Off-campus sexual assault bolsters student awareness

A highly publicized sexual assault has made Main Campus more alert.

Zari Tarazona HeadshotIn recent weeks, The Temple News and other Philadelphia media outlets extensively reported on a sexual assault that happened a few blocks from Main Campus involving a student. The environment of college campuses tends to put students in a position that makes it easier to be targeted—it isn’t unusual to see students walking by themselves late at night. While the incident was surely a horrific experience for the Temple student involved, hopefully people will educate themselves and others about safety and preventing sexual assault.

It seems, though, this incident has changed the habits of some Temple students already. In a previous article, The Temple News reported a 30 percent increase in the Walking Escort Service, in which a bike patrol officer will walk you to your destination, after news of the sexual assault on Jefferson Street. Many campus organizations are also taking note and teaching students about sexual assault.

In the university’s Fire and Safety Report for the areas around Temple, a graph shows a five-year trend of crime from 2010-2014. Sexual offenses significantly increased between 2012-2013, but between 2013 and 2014, the numbers have not notably increased or decreased.

The Temple chapter of One in Four, an organization dedicated to preventing sexual assault, is in the process of being recognized by the school. Steven Ritchie, the organization’s president, said he hopes the chapter will be up and running by this spring semester.

Ritchie, a senior criminal justice major, said he grew passionate about helping victims of sexual assault after taking the class “Victims in Society” and interning at Women Organized Against Rape.

At WOAR, Ritchie worked at the 24-hour phone hotline and talked to callers about being sexually assaulted, how their day was going, if they needed someone to talk to, if a friend had been sexually assaulted or if they were considering suicide.

Ritchie also emphasized sexual assault should not be portrayed as just a woman’s issue since it is in fact, a societal issue—one that those on Main Campus must prioritize.

“It doesn’t make guys ignore it, but it suggests that they don’t have to look into it, like it’s not going to affect them. When they don’t have the facts and statistics it’s not helpful,” he said.

“Sexual assault is not a gender issue, it’s a man’s issue and it’s a woman’s issue and it’s every race, gender, it’s everyone’s issue in society,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie explained One in Four will be instituting an approach that emphasizes action and awareness. The awareness-based approach is more educational with presentations about what sexual assault is and how to understand it. The action-based approach has the organization’s members completing 15 hours of training so that members can go out and educate others.

An important fact that students and community members should realize is that sexual assault comes in many forms and can be as simple as cat-calling someone on the street, an issue many Temple students have dealt with. Ritchie said sexual assault can mean different things to different people.

Roar for Good, a social-mission B-Corp dedicated to reducing assaults, empowering women and transforming society was founded by Yasmine Mustafa, a Temple alum and Anthony Gold, a Chairman at the Healthy Humans foundation.

On a trip to South America, Mustafa heard countless stories of local women and other travelers that had been sexually assaulted. When she returned from Philadelphia, a woman was sexually assaulted while paying a parking meter.

Mustafa and Gold created a product, Athena, which sets off an alarm when pushed and sends the location of the person in danger to their emergency contact list and the authorities. Temple has partnered with Roar for Good, and I hope it will increase the amount of students who walk around with some sort of digital protection.

While the university is under some scrutiny for the handling of a recent assault of a Temple student, it seems as though many organizations and students themselves have started to pay attention because of it. Increased education and awareness will not be able to make up for the the experiences for those who have experienced sexual assault, but hopefully it will change the habits and stigmas surrounding it.

Zari Tarazona can be reached at zari.

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