Taking Action: How SMC is responding to sexual assaults

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By Melissa Healey

Within the last two weeks, two sexual assaults have been reported to have happened on the Saint Mary’s campus. In concurrence with these reports, California has just passed a new bill, “Yes Means Yes”, a measure taken to improve how universities handle rape and sexual assault accusations and to clarify the definition of “affirmative consent.” The question now is what actions are being taken by Saint Mary’s to promote sexual consent and safety on campus.

Adan Tejada, head of Public Safety, and Gillian Cutshaw, Coordinator of Sexual Assault Awareness, Outreach, and Education, are pleased with the actions being taken by the college. “Saint Mary’s has a lot of resources for people to feel more comfortable in actually talking about it (sexual assault),” Tejada says, listing The Women’s Resource Center, Public Safety, and The Health and Wellness Center as facilities available for use.

Cutshaw agrees, telling us that The Women’s Resource Center works diligently with Student Life to promote sexual consent and healthy relationships. “The school defines consent as a sober, verbal, enthusiastic yes,” says Cutshaw. As a way to remind students of this message, the WRC and Student Life have also worked together to promote the “Consent is Sexy” and “Love is Empowering” campaigns, posting fliers throughout the residence halls and on campus bulletins.

With the number of reports happening within a small time frame, students and parents have vocalized concerns as to whether or not Saint Mary’s is a safe place to be. Tejada assures that the recent reports should not be a safety concern. “We aren’t actually seeing an upward trend in reported assaults,” Tejada says, listing the number of assaults per year dating back since 2010: two reported assaults in 2010, five in 2011, one in 2012, and three in 2013. “It’s actually more troubling when we don’t hear of any assaults over a long period of time,” Tejada says. “The number of changes simply means more are being reported, which is a good thing.”

Cutshaw agrees, noting that receiving reports of sexual assaults tells them that people feel comfortable and satisfied with the resources Saint Mary’s provides. “The most recent statistic is that 1 in 5 female college students will be sexually assaulted,” Cutshaw says. “When I don’t hear of any reports, I worry.”

Cutshaw also reminds students that her office, located in The Women’s Resource Center on the bottom floor of Mitty Hall, is a place for students to talk about a sexual assault with the assurance of confidentiality. “Some students are intentionally coming to my office because they don’t want to report it,” Cutshaw says. “Our focus is on survivor empowerment so that that person is allowed to make their own choices.”

Along with the WRC, the Health and Wellness Center and Clergy are places students can go to seek help and support without being obligated to report the incident.

The college is also taking measures to work on preventing these issues from happening. One of
the newest installations is the replacement of the “Alcohol Education Course” with the newer, more improved program, “Think About It”, a requirement for all incoming freshmen students.
“’Think About It is a more interactive version of the Alcohol Education Course that also includes segments on healthy relationships,” says Cutshaw. “We’ve found that more people retain the information in this course.”

Ultimately, Tejada and Cutshaw stress that the issue should not be about the number of reports; it’s what’s being done about it. “We should be talking about what are the factors in our culture that say this is okay,” says Cutshaw.

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