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Sex + Relationships

The Importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. As a college student, I’ve been inspired to reflect on this topic, as so many incidents of sexual assault occur on college campuses—with many of them going unnoticed. 

I’ve been familiar with the implications and dangers of sexual assault since high school, when I often wondered if the people, especially the men, I went to school with grew up with values that encouraged them to listen to and respect the boundaries and agency of other people. 

Unfortunately, this was often not the case. When I was in tenth grade, a survey conducted among the upperclasswomen of my school found that out of 109 women, 92.7% knew someone who had been sexually harassed. This included unwelcome physical contact, sexual jokes, remarks about someone’s body or sexual relationships, and suggestive gestures like whistling. I remember feeling shocked, horrified, and disgusted at the fact that students I knew—which included my neighbors, friends, and peers—were disrespected in this manner so frequently. 

As a college student, I’m no longer surprised. Before coming to Penn,  all new students were required to do an online “course” on sexual assault and the importance of consent; it’s actions like these that need to be reinforced on college campuses. However, during these lectures I always came back to the same thought: “How could someone not know this?”

The reality is that consent is incredibly important in all relationships. For many, it seems unbelievably difficult to understand that if it’s not an enthusiastic “yes,” it’s a “no.”Additionally, alcohol and other substances frequently found on college campuses can blur this line and result in too many individuals being taken advantage of.

Sexual harassment is often seen as a “taboo’ subject,” which attaches a stigma to the topic and makes it difficult for people to talk about. Unfortunately, dismissing the issue contributes to a culture where victims of sexual harassment or assault are disregarded and disrespected.

More and more sexual assault allegations are being revealed in the media, against both famous celebrities and regular college students—which continues to show us that sexual assault knows no gender, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity. And yet, these sexual assault allegations are often frowned upon, and many do not believe survivors. 

We must change that. We need to amplify the voices of survivors, not silence them. The way these allegations are handled in the media—where they are often criticized or disbelieved—is also critically important in contributing to a culture that allows college campuses to have such dangerously high rates of sexual assault. Sexual misconduct allegations need to be voiced in order to spread awareness, punish perpetrators, and prevent similar crimes from happening in the future. 

Educating young people about the culture of sexual assault can instill future generations with the critical idea that harassment is unacceptable and consent is not questionable. Conducting assemblies, or even just talking about sexual harassment and assault, can open a new chapter in a society where victims aren’t afraid of getting knocked down or disbelieved. 

By acknowledging that this is a real systemic problem and increasing awareness of this issue, we can all help bring justice to those who often, unfortunately, receive none. Making people aware of sexual assault isn’t just about attacking perpetrators. It is done with the goal of unifying the people who can make a difference, so future generations can live in a world where  victims aren’t silenced or denigrated for desiring justice. 

From this point on, we need to create a community where all victims of sexual assault or harassment feel comfortable sharing their experiences. This is the only way we can destroy a culture that allows disrespect, superiority, and hostility to be overlooked or normalized.  

Many individuals are afraid of speaking up, sometimes due to confusion about the incident, intimidation at the process, or the fear of wrongly accusing someone. It’s important to know that if anyone’s action has made you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, that’s harassment. You deserve to feel heard and respected.

See below for a list of sexual misconduct resources for students at the University of Pennsylvania and beyond. 

Rainn National Sexual Assault Hotline: Confidential 24/7 Support

https://www.rainn.org/resources

Special Services Unit in the Division of Public Safety (Confidential) (24/7)

4040 Chestnut Street

24 Hour Helpline: 215.898.6600

Special Services offers comprehensive victim support for any member of the University community who experiences interpersonal violence. Special Services has advocates on call 24–hours a day who provide options counseling, hospital and court accompaniment and take formal police reports.

Penn Women’s Center (Confidential)

3643 Locust Walk

Tel: 215.898.8611

Staff Hours:  Mon–Fri: 9:30am–5:30pm

The Penn Women’s Center provides education, advocacy, and support groups for survivors of sexual violence. Staff can assist victims/survivors in navigating resources at Penn and in the broader community. They also provide support and guidance to friends and family of students who have experienced sexual violence. PWC supports students of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) (Confidential) (24/7)

3624 Market Street, 1st Floor West

Tel: 215.898.7021

Hours: Mon & Fri: 9am–5pm. Tues, Weds & Thurs: 9am–7pm. Sat: 10am–3pm.

Emergency walk–in all day

CAPS offers free and confidential services including initial consultation, individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, structured workshops, and medication reviews. Within CAPS, the Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention (STTOP) Team, a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, is dedicated to providing confidential care, support, and advocacy to students who have experienced sexual trauma.

The Office of the Chaplain (Confidential)

240 Houston Hall

Tel: 215.898.8456

The Office of the Chaplain offers pastoral support, guidance, and informal advising and counseling to all members of the Penn community in a safe and confidential manner. They are also able to connect students to campus resources and community religious support as needed.

Penn Violence Prevention (Confidential)

3611 Locust Walk

Tel: 215.746.2642

Penn Violence Prevention is a collaborative program that aims to engage the Penn community in the prevention of sexual violence, relationship violence, stalking, and sexual harassment on campus through educational programming.

Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Center (Confidential)

Carriage House, 3907 Spruce Street

Tel: 215.898.5044

The LGBT Center provides advocacy, education, outreach, and support for and concerning Penn’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. The staff is trained to support survivors of interpersonal violence, or anyone struggling with related issues in a safe and confidential manner.

Office of the Ombuds (Confidential)

113 Duhring Wing, 236 S. 34th Street

Tel: 215.898.8261

The Office of the Ombuds is a confidential and neutral resource for students, staff and faculty. The Ombuds assists with the management of conflict, dispute resolution, and problem solving.

African–American Resource Center (Confidential)

3643 Locust Walk

Tel: 215.898.0104

The African–American Resource Center (AARC) provides advocacy, counseling, information, referrals, workshops, and informational sessions for all members of the Penn community with a particular focus on those of African descent.

Confidential Medical Assistance

Student Health Service (Confidential) 

3535 Market St, Suite 100

Tel: 215.746.3535 (on call provider available 24/7)

Office Hours: Mon–Weds 8:00am-7:30pm, Thurs & Fri 8:00am–5:30pm, Sat 10:00am–3:30pm; modified hours during breaks, major holidays, and summer.

SHS providers can perform examinations, discuss testing and treatment of sexually transmissible infections, provide emergency contraception  and arrange for referrals and follow up. SHS does not perform forensic rape examinations (see PSARC in Off–Campus Resources). Office visits are covered in full by the Clinical Fee and the Penn Student Insurance Plan (PSIP), and charges for lab tests related to a sexual assault are waived.

Emily is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about medicine, writing, and women's empowerment. In her free time, she can be found playing tennis or exploring Philadelphia with friends!
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