Experts often refer to the first several weeks of college for new students as the “red zone” – a time when they’re more likely to be sexually assaulted.
The University of Alaska system is on a list of 79 post-secondary schools being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for compliance with sexual assault laws or violations.
This year, the federal government updated guidelines requiring colleges to proactively combat sexual assault by talking to students about consent.
Many people have heard the message, “ ‘No’ means no.”
Lori Klein says there are also situations when yes does not mean yes.
Like, “when someone is intoxicated, high, incapacitated or incompetent, you do not have consent no matter what they tell you,” Klein says.
Klein is the student conduct administrator at University of Alaska Southeast. She’s talking to more than a hundred new students during one of their first days on campus.
Klein says consent must be “active, sober, enthusiastic, informed, mutual, honest and verbal.”
“Whether you’re asking someone out for a cup of coffee or you’re asking them to have sex, you need consent that is all of these things.”
Another important message – saying yes to one thing does not mean yes to anything else.
“Consent for holding hands is not consent for a kiss,” Klein says. “Consent for sex once is not consent for sex twice.”
Freshman Nate Hietala says he appreciated Klein’s frank talk about sexual consent.
“It gave all the major points of what consent is rather than somebody just saying, ‘Yes,’ which is what a lot of people think it is. They gave the point that if they’re intoxicated or high or in some other way impaired, such as depression, that it wouldn’t be true consent.”
Hietala hesitates when asked if he already knew that.
“Not really. It was just kind of like, yes is consent,” she says. “But it’s something that I probably would’ve felt if I had been in that situation, but it’s not something I’d really thought about before.”
As a result of updated federal mandates, this is the first time UAS has given a talk on consent at orientation to the entire incoming class.
Faculty and staff were also required to attend training where they learned how to recognize signs of trauma related to sexual assault, how to talk to a student about it and what to do to help.
Senior Barb Dagata went through the sessions. Along with being a student, she also works at UAS. She says she now feels empowered with information she wishes she had before.
“I’ve had some friends who’ve had roommates get involved with bad relationships or just bad situations. And it was hard for me to give any advice to my friend on what she should do with her roommate. And I always felt at a loss for how involved should I be. And after going through the training, I kind of look back and I wish I would’ve said something. I wish I would’ve come to campus and said, ‘Hey, this girl needs some help.’ ”
UAS had one report of sexual assault during the 2012 calendar year. There was another in 2013 and so far, this year, two reports.
“I think that we can say with surety that those numbers are less than the numbers of sexual assaults that actually occur.”
Mandy Cole is direct services manager of AWARE, Juneau’s domestic abuse and sexual assault prevention nonprofit. The organization helped provide training to UAS staff this summer.
Cole says for many reasons sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.
“And those reasons include fear of what the perpetrator may do if you report. It may include fear of what friends and family will think, fear of the impacts on your academic career,” she says.
During orientation, all incoming students learned about the options available for anybody who’s been sexually assaulted, including medical attention and who to talk to if you want to report the crime.
“For some people, making an official report is important. For others, getting counseling is important. For others, they would rather just talk in a peer group.”
Cole says not all intervention has to end in a report; what’s important is that students are equipped with the information and feel safe reaching out.