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Sexual Assault Makes Criminals and Victims

Every two and a half minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.

Because April is designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, it is an appropriate time to look at some disturbing numbers: every two and a half minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. One in four women and one in seven men will be victims of sexual assault.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 44 percent of rape victims are under 18, and 80 percent are under 30. And the U.S. Bureau of the Census National Crime and Victimization Survey puts the rate of reported sexual assaults in Massachusetts alone at approximately 7,645 a year, 637 a month, 21 a day, and one an hour.

David McBride, director of BU’s Student Health Services, believes that even those frightening numbers do not tell the whole story, because sexual assaults are dramatically underreported. 

“I think survivors of sexual assault try to explain away the occurrence as something that they did wrong, which is clearly not the case,” says McBride. “Shame and embarrassment lead people to not report the crime. Also, most people are raped or sexually assaulted by people they know, not strangers.”
 
The excessive use of alcohol among students on college campuses puts students at increased risk of being raped or of committing sexual assault. What exactly constitutes sexual assault? The Justice Department describes it as rape, attempted rape, and other violent felonies that fall short of rape, including forced vaginal, anal, or oral penetration.

For victims of sexual assault, says McBride, there are several painful consequences. These include physical trauma, emotional trauma, sexually transmitted infections, and chronic medical symptoms like pelvic pain, headaches, depression, and anxiety.

“Sexual assault can really have a big impact on a person’s overall state of health,” says McBride.

If a student is a victim of sexual assault, he says, the best thing to do is go straight to a nearby hospital and see a medical professional. Urban hospitals such as Boston Medical Center are well equipped to help sexual assault victims. BMC, for example, has sexual assault nurse evaluators on staff, and the behavioral medicine department of Student Health Services provides counseling, tests for sexually transmitted infections, and follow-up care. 

It is vital, says McBride, for students to take steps to avoid becoming a victim. He advises students to watch how much they drink, if they drink at all, and to stay in control at all times. He also reminds students that the BU Police Department runs several Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) programs during the school year to teach self-defense tactics.

“Don’t drink too much, and don’t use drugs,” McBride says. “When you are out, stay with your friends, and never go back to someone’s place after a night out, even if he or she ‘looks OK.’”

In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Clothesline Project, in which T-shirts decorated by victims of violence are hung on a clothesline as testimony to the prevalence of violence against women, will be on display on Marsh Plaza on Wednesday, April 25, and Thursday, April 26, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. At the BU Beach from 3 to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 27, a number of offices on campus, among them Student Health Services and the Office of Wellness and Residential Education, as well as off-campus organizations such as the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, will hand out information, have rape defense demonstrations, and give away prizes. There will also be food and entertainment.

Meghan Noé can be reached at mdorney@bu.edu.