By Elissa Sanci
Sexual assault is an ongoing problem on college campuses—in 2012, more than 3,900 reports of forcible sex offenses on college campuses nationwide. This number is up 50 percent over the past three years, and doesn’t account for the fact that far too many sexual assault incidents go unreported.
Because of the rise in sexual assault offenses, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launched a new public awareness and education campaign entitled “It’s On Us” Friday, Sept. 19.
This campaign is a cultural movement aimed at shifting the way society thinks about sexual assault. It is also about “raising awareness, holding ourselves and each other accountable, and looking out for someone who cannot consent,” according to the official It’s On Us website.
One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, according to the facts presented by It’s On Us. Nearly 40 percent of survivors fear reprisal by their attacker; eight in ten victims actually know their attacker. It’s On Us hopes to assist colleges in creating a safe environment where the community is constantly on the lookout to prevent sexual assault.
It’s On Us is about creating a culture where sexual assault isn’t acceptable, and where victims know they are not to blame. The campaign also aims to shift the way society thinks about sexual assault: it doesn’t just involve the victim and the perpetrator, but everyone else who could have prevented it, as well.
“We are reframing sexual assault in a way that inspires everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it,” their website reads.
Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, and there are preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risk. Always be aware of your surroundings; be familiar with where you are going, and try to have a friend with you if you know you’ll be walking home at alone. Your initial gut feeling is almost always right, so if you’re at a party, or on a date, and you start to feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts and get out of the situation. As long as you have a smartphone, you can still have that feeling of safety. There are tons of apps out there, like EmergenSee, that are designed to make you feel as though you’re carrying a portable personal security system in your pocket. If you’re feeling unsafe, you can alert emergency contacts you preprogram with a simple touch of the screen.
Preventing sexual assault goes further than just keeping an eye out on yourself; it also involves watching out for others as well. If you see something, say something—it’s as easy as that. If you see what seems like a suspicious situation, speak up and if it’s safe, try to intervene in a non-confrontational manner. You can do this by attempting to redirect the conversation, or trying to pull your friend away from the potential perpetrator. If you think intervening physically will put you in danger, contact authorities immediately.
To become more involved with the It’s On Us campaign, and to take a stand against sexual assault, you can take the pledge on itsonus.org to commit to ending sexual violence on your campus.