It’s Time Colleges Addressed Childhood Sexual Abuse Too: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
With the college semester already underway – or fast approaching for universities following the quarter system – survivor groups and campaigns on campus are busy at work promoting consent, bystander intervention, and resource education to incoming freshman and transfers. These first fifteen weeks are critical to advocates, as there are more frequent occurrences of sexual violence during this time – called the “Other Freshman 15.”
Most student advocates and groups focus primarily on sexual assault while in college. It’s an important issue to address, evidenced by the sheer number of individuals who experience some form of sexual coercion during their time on campus. In a survey conducted for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly equal numbers (one in twenty) college-aged women and men reported having experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape in the 12 months prior to taking the survey. Those numbers are startling. But thanks to the incredible work of survivor activists and advocates around the country, there have recently been exceptional changes and improvements on the campus, state, and national level to address this issue, with more work on the way.
However, sexual assault is not confined to the bounds of time at or location of our campuses. It unfortunately starts much earlier than that – in our communities, neighborhoods, and homes. The focus on college sexual violence is an important one, but such a narrow scope fails to provide support and address an even greater number of students, faculty and staff who walk onto our campus having already experienced sexual traumaas children. One in four women and one in six men have had an unwanted or abusive sexual experience in childhood. Many of those who experienced childhood sexual abuse will rarely tell anyone, seek counseling, or begin a conscious healing process – especially men. The numbers alone are concerning, but the socialized stigma and forced silence are added barriers to recovery.
Silence and stigma are not the only effects left behind. These adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often adopt self-defeating coping mechanisms to guard against the feelings of fear, helplessness, or anger from the aftermath. And many of the coping mechanisms are exacerbated in the new freedoms and social climates of college campuses such as alcohol or drug use, disordered eating, and self-injury. These issues on our campuses intersect, and many who experience childhood sexual abuse are punished (or “sanctioned”) by their universities for problematic behaviors related to the symptoms of their abuse.
The recent college activism and its achievements on our campuses are all at once remarkable and lacking. Even within the frame of college sexual violence, men and gender-nonconforming individuals are left largely unrepresented or unsupported with their own experience of sexual trauma. We must then widen our scope from that of prevention, education, awareness, and advocacy on primarily college sexual violence (of women and men) to include childhood sexual abuse of all genders. We as a nation do not have a “college rape problem.” We have a community sexual violence epidemic. Tackling college sexual assault should only be the first step. Universities are often viewed as leaders and benchmarks for their surrounding communities. They are the first to bring change and help implement those changes to better the cities, states, and country where they reside.
College activists, we must expand our outreach, our scopes, our efforts. With the local, state, and national legislators and media watching us, now is the time to bring long-lasting change on this issue. There are so many ways you can do it: talk with your student newspaper about your group’s new direction, create awareness campaigns through arts activism or photography on childhood sexual abuse, ask campus bands to use a blue string on their guitar to represent the 1in6 statistic, or see how your counseling center recommends addressing this issue and can provide support. With so much that can be done to expand on this issue, you won’t have to start from scratch. There are luckily tools and resources from decades of work from fellow activists and advocates on this issue to build off of.
1in6.org provides extensive information on men who have had and unwanted or abusive sexual experience, from common myths and facts on the issue to a new campus campaign and task force to help students get started. There is so much out there to help you get started. Let’s start this school year right – utilize the fresh energy of the year to expand our focus, support more people who have experienced sexual trauma and promote a campus and community culture of consent and acceptance. There is much to do, so let’s get started.
By Savannah Badalich
Savannah Badalich is a Non-Profit Administrative Intern at 1in6, Inc and undergraduate student studying Gender Studies at UCLA. Through her position as UCLA Student Wellness Commissioner — the health representative of 28,000 undergraduates -, she created 7,000 in Solidarity: A Campaign Against Sexual Assault, a multi-campus, sexual-assault-prevention campaign that combines education, arts activism, and advocacy work with the help of student governments, campus departments and resources, survivors, and their advocates. The campaign has gotten huge success and has been featured in The Huffington Post, Think Progress, BuzzFeed, and other news outlets, specifically for its photography campaigns such as #AlcoholIsNotConsent.