Sexual crimes and how they are handled on college campuses have been a topic of frequent discussion in the national spotlight as of late.
Within the past two years, an Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” delivered the issue and its messages to students across the country, and the Obama administration launched the “It’s On Us” campaign.
ETSU has also joined the discussion about sexual assault. Although legal action has not been taken on cases reported at ETSU within the past year, there has been an increase in awareness, a raise in reports of such crimes and numerous new programs and resources made available to students.
These new programs include HAVEN, an online training course that every incoming student must take; a required climate survey that will anonymously assess how students have been affected by or perpetrated sexual violence; and bystander intervention education. Johnson City Medical Center also hosts the areas only Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program, with specialized caretakers who oversee the treatment and direction of sexual assault patients.
Two student voices making ETSU more aware of the issue of sexual crimes are Caroline Locke, president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and Ben Schaller, president of HEROES, the university’s LGBTQ alliance. Each say that a rise in reports and, in turn, discussion of sexual crimes is a major change they have noticed during their time at ETSU.
“This isn’t an isolated or new issue, and we are seeing more reports every semester,” Schaller said. “But what is new is that people, especially women, are finding the right channels and support structure to report such awful crimes.”
He said that a few years ago, a close friend of his had allegedly experienced a crime such as this first-hand. He believes that then, university administrators handled it much differently than how they would now.
“There has been somewhat of a culture change,” Schaller said. “This is being brought up by things like equality and feminist movements, and people who are helping victims that would otherwise feel alone, feel empowered and motivated to take control.”
Locke is the president of such a group, FMLA, and said that she has also seen great improvement concerning how ETSU is handling these issues.
“The email updates sent to students about when an assault happens has opened the conversation among students,” she said. “This is a real issue that happens on our campus and affects people we know.”
Locke is pleased to see ETSU make progress in combatting sexual violence, but also recognizes that combatting reported sexual violence is a completely different issue from halting the crimes themselves.
“The reporting, flow of information and increased acknowledgement of this issue is a step up,” she said, “but there is still so much to be done to actually decrease the rate of sexual assault.”