starlight
As the old saying goes, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”
It may have been your parents’ unsuccessful way of getting you to stop picking on your younger siblings, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gained from this perspective. The new semester is in full swing, and with unattached students from freshman to super seniors on the prowl for new sexual partners, a little bit of this attitude can go a long way.
National news outlets have been ripping college campuses apart in recent years for a slew of sexual misconduct allegations that stretch from the University of Virginia to right here at LSU. Students’ safety has become priorities A, B, and C, yet these stories still flood the news with shocking regularity. However, locking students away in their dorms for the rest of their college experience isn’t exactly a healthy option, either.
What seems to be the necessary door number three is striking a delicate balance between freedom, fun, safety, and consent. Assistant Director of Health and Wellness Promotion at the Student Health Center Seirra Fowler is also one of the overseers of the Campus Lighthouse Center, the “interpersonal violence prevention advocacy and support program for student survivors of all types of sexual violence” and she recommends a healthy dose of education, support, and active prevention to combat this problem.
While Fowler agrees that sexual misconduct is without a doubt an epidemic on college campuses, she is also willing to admit that it there are “a number of reasons” for the problem, thus a number of different solutions need to be tested.
“There’s a lot of newfound freedom on a college campus that students aren’t used to experiencing. There tends to be a party culture sometimes on college campuses, and then I think a lot of the times students are unsure, they feel overwhelmed, and they’re not sure where to go to for help,” said Fowler. “So, a lot of the times, it’s grossly underreported. So, I think there’s a lot of different things going on that I think add to what is already a problem in our society in general.”
And that gross underreporting is commonly seen as the biggest hurdle in the fight against sexual abuse. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, merely two out of every one hundred rapists are reported to the police. To combat the anonymity, Fowler’s Lighthouse Program doesn’t put pressure on those who seek their help. The steps taken after their counseling and medical services are completely up to the victims.
“So, if a student discloses to a Lighthouse advocate or to someone involved in the Lighthouse Program, that information is going to stay with the Lighthouse Program so they don’t have to worry about us telling anyone else or anything like that,” explained Fowler. “So, that’s really a nice protective factor for students. Our sole role is to connect our student with any support, resources, anything like that that they want. So that is a really nice safety net for that student. In addition, we don’t make students do anything. We don’t make them take our resources. Our role is to provide them with all the options available to them and let them decide what they want to do at that point.”
And if silence is the number one roadblock of progress in this situation, disbelief is surely the second. Online and even in person, victims of rape are often accused of lying, but in Fowler’s experience, this is very rarely the case.
“Coming forward and reporting a sexual assault, all the stuff that it takes. You know, telling all this personal information to multiple people, to people that don’t know you, knowing that someone might in the back of their mind place some kind of judgment on you, that you might have to go to court and tell people these things, knowing that people are going to get into your sexual history, knowing that you might have to get a sexual exam done, very invasive things,” said Fowler. “So, when a survivor discloses, which we know is rare for them to do, and then they go forward with all these steps, we definitely want to support that person and it’s really unlikely that they’re making this up or lying about it when they have to go through all these hurdles just to go through that process.”
With so many obstacles in the way, fighting rape on college campuses is certainly an uphill battle; however, Fowler’s Lighthouse Program does have a few methods they believe will make a difference.
“We’re really good at supporting survivors after the fact, but we also want to be really strong in our prevention, so a lot of what we do is education, as well. So, letting people know what behavior is okay and not okay,” she explained.
In addition to educational seminars that take place throughout the year that can be found on their website, the Lighthouse Program encourages each and every one of student to take personal responsibility for making sure the campuses stay safe by speaking out and educating themselves.
“Education about being able to talk about sexuality, about what’s healthy and not healthy, being an active bystander and understanding what consent is, and being respectful of everyone and knowing it’s everybody’s responsibility to create these safe environments.”
Sexual misconduct on college campuses isn’t a problem that will go away on it’s own, so in addition to protecting yourself using common sense and good judgement, students can be sure that LSU does have resources for those who need it.