In recent months, national news has reported on multiple cases of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior toward women by famous men in a variety of professions, from Hollywood to sports, the political arena, and even the news media. At the same time, little has been published about the #MeToo movement in academia. But campus crime statistics shed light on the existence of sexual assault on students, primarily women.
A 2017 survey by the University of Texas System shows that around 20 percent of students have reported sexual assault incidents and 7 percent of those incidents reported by students were rape-related.
The UT study, Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments survey, was released as the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements were gathering steam across the country.
The survey also showed results from UT Austin which revealed that in 2016, 28 percent of undergraduate women had been victims of unwanted sexual touching, 12 percent had experienced an attempted rape, and 15 percent had been raped.
According to UTEP’s CLERY statistics report released Oct.1, 2017 and included in the UT survey, in 2016 UTEP had the highest number of reported rapes in three years, with three occurring in on-campus property and two in student housing. There was one rape reported on campus in 2015, and none reported for 2014.
UTEP has responded in its own way to the national conversation about sexual assault and inappropriate sexual behavior with their own take on the #TimesUp movement by creating a gallery in honor of the movement.
Dr. Guillermina Núñez, the director of the Women’s Studies Department at UTEP and a professor of sociology for 13 years, says that she has personally learned of the stories of some students severely affected in their personal and academic lives because of previous experiences of sexual assault.
“When people have been sexually assaulted there is usually a lot of shame, fear, and stigma about these interactions,” Núñez said.
The Golden Globes ceremony in January in which prominent actresses like Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, and Reese Witherspoon publicly supported the Time’s Up movement, motivated UTEP’s Coordinator of Campus Engagement Activities Mallory Garcia to increase awareness of the issue through a campus-wide activity, a reception at the Union Gallery in late January that supported the Time’s Up movement.
“We wanted to provide a platform and an opportunity for the students here at UTEP to kind of bring Time’s Up to UTEP and figure out what it could look like here on campus, what conversations can we have, what actions can we take, what can we do here to make Time’s Up a local thing and not just something that we see on TV,” Garcia said during the #TimesUP event on campus.
The reception showcased a wall that would let visitors write what they thought about the movement and what would be the next step for the university.
“I want to show support to all the women who are not afraid to tell men to stop harassing and hurting them,” was one comment printed on the gallery’s wall.
More solidarity with #TimesUP is on the drawing board during April Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Student Engagement and Leadership Center is one of several campus departments in charge of planning events for the last week of this month.
A Resource Fair is planned for the students on April 25 as well as the annual Denim Day Fashion Show. Both events will commemorate a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court that a woman had been sexually assaulted because of the jeans she was wearing.
“The more education and information we have, the more we are emboldened to speak up, call out abusers, and seek support in our communities, the more this issue can gain visibility and attention,” Núñez said.
The year 2017 brought to light several high profile cases of famous Hollywood actresses who stepped up to speak about their experiences of being sexually assaulted.
The target of the allegations include famous Hollywood personalities such as Film Director Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Franco, Woody Allen, and others.
As more high profile women began to speak out about the issue they began a spontaneous social media movement called #TimesUp that advocates for equality, respect and the end of sexual assault. It was followed by another social media campaign called #MeToo as more women from all walks of life began to speak out about their experiences.
Women have been fighting to be treated as equals in society since 1848, when they organized to press for equal rights.
The January event at UTEP attracted 80 men and women in support of persons who have been sexually assaulted. On an ongoing basis, the university has several initiatives in place to create awareness of sexual assault. The on-campus Counseling Center also encourages victims of sexual assault to seek counseling.
To follow up on the campus #TimesUp event, Garcia plans to research and collect information on what services and programs on campus are available to victims of sexual assault.
“After gathering feedback from the event, I want to be able to see what the students think could be done to help sexual assault victims at the university.”