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Penn State Police Working to Erase Ignorance About Sexual Assaults

by on February 27, 2014 6:00 AM

Penn State police offered a sexual assault prevention course this week to all students, faculty and employees throughout the university's campuses as part of an ongoing awareness initiative.

Penn State Police Sgt. Frances Pollack, a crime prevention and community education officer, instructed the free online course via Adobe Connect Tuesday with 29 people attending.

"Sexual assaults are occurring epidemically on college campuses and the more awareness we can create the better," says Pollack.

The course included reviewing definitions for sexual assault and rape under Pennsylvania law. Often women – and men - unaware of state laws, once educated, realize they may have been involved in a situation that unknowingly rose to the level of a crime, Pollack says.

"A lot of times, 48 percent of women sexually assaulted, will say this happened to them, but they don't define it as sexual assault because they're not familiar with what the laws are in Pennsylvania. Then we explain to them, 'Yes, what happened to you is against the law,'" says Pollack.

Experts say one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime with college-aged women most likely to be victimized. Penn State University has seen a dramatic increase in such crimes since 2010 when four on-campus sexual assaults were reported compared to 56 in 2012.

The university attributes part of the increase to the crimes of Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach convicted of child abuse, as well as an increase in university training related to sexual assault prevention and reporting. This week's sexual assault prevention course is part of the university's efforts to address the issue.

The course also included tips on reducing the chances of becoming a victim, what to do if a friend says she or he has been sexually assaulted, and what happens when a victim contacts police or goes to the hospital to report an assault. In Centre County, the Sexual Assault Response Team, which includes a sexual assault forensic examiner, police officer and victim advocate from the Centre County Women's Resource Center, will respond simultaneously.

The team will be present at one time allowing the victim to explain what happened once, instead of retelling it to each person, which can cause additional trauma for the victim.

The course also included a review of other resources available on campus, such as the Safe Walk program, which allows a student to have a uniformed police escort from dusk to dawn by calling 814-865-9255.

Earlier this month, campus police offered a similar course, Start by Believing, which emphasizes the importance of believing victims when they say they've been assaulted.

"The main reason people don't come forward is they fear people are not going to believe them," Pollack says. "By telling them that you believe them, especially the first person they tell, which is usually a loved one ... they will feel they have a good support system and more likely to come forward and get the help they need."

The university will continue to offer the courses based on demand. Additionally, the university is working on additional sexual assault prevention programs for April, which is sexual assault awareness month.

"Awareness is really what is going to help with prevention. There area lot of college-aged men who admit to coercion, admit to pressure, admit to physically restraining, but they don't define it as rape," says Pollack. "Unless you get a 'yes' that means no."

Resources

Penn State Police

Penn State Center for Women Students

Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services

Penn State Office of Student Conduct

Centre County Women's Resource Center

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Start By Believing Campaign

Related Stories

Anonymous Victim Highlights Trend of Unreported Sexual Assaults

Officials: Sex Assault Report Outlining Investigative Flaws Does Not Apply in Centre County

Penn State Police Investigating Sexual Assault Involving Student

U.S. Department of Education Investigating Sexual Assault Reports at Penn State



Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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