A closer look at sexual assault
Leslie Hutchings ’11 and Heather Pratt ’11 have the same conclusion when it comes to the issue of sexual assault on the Hill: it doesn’t not receive enough attention from students. Hutchings, the Student Government Association (SGA) president, and Pratt, a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and English double major, aim not only to raise awareness about sexual assault on campus, but also to educate others on the subject and support those affected by it.
Hutchings became involved with the issue after working on the Green Dot Campaign, a national effort to encourage public safety on college campuses. After the Campaign came to the Hill, Hutchings along with Pratt and concerned student leaders from Women’s Group, Gentlemen of Quality and Student Health on Campus (SHOC) formulated the “My Colby Campaign,” an anti-sexual assault pledge specific to the College’s campus, developed in the first few weeks of school. During this campaign, the group collected signatures of students who promised to respect others’ personal space and intervene if they sense the potential for a dangerous sexual situation to unfold. They developed the pledge was developed “to raise awareness and getting people to actively think about [sexual assault],” Hutchings said.
SGA is “okay with the [sexual assault] policy” but wants to see that it is implemented in a way that “makes sure students know what their resources are and [ensures] that the College is making those resources well-known,” Hutchings said. Besides education, SGA is pushing for the long-term solution of “having more centers on campus that deal with particular issues on campus.” SGA hopes that the College will designate specific centers for sexual assault support and campus safety.
Pratt, who is writing her senior thesis on sexual assault on the Hill, has always been passionate about women’s issues. She was inspired to write her thesis after participating in Waterville’s Take Back the Night event last year. This annual event is a rally to raise awareness about sexual assault. “A lot of people were very emotional at [the rally], including some of my friends and people I was very close to, and that really affected me,” Pratt said.
Pratt said that students brush aside the issue of sexual assault, but stressed that, “it is a cultural thing. I don’t think it’s just Colby. I think all college campuses are like this and, in fact, the world in general.”
To gather information for her thesis, Pratt posted on the College’s General Announcements encouraging students to share their personal experiences and opinions on the current sexual assault policies on campus. Through her research, Pratt has found that campus culture normalizes sexual assault, which the College defines as, “sexual activity, of any kind, with a person without that person’s consent.”
According to Pratt, this normalization is a result of, “drinking and the attitude of ‘I can do whatever I want,’” two things that often go hand in hand. “The intersection of hook up culture and sexual assault is so closely linked…the gray area is very gray,” Pratt said. Because of thus gray area, sexual assault at the College “happens more often than people think and no one is talking about it and that makes it really hard for people who are victims of sexual assault to talk about it,” Pratt said. Another source of difficulty is the fact that, according to Pratt, “there is no one set person [that victims] can go to [to] have support.”
Pratt, who will present her thesis to the administration in May, brainstormed several ways to minimize the occurrences of sexual assault on the Hill. Because education and awareness are at the root of the problem, she suggested that the subject be discussed more at first-year orientation, when students relieve their initial introduction to the College. Like Hutchings, Pratt also emphasized that “there need to be places where people can talk about [sexual assault].”
Hutchings and Pratt agreed that members of the campus community do not discuss sexual assault enough. “A lot of the girls who I have talked to have said, ‘Colby is a small school. If I report [sexual assault], I’ll be ostracized,’” Pratt said. In this way, the culture of the College discourages open dialogue on the issue of sexual assault.
According to Hutchings, ”[Sexual assault] is one of those things that people don’t really talk about because it is awkward and uncomfortable.” Despite the fear of talking about sexual assault, many students have have come to discuss their experiences with Pratt. “A lot of guys have approached me and been like ‘What is consent anyway?’ They don’t know what it is. A lot of girls have said, ‘I think I have been sexually assaulted but I don’t really know,’” Pratt said.
Education and a healthy discourse on sexual assault would, according to Hutchings and Pratt, greatly help those who are its victims. “I was worried that no one was going to want to talk to me about this, but a lot of people do and it’s almost like these people need someone to talk to,” Pratt said. According to Hutchings, “Getting people to talk about [sexual assault] will hopefully give people the avenues to ask questions or point them in the right direction of seeking help if they need it.”