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  • A recent survey of thirty-three colleges and universities collected data on sexual assault, asking men, women and TGQN students. Sexual assault was defined as physical force (includes attempted penetration), inability to consent or stop what was happening because the student was passed out, asleep, or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, coercion and no voluntary agreement. The data at UNC –Chapel Hill revealed that 20.7% of female responders reported unwanted or forced penetration or sexual touching including attempted penetration. That number rises to 37% of undergraduate female seniors. 14% of undergraduate men reported sexual assault by their senior year.

In some ways, these numbers make me want to do cartwheels. Why? We are making progress because the survey was completed, the results believed, men and TGQN students were included. The numbers increased from 2015 when the last survey was done most likely because of improved awareness. More responders affirmed that they reported their assault or at least told a friend. More students know how to access crisis intervention.

Here are some reactions from the community in response to the study-“They must have included consensual sex where the girl changed her mind the next day and felt remorse and shame.” “Even if they have the statistics all wrong, I’m glad we are having the conversation.” “I think women were reporting consensual sex turned non-consenual.”  “I don’t think that number accurately reflects the incidence of rape on our campus.” “I am sick and tired of hearing about women getting raped. I have two sons and three grandsons and I’m scared for them.” My favorite one is “It doesn’t matter if it’s 90% or 10%, it’s too much.” 

Educate yourselves with these statistics regarding the prevalence of rape and unwanted sexual touching. Memorize these data. The next time you see an eighteen-year old girl or boy, imagine them lying on a sofa while someone chokes and smothers them stopping their protests. Then place your daughter, grandaughter or son on that sofa. Think of the excited juniors in high school who are visiting colleges and completing applications. When they tour their favorite college does anyone tell the parents that their child has almost a 40% chance of being raped in the next four years?

57.8% of students who experienced sexual assault felt it was not serious enough to report. How does not reporting interface with the statistic that twenty-one per cent of graduate students who experienced sexual assault were assaulted by an instructor or professor? Can a graduate student speak against a professor knowing it may compromise their ability to graduate? Where do victims of sexual assault form their opinions about what constitutes “serious” assault? What messages are children receiving in our homes, schools, churches and media? How does our society continually reinforce a rape culture?

Believe these numbers, they are not inflated. In fact, thirty years of listening informs me that even as unbelievable as they are, they are still too low. As I sit and listen to patients tell stories of sexual assault, I am reminded how hard they have tried not to remember, how much they blamed themselves. Many not acknowledging their rape until some minor incident brought back a flood of fragmented memories and they began to comprehend why they can’t go into a crowded room without panicking, staying home night after night, afraid to socialize. Patiently I listen, reflecting back their words until they can understand and hear, “Yes, you were raped. No, it wasn’t your fault.”

UNC is taking a call to arms and establishing a coalition of students and faculty to develop plans for prevention and response. Will you rationalize and minimize these numbers because they make you uncomfortable or are you going to join in the outcry for action?

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