As a crime alert appears in students’ inboxes, another Aggie is reduced to another statistic, used to warn campus members against the danger of sexual violence on campus. Now, student organizations are getting involved to stop the risk of sexual assaults.
More than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur in August, September, October and November when new students step foot on campus, according to the Step In. Stand Up. website. Texas A&M has identified this time period between move-in and Thanksgiving break as the Red Zone, when students are at an escalated risk of sexual assault or violence.
Before attending classes at the university, A&M requires all incoming students to complete a sexual assault and sexual harassment training course so they themselves can see the signs. University Police Department, or UPD, Lt. Bobby Richardson said most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim-survivor knows.
“We encourage individuals to watch for warning signs,” Richardson said. “Individuals exhibiting controlling behaviors, individuals who become angry when personal limits regarding physical intimacy are set, individuals who ignore personal limits set by others and individuals who deliberately and repeatedly ignore personal limits set by others and continue to make sexual advances. These are often danger signals exhibited by sexual predators. If you go out with friends, watch out for your friends and ask them to watch out for you. Have a plan to check on each other at set times.”
Richardson said only the perpetrator can prevent sexual assault. As a nationally ranked and evidence-based program, Green Dot’s prevention program presents students with the skills and knowledge to recognize and intervene in high-risk situations.
“UPD has always focused on education and awareness by informing our community of the issue and resources available to them, [such as Step In. Stand Up. and Green Dot],” Richardson said. “UPD offers free courses and presentations on personal safety and women’s self-defense.”
Richardson said there are multiple resources available to students to promote safety on campus and throughout Aggieland, including Carpool, Corps Escort Service and UPD. Richardson said if someone is a victim of sexual assault they can contact UPD or the Title IX Office to receive resources.
“Information regarding sexual assault as well as counseling and advocacy services can be provided to the victim,” Richardson said. “UPD has its own victim’s advocate who can walk the victim through the reporting process and provide available services and resources.”
Dedicated to helping victims of sexaul assault, the Sexual Assault Resource Center, or SARC, is a private non-profit that serves survivors across Brazos, Burleson, Grimes, Leon, Madison, Robertson and Washington Counties. SARC Executive Director Lindsey LeBlanc said though sexual assaults can occur at any time, the center sees a rise at the beginning of the school year, especially on college campuses.
“From our standpoint, we know that sexual assaults are happening throughout the year,” LeBlanc said. “There tends to be an escalation in reports as students come back. You have a lot of freshmen who aren’t familiar with the college scene and aren’t familiar with the layout of the community. You see a rise in cases at the start of each semester.”
Similar to UPD’s efforts, LeBlanc said SARC focuses its efforts on educating the community on consent and where the lines of consent are drawn.
“That’s important for students to know and understand,” LeBlanc said. “Not only for them to be able to advocate for themselves and speak up when they need to, but also for others to understand where boundaries exist and why consent matters. We educate a lot on that realm of things so that students and community members are aware of ‘yes means yes,’ and they are able to say no and stand up for themselves.”
For students, LeBlanc said she believes peer-to-peer support is important so the student body can protect each other, especially students who live on campus.
“The Step In. Stand Up. program with Texas A&M is really important so that students are able to step in if they see something happening that maybe [isn’t] appropriate or they step up and speak up for their friends or for other students on campus,” LeBlanc said.
The SARC offers free and confidential services, specific to sexual assault and sexual violence, including a hotline and counseling program open to Texas A&M students.
“Students are able to get engaged with us through those activities if they are in need of crisis intervention or counseling [if] they have been a victim or survivor of sexual violence in the past,” LeBlanc said. “In addition to that, we always love our students to give back to us. We have fundraisers going on right now that they can get involved in, and we work closely with a lot of student groups around that as well.”
With the increase in use of ride-hailing services platforms such as Uber and Lyft, Cutter Law, located in Sacramento, Calif., released a “Ride Sharing Safety Guide” to educate individuals on how to safely use ride-hailing services.
“Ride-sharing has become a very popular and safe way to avoid driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” Cutter Law’s website reads. “Unfortunately, when you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you become more vulnerable to sexual assault by a rideshare driver or by a sexual predator posing as a rideshare driver.”
According to Cutter Law’s website, many college students contact a ride-hailing company late at night after they’ve been drinking alcohol, so their judgment and situational awareness may be reduced.
“In this state, they may be more susceptible to getting into a car without first making sure that it’s a legitimate Uber or Lyft driver,” Cutter Law’s website reads. “Sexual predators know this, so they often pose as Uber and Lyft drivers and frequent college campuses searching for victims.”
To recognize Domestic Violence Prevention and Awareness Month, the Health Promotion Department is hosting multiple events throughout the month of October, including Green Dot training. Additionally, the SARC is hosting an “Evening Under the Stars” Gala on Friday, Oct. 8, to offset losses in federal and state grant funds which totaled 35 percent of its annual budget.