On average, one in five female students will be sexually assaulted while in college.
For men, it’s one in 16.
In the last five years, sexual assault has become the second most reported crime on college campuses behind only burglary.
As too many Auburn students know, sexual assault is a prevalent threat on campus, and the subsequent trauma from an assault can ruin families, lives and futures.
The women and men of the Me Too Movement brought these cultures of repression and violence to the forefront of the American cultural debate, but too often these allegations of sexual assault get stuck as just that — debates.
Instead of believing survivors, many people try to find inconsistencies in their stories or use a lack of witnesses to discount their claims entirely.
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This is not to say that every accusation of rape should be treated as a jury’s final verdict, but it seems that the focus of these investigations is usually on discrediting the survivors’ claims rather than finding facts.
This problem is often made worse by the lack of physical evidence left behind by these kinds of assaults.
When someone is accused of murder, there is usually a body which can be used as evidence.
No one doubts the severity or reality of the trial because it is hard to be skeptical that a crime was committed when there is a physical body to serve as proof.
Sexual assault doesn’t leave a body behind — it leaves a person.
Sexual assault leaves behind a person who has to live with the memory and potential trauma of that assault, and who will often be attacked or criticized for speaking out about it.
Repeatedly, when allegations of sexual assault have been made public, the ensuing investigations have not been about who committed the crime, but whether a crime was committed at all.
Because of that, as well as the confidentiality, confusion and social stigma which surrounds these kinds of assaults, it can be difficult for victims to seek treatment and even harder for them to report the crime to authorities.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly two-thirds of sexual assaults aren’t even reported to authorities.
Which, in a way, makes sense.
To accurately document these kinds of sexual crimes, a survivor often has to subject her or himself to a detailed and personal exam.
These exams are usually conducted by strangers and can require the survivor to disclose intimate and potentially distressing information.
On top of that, anyone in Auburn looking for this kind of exam and treatment can currently only receive it at the East Alabama Medical Clinic in Opelika.
That stigma and the subsequent lack of survivors who feel comfortable reporting these crimes is, in part, what allows people in positions of power — such as Jerry Sandusky or Larry Nassar — to continue abusing people for decades.
Not only do those stigmas and lack of resources allow individuals to abuse people, they also allow cultures which promote or excuse sexual assault to perpetuate even when evidence has begun to mount against them.
The same DOJ study concluded that female students who attend fraternity parties are 40% more likely to be sexually assaulted while incapacitated.
Over a quarter of the assailants in cases of incapacitated sexual assault are also members of a fraternity at the time of the assault.
This has been an observable and studied fact for more than two decades now.
With all of that in mind, SGA’s newest initiative, a fundraising campaign to train and certify a team of six sexual assault nurse examiners, is an absolutely positive development for Auburn.
This fundraising campaign, which comes after extensive discussions between SGA and the Auburn University medical clinic, aims to give survivors of sexual assault a place where they can go to receive immediate medical and psychological treatment as well as the kinds of forensic exams which can provide reliable scientific evidence in a court of law.
Hopefully, having six nurses in Auburn, near campus, who are trained to administer these exams and console survivors will encourage more people who have been sexually assaulted to go receive treatment or possibly report the crime to authorities.
Hopefully, this program will be a respected resource that is open to those who need it in the Auburn community.
The keyword here is “hopefully” because while this program would be an unquestionably good asset for the Auburn community, it has not been fully funded yet.
The University has said that due to their budget constraints, they will not fund the program for the first three years, so SGA is hoping to fund those three years themselves.
That’s called gumption.
Multiple SGA and Miss Auburn candidates have run on platforms of protecting survivors of sexual assault and improving the current treatment and investigation process, but now they are doing something about it.
Not only is SGA taking action, they are doing so even after being told to wait.
Instead of waiting for the University to fund the program in three years, SGA decided that Auburn students needed this SANE program now.
According to SGA, they are hoping to have the SANE nurses certified and the program operational by the time students return to Auburn in January 2020, but they need help.
They have opened up a page for donations at aub.ie/sane and are hoping to raise a minimum of $36,000 to fully fund the program for the first three years.
Anyone who claims that there is an easy fix to sexual assault is lying to themselves or the world around them.
This is a difficult and complex issue that deals with violence, trauma, privacy, alcohol, toxic masculinity, privilege, gender, societal stigmas and power dynamics.
But just because it’s a difficult problem doesn’t mean we can’t try to fix it.
SGA’s SANE program certainly won’t stop sexual assault, but hopefully it will give survivors a place to be treated, believed, respected and protected.
The opinions of The Auburn Plainsman staff are restricted to this page.
This editorial is the majority opinion of the Editorial Board and is the official opinion of the newspaper.
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