Central New York, Community, Public Safety

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Brings Forth Awareness and Stories

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and activities are taking place around the Syracuse University campus to raise awareness. It's also bringing forth people with stories to share.

By Nicole Hansen SYRACUSE, N.Y. – According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 20-25% of women will experience a completed or attempted rape while in college.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and groups on the Syracuse University campus are speaking up and bringing awareness to this issue.

People are also telling their stories.

Rachel Saunders is a PEER educator with the Office of Health Promotion. Rachel is also a survivor of sexual assault.

“I got intoxicated to a level where I was incapacitated and unable to give consent,” she explained. “I don’t remember the night.”

Saunders was sexually assaulted during her freshman year of college.

“I remember one thing from the night, and it was him going ‘Do you want to have sex, Rachel?’” she said. “And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Okay Rachel, we’re going to have sex, okay?’ And then I passed out. And then we were having sex.”

She said what she heard from people the next morning, and days after that, made things even harder for her to handle what had happened.

“The next morning, my roommate came to me, and she didn’t know what happened, she just knew we had hooked up…She went to me and she said, ‘Okay, I know you hooked up with [him] last night, don’t cause drama.’…And that was basically the mood that it set.”

“I didn’t report it,” she went on. “Everyone was like, don’t report it. And they made a huge joke of me hooking up with [him] for the rest of the year…They’d be making jokes like, ‘Oh you hooked up with him, you guys are going to get married’ or ‘You’re in love now, you’re dating, he’s your boyfriend.’ And I’m like ‘No.’”

And this is not an isolated incident. According to Department of Public Safety Officer Cleveland McCurty, the numbers of incidents reported to them have gone up. However, that could be misleading.

“I would say that they have gone up,” McCurty said. “It’s tough to say if…the problem has become worse or reporting has gotten better.”

It’s currently It’s On Us Week of Action, a nationwide campaign that the Syracuse campus participates in. The Office of Health Promotion has a lot of activities and events for the week, including training sessions to be an empowered bystander, film screenings, and more.

Saunders said she enjoys taking part in these activities, and speaking in front of classes with other PEER educators, because it’s making good out of a bad situation.

“It helps to actually talk about it,” she said. “You go from a state where you see yourself as the victim to where you see yourself as a survivor. And not just calling yourself a survivor, it’s like, you really feel that you are a survivor, like I’ve made it through. It isn’t going to define who I am…I can take a really bad situation and bad thing that happened and bring good out of it.”

She’s also seen the impact it can have on the people at the events and presentations.

“It’s empowering to present and see people passionate about trying to make a difference…and actually wanting to learn how to make a difference,” Saunders explained. “There are some people who want to be there and learn and that’s worth it.”

It's On Us Week of Action runs from April 3rd through April 7th, and includes a number of activities on campus to raise awareness of sexual assault. (c) 2017 Nicole Hansen

Rachel Saunders is a PEER educator with the Office of Health Promotion, encouraging healthy relationships and sexuality. (c) 2017 Nicole Hansen