As students return to their institutions of higher learning this month to greet the new year and start of the spring semester, what will the climate be like as it relates to the attitudes and perspectives towards campus violence and sexual assault?
This fall it seemed you could barely read an online magazine or pick up a newspaper without hearing about the latest issue on campus. One that got big attention was the Rolling Stone piece regarding allegations of gang rape by a University of Virginia student.
And then it happened. The scenario that would make any credible publication or journalist cringe: R-E-T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N.
As damaging as the impact of sexual assaults are on victims, there also is a severe impact on individuals who may be falsely accused and forced to defend themselves against such accusations.
From the media perspective, yes, the Rolling Stone story was an embarrassment. But that doesn't change the fact that we still have a broken process that allows sexual assaults to go unreported on college campuses. And young women are most at risk. In 2013, women between 18 and 24 were more likely to be the victims of rape or sexual assault (about 4.3 victimizations per 1,000), than any other group (the rate for women ages 12 to 17 and 25 or older was 1.4 victimizations per 1,000). These rates haven't changed since 1997. Furthermore, federal research shows 80 percent of college women do not report the crime to police.
These are the parts of the story we really need to focus on. Just because one magazine printed a retraction, it doesn't mean that we end the conversation or stop reporting about this very REAL issue that puts our students on college campuses across the country at risk.
As we continue examine this issue, what can we do to educate our students while going to the next level of empowering them to take greater control over their own personal safety?
Workshops are a start, self-defense courses even better. Futures Without Violence and "The Other Freshman 15" initiative are important resources. In today's digital environment, there are even a variety of personal safety apps such as LifeLine Response that can be part of the answer. But in order to continue bringing awareness and help to erasing the stigma of shame that still surrounds incidences of campus violence and sexual assault, we must make sure that the conversation continues.
I am committed to keep talking about this issue. I encourage and implore our high achievers, student leaders and campus communities across the nation to continue talking about it as well. The greater good of continuing to shed light on this epidemic far outweighs the possibility of an occasional media embarrassment.