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Tech takes steps to combat Sexual Assault

May 7, 2015

 

RACHEL MAXWELL
Staff Reporter

 

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Photo vy: Devin Dronett

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Photo by: Devin Dronett

According to Louisiana Tech’s University police record, there has not been a sexual assault on campus in years. Pine Hills Advocacy Center is rarely called to action by Tech students. The men and women who walk around our campus are, it would appear, unaffected by this issue.

 

However, with one in five women and one in 16 men being sexually assaulted during their academic career, many think that the low number of reports does not indicate a lack of cases, but instead that Tech lacks an environment in which victims feel comfortable reporting.

 

Lauren Tressler, counselor and coordinator of career development at Tech, said the counseling center sees firsthand the effects of sexual assault on our campus.

 

“It really is something that’s happening,” she said. “Since I started here in September, we’ve had at least a dozen cases come to us. We deal with it regularly.”

 

While Tressler said the problem is indeed prevalent at Tech, fewresources are being utilized by victims.

 

Carole Carson, director at Pine Hills, said they get fewer victims referred to them from Tech than other schools they work with.

 

“We are not very involved with Tech,” she said. “I do not know why that is; I am sure the problem is there. Last year, there were two students who received services with us, but I think a lot of students are not reporting.”

 

While the Counseling Center and Pine Hills see some of those affected at Tech, University Police have very few cases reported to them. Chief Randal Hermes said he would like to be able to help resolve the cases.

 

“We know there are more out there; that’s just the nature of this kind of violence,” he said.

 

There are several possible explanations as to why Tech’s reporting rate is so low.

 

Sonja Davis, a member of the Board of Directors with UniteWomen.org, pointed to the culture in America and the South for reasons victims feel uncomfortable reporting.

 

“The problem is this culture that creates excuses for perps, and that has to change,” she said. “I think in Louisiana, and at Tech, the atmosphere is so conservative, people don’t talk about sex openly, so when you start to talk about sexual violence, a wall goes up.”

 

Tressler said while the victims that come to the counseling center want help working through the trauma, many do not want to take legal action because of the fear that goes along with it.

 

“There’s a stigma that if they report the attack, they won’t be supported. In our country right now, there is a lot of victim blaming,” she said.

 

Speakers who have visited the university and spoken to different organizations said while Tech students’ reception of sexual-assault information is mostly normal for college students, there have been some stand-out reactions.

 

Terrie Queen-Autrey, director of Domestic Abuse Resistance Team, said while Tech’s Greek community has been very helpful overall, she witnessed laughter during a presentation.

 

“When I speak to the fraternities, there have been several men who have obviously been moved by the stories,” she said. “We had one young man come up after and ask what he and his brothers could do to help. He was clearly upset by the issue. But I have had groups laughing and snickering as well, there was one group of men, four of them on the front row, that thought anything I said was funny.”

 

Traciana Graves, a workplace strategist, also spoke to Tech’s Greek community. Graves addressed the organizations about suicide, sexual assault and hazing during Greek Week, and was met with a mixture of concern and laughter during the portion of her presentation regarding sexual violence.

 

“There are a few ways men tend to react during those conversations,” she said. “One of those is laughter. So while it is shocking in a way, I was not surprised. These are uncomfortable conversations. I don’t look at it as a judgment or negative. I see it as very telling that something as serious as this evokes laughter.”

 

Graves said more telling than the laughter was what she did not hear during her presentation.

 

“Typically women feel comfortable enough to share their stories,” she said. “I was surprised that did not happen, because there were visibly people in the audience moved, and we know statistically that there were victims in the room.”

 

While some may consider Tech’s climate suppressant at the moment, forces are in motion to create a more open conversation about the issue.

 

SB 255, a college sexual assault reform bill, is making its way through Louisiana’s legislature. If passed, the law would require colleges to administer an annual climate survey and provide greater resources and education for students and victims of sexual assault.

 

Nick Smith, a junior political science major, has been working for months on the Senate sexual assault working group to pass the bill.

 

“It will allow for greater transparency, so that more victims will become survivors,” Smith said.

 

While it is not in effect as of yet, Tech is taking action now to become a more safe and open place. There is now a sexual assault task force on campus, along with naming “responsible employees” who have authority to address sexually-oriented crimes. Autrey said she is impressed with the steps the school is taking.

 

“Tech has come a long way,” she said. “You have a campus that wants to be a safe place.”

 

However, Davis said responsibility does not lie solely on the school or victims to report.

 

“If we do not step in as a community, we won’t change anything,” she said. “It is your responsibility not only as a student but as a decent human being to step in, stop it and get help for those who need it.”

 

Email comments to ram049@latech.edu.

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