As students returned back to Penn State for the fall semester, their first month in State College has seen an alarming amount of reported sexual assaults.
Eleven forcible sex offenses have been reported since move-in day, a staggering and heart-tearing number. It's beginning to feel like every other day a new assault has occurred. One assault is one too many — 11 is an epidemic.
Sexual assaults unfortunately happen more often during the fall after moving into school. This phenomenon is called the “red zone.” While sexual assaults in the fall are nothing new to Penn State, something’s different this semester, as only three were reported by this time last school year.
An easy explanation would be with coronavirus restrictions like social distancing and capacity limits reduced, more social settings such as parties or large gatherings give way to more chances for assault to occur.
Restrictions lifted or not, there’s no excuse for the rise in forcible sex offenses. With many of the reports located in East Halls, how are freshmen supposed to feel comfortable at a school they just joined? How are they supposed to feel safe?
Moving to college away from the comfort of one's own home is an already intimidating thing for many. This barrage of early assaults isn’t going to ease any students who already fear the worst or have concerns for their safety.
In nine of the assaults occurring at Penn State so far, the perpetrator and the victim have known each other beforehand. Though this is not uncommon for sexual assaults, it’s disheartening for those who some call friends or acquaintances to betray their trust and autonomy.
Given that only 31% of sexual assaults are ever reported to police, it can sadly be assumed this number of 11 is far greater.
The amount of those suffering in silence who haven’t shared their abuse at the hands of others is distressing. Most assaults go unpunished as well. Only 5% lead to an arrest, and only 2.5% ever end up incarcerated. While University Police are hopefully following through on these assaults, the chances of the perpetrators being brought to justice are slim.
More than just the police need to be relied upon. Students, classmates and bystanders need to do their part in keeping an eye out and being proactive in spotting potential assaults. Campus assault is unfortunately something that happens to far too many, especially women. How can rape culture change? How do we prevent campus assault?
Getting rid of assault completely is sadly never going to happen. But what we can do is teach the importance of consent at a young age — on what is OK and what is over the line.
Growing up in a quality public school system, never once did I learn in a class or program what consent was. It was something that was left for my parents to educate me on. Why not reinforce it in the classroom?
Penn State could easily require freshmen to take a course that focuses on sexual assault prevention and education. Kick the students out who don’t pass the course.
The university has a responsibility to protect and educate its students — and it clearly has failed on that end. We can educate young people on the punishments and how being charged with sexual assault should and will destory any future for them.
Most importantly, we need to illustrate the damage that being a victim of sexual assault can have on someone physically, mentally and emotionally and how it can ruin lives and deal harm beyond measure.
The responsibility of combating assault isn’t just up to those in law enforcement or the courts. Each and every person, including students at Penn State, have a duty and responsibility to seek out and dismantle every case of sexual assault.