HONOLULU, HAWAII (October 29, 2014) — Editor’s note: Corrie Gustafson is an ordained Covenant pastor and a Pacific Southwest Conference regional coordinator with the denomination’s Advocacy for Victims of Abuse ministry. She currently serves as the K-5 chaplain at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. Gustafson spent her first seven years in ministry working with college students on several campuses in the U.S. and Canada. After publishing Gustafson’s article on the high incidence of sexual assault on college campuses, Covenant News Service asked her to write another that focused on how churches and parents could prepare students for college related to this issue.
By Corrie Gustafson
Churches and parents do a lot to prepare young people for their academic and spiritual lives in college, but they often overlook the need to prepare them to avoid becoming victims of the alarming rate of sexual violence that occurs on college campuses.
One in five female students will be sexually assaulted while in college, according to the Department of Justice. Those rates increase significantly when verbal, emotional, and other forms of physical abuse also included.
Freshmen and sophomores are at a greater risk for sexual assault than juniors and seniors. College officials often refer to the first six weeks of school as the “red zone,” a time when female students are at greatest risk.
The risk factors that victims and perpetrators experienced in the past, as well as family and culture influences, are major contributors to unhealthy attitudes and actions in young adults. That means we are called to begin the work of prevention in childhood and adolescence, the years when we work to shape the character and self-esteem of young girls and boys.
I believe that prevention begins when parents, educators, mentors, and pastors ask these questions:
- How can I nurture and educate this girl so she can become a confident, self-aware, and assertive woman?
- How can I nurture and educate this boy so that he might have a wholesome respect for himself and for females as the image bearers of God?
- How can we help our young people recognize corrupt cultural messages that make women sexual objects to be used and abused?
- How can we help our children resist a culture whose TV shows, video games, and novels teach that intimacy and sex are acts of coercion, dominance, or brutality?
These questions, and others like them, are the bedrock of sexual violence prevention. The educational and formational strategies that might spring from these questions can be implemented in diverse contexts—during family dinners or youth group, Sunday school and scout clubs gatherings, in classrooms, and at camp. I encourage parents, as well as pastors and organizations that work with children and youth, to be intentional about developing strategies and curricula that promote healthy self-esteem and healthy attitudes about sex, gender, and relationships.
But prevention doesn’t end with the education. There are things college-aged adults and their parents can do to prevent sexual violence on campuses.
1) Educate yourself about campus safety.
Due to federal legislation commonly known as “The Clery Act,” colleges and universities are required to track crime on campus and make these statistics available to the community. This includes instances of sexual assault and attempted assault. The act is named for Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered on her college campus. Learn more about what campuses are required to report by visiting the Clery Center website. You can request crimes stats for your school from campus police. You are well within your rights as a prospective student or parent to ask for this information during a college visit.
2) Ask about violence and abuse prevention efforts on campus.
Any responsible school will have strategies already in place. The dean of students’ office, student life department, and/or campus safety department should be able to tell you exactly what their strategies are, as well as when and how they implement them on campus.
3) Be smart about personal safety.
All students, male and female, should be cautious when crossing campus at night. It’s smart for women to always walk with a partner or group and to only walk through well-lit areas. If you plan to walk alone, choose a route through the most populated areas of campus and know where emergency call boxes are located along the way. If you feel unsafe, don’t hesitate to ask campus police or other designated safety officials to escort you. Save their numbers in your cell phone. The University of British Columbia has an excellent safety service that schools of any size could copy.
4) Advocate for prevention measures.
If you are dissatisfied with the strategies in place on your campus, both students and parents can advocate for change. Students can voice the issue through student publications, student government, or by appealing to the appropriate campus department. Parents can do the same through a parent advisory group or through a direct appeal to the appropriate department.
5) Learn self-defense.
Many campuses and community centers offer free self-defense classes. These classes teach more than just defensive moves; they educate about general safety awareness, best practices in personal and group safety, and instilling confidence.
6) Be intelligent around alcohol.
According to the American College Health Association, approximately 50-70 percent of all sexual assaults involve alcohol. After working at four different institutions, both Christian and secular, I know that alcohol use and abuse is a problem everywhere. Even if you attend a school with stringent policies and consequences for underage drinking and intoxication, even if you attend a faith-based school, and even if you never drink or get drunk, you will face scenarios where alcohol use may compromise your safety or the safety of others. Talk through potential scenarios with your family and trusted friends. Develop a safety strategy for when you feel vulnerable or at risk. As a bystander, how might you safely intervene when you see someone’s safety is compromised? Virginia Tech has a helpful tool for bystander intervention that uses the analogy of a football playbook. The same concepts could be easily adapted for other audiences.
For more information on addressing issues of abuse, visit the website for Advocacy for Victims of Abuse, a ministry of the Covenant.