News

SAVES exposes realities of sexual assault on campus

By Erin McCulloch '16

May 1, 2014

Worldwide, one in five female college students is sexually assaulted while at school. According to survey responses, one in four female students at Hamilton have been sexually assaulted. Campus sexual assaults are notoriously underreported, but Hamilton SAVES (Sexual Assault and Violence Education and Support) is working to combat sexual assault on our campus.

SAVES is a student organization whose mission is “to inform the student body about issues related to sexual assault on college campuses, improving resources available to students, and sponsoring campus-wide awareness events and activities.” Chloe Shanklin ’16 and Gaela Dennison-Leonard ’16 are two SAVES members working toward spreading awareness about sexual assault on our campus.

For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, SAVES hosted Sexual Assault Awareness Week from Tuesday, April 22 to Wednesday, April 30. SAVES hung T-shirts along the upper level of the Kirner-Johnson Building to take part in the Clothesline Project, a national campaign started in 1990 to address violence against women. This campaign created a visible display of Hamilton students’ feelings about rape and sexual violence.

Shanklin and Dennison-Leonard stated that there is about one incident of sexual assault every weekend at Hamilton. On April 29, The Post-Standard, a Syracuse-based newspaper, reported, “Hamilton College in Clinton, with an enrollment of 1,900 students, had the second-highest total of reported sexual assaults in the region.”

Shanklin and Dennison-Leonard voiced their concern that Hamilton students do not understand the prevalence of sexual assault. In a collaborative email to The Spectator, they explained, “It does happen here…It happens in a lot of ways and rarely as portrayed in the media,” they said. “It continues affecting the survivor and everyone around them for much more than people realize.”

Moreover, many Hamilton students do not know what defines sexual assault or consent. “If people really knew those definitions they would hopefully act differently in hook up situations,” said Shanklin and Dennison-Leonard. “Awareness can start small, just changing the language used and the jokes made on campus, and having more open conversations with friends and partners.”

In a survey, 20 percent of Hamilton students said they had been assaulted, and almost 75 percent of those assaults happened on the Hill. Yet, only over half the participants believe that sexual assault is an issue at Hamilton. Shanklin and Dennison-Leonard said this statistic scared them the most, for just “one assault on campus is an issue.”

The underreporting of sexual assaults has been a recurring issue at Hamilton. Shanklin, Dennison-Leonard and other SAVES members “spend a lot of time working on training Peer Advocates and cultivating an environment where people feel safe enough to talk about their experiences and come forward.”

“We go to a very small school and one misconception about sexual assault is that it is normally done by a stranger some place where you feel unsafe,” explained Shanklin and Dennison-Leonard. While people may envision “a very SVU-like scene,” statistics show that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances, specifically, people with whom others follow home after a party. “This makes it very hard to speak out,” said Shanklin and Dennison-Leonard.

Hamilton students should utilize the great resources and outlets available in case they ever experience any nonconsensual sexual harassment or violence. Peer Advocates is a confidential organization that includes students trained to assist victims of sexual assault. Peer Advocates is a confidential, knowledgeable, resource whose students are familiar with Hamilton College’s policies on sexual assault and are not required to report any confidential incidents. 

“This is such a painfully serious issue,” Shanklin and Dennison-Leonard told The Spectator, “Shying away from it because it’s uncomfortable, or we want to pretend it doesn’t happen, only makes it more difficult for survivors to move forward and for the culture to change.”

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