MSU staff, students react to White House sexual assault report


MSU staff and students react to White House sexual assault report

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Montana State University students tell NBC Montana they think there's a problem with rape and sexual assaults in college, after a new report released by the White House paints a sobering picture about the issue.

The data was compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls.

22 million U.S. women, close to 20 percent, will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Of the more than 280,000 reported sexual assaults each year, just 12 percent result in an arrest at the scene or during the follow-up investigation.

The council also found evidence suggesting low prosecution rates. A study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology found two-thirds of survivors had legal cases dismissed, and more than 80 percent of the time it contradicted a desire to prosecute.

The report also found that young people and college students are especially at risk, reporting 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.

At Montana State University, there have been sexual assaults reported at fraternities and housing near campus this school year, so NBC Montana spoke to MSU staff and students to get their reactions to the report and learn how they're moving forward.

When we showed the sexual assault statistics from the new White House report to Montana State University students, they told us the statistics are alarming.

"You just told me that 20 percent of college women are sexually assaulted at some point, and I had no idea," said MSU senior Michael Gross.

"Sexual assault is a problem that happens everywhere, in every community," explained Joe Schumacher, the Education and Prevention Coordinator at MSU's Voice Center, an on-campus organization that offers support to victims of sexual assault. "We really want to show our community that while rape and sexual assault occur everywhere, we're doing something about it. We're not just going to stand by and let it continue to happen."

Shumacher explained that while the numbers released by the White House's study are unsettling, he's actually encouraged by what he is seeing.

"To see the President bring this issue into his sphere of things he's paying attention to really shows us that more and more people are talking about this and taking it seriously, and our political leaders are paying attention," he said.

The Voice Center explained they're well aware of issues surrounding sexual assault on college campuses, and that they have designed a task force that specifically combats these issues, hoping to create an on-campus culture where sexual assault is not tolerated.

"The last few years we've had a campaign called the 'Not in Our House Campaign,' and it's basically students and student leaders here at Montana State saying, 'sexual assault is not acceptable; we will not have it on our campus,'" Schumacher said.

He explained what is needed more than anything is a cultural shift in the way we think about sexual assault.

"There are a lot of myths about sexual assault, stereotypes and stigmas that a lot of people think about these issues," Schumacher explained. "When people think about a rapist, they think about some scary man that's wearing a ski mask hiding behind a corner waiting to jump out and get you. That's just not the case. Most rapes are perpetrated by somebody that the survivor knows."

Students agreed it is a cultural issue, and education is the key to solving it.

"People willing to speak out and break that stigma and saying, 'I stand with survivors, I stand against rape.' Being willing to say that out loud and making that more of a cultural norm would not only discourage rapists...but would help people who experience that be more willing to come forward knowing they have more support," explained grad student Sarah Albertson.

The next Not in Our House task force meeting will be on Jan. 30 at 5 p.m. in the SUB at MSU.

Representatives from various student groups will present their plans and commitments to fight sexual violence by working to change the culture and increase awareness across campus.

The public is welcome to attend.

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