To acknowledge the importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I met with Simpson College senior and Sexual Assault Response Advocate (SARA) Anna Ronnebaum to discuss sexual violence on college campuses.
Ronnebaum said she joined SARA after multiple sexual assaults occurred on campus her freshman year.
“There was a lot of doubt and a lot of victim blaming, and not a lot happened,” Ronnebaum said. “The perpetrators weren’t getting any of the heat; it was the people who stepped up and reported. I felt like that was so backward and so wrong.”
Victim blaming is a common practice in dealing with rape, and it’s this type of action that “contributes to this rape culture that we live in,” Ronnebaum said.
One example Ronnebaum mentioned is when people scrutinize a victim’s clothing.
“It doesn’t matter what he or she was wearing, nobody deserves to be raped,” Ronnebaum said. “In reality, in people who get raped, the most common article of clothing is a pair of jeans.
“I think a lot of times it’s focuses on women because when you want to look nice you show a little cleavage or show a little leg, and that’s what society tells you is beautiful,” she said. “But at the same time if something were to happen to you, those are the things that they point out.”
As a member of SARA, Ronnebaum educates members of the community on sexual assault. She received a week of intensive training by Polk County Crisis and Advocacy Services to learn how to help victims.
Members rotate carrying the SARA phone, which is a 24-hour confidential hotline. Calls can range from people writing reports and needing information to a person calling to report a sexual assault on campus.
“Some people just want to talk to someone and say it out loud,” Ronnebaum said.
Often, calls are from friends of victims wondering how to help, she said.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are a lot of secondary victims: friends, family, advocates,” Ronnebaum said. “You take on those emotions when someone you care about is hurt.”
Ronnebaum said a major role in her position is educating students.
“Rape is about control and power,” Ronnebaum said.
Often people believe that sexual assaults will never happen on their campuses. The fact is, however, that they do.
My point: Sexual violence can happen anywhere. Your campus isn’t its own little bubble free from this problem.
One in 33 men will experience rape or attempted rape.
Rape, attempted rape or sexual assault happens every two minutes in the United States.
Less than one-third of all sexually violent crimes are reported to the police, and the statistics are even lower for college-age victims.
According to national research, false reports are rare, occurring between 2 percent to 8 percent of the time.
35 percent of men report at least some degree of likelihood of committing rape if they knew they would not be caught or punished.
Statistics courtesy of SARA.
Jessica Olson is a sophomore at Simpson College. She is a religion major with minors in both sociology and women’s and gender studies. Olson is a member of Religious Life Community (RLC), is the Assistant Campus Liaison and the First Year Coordinator for Sexual Assault Response Advocates (SARA).
Being a Sexual Assault Response Advocate (SARA) comes with responsibilities that are sometimes tough to handle.
SARA has a confidential, 24-hour hotline that anyone can call while school is in session. Each SARA member takes the phone for one week per semester.
A lot of our conversations with fellow students end up happening in person or via email, so I didn’t really think having the SARA phone would be a big deal.
I was very, very wrong.
Every time during my on-call weeks, when my own cellphone rings in my pocket, I have a wave of panic surge through me thinking that it is the SARA phone.
I think of all of the possible situations that could be happening, and it – quite frankly – scares me. I worry that I will not be able to handle the situation, or I will not be a positive advocate for the individual that has just gone through something that is so incredibly traumatic.
What am I going to say? What if I say something wrong? What if I know the person calling? What am I going to do to help this person?
These are the thoughts that race through my mind at any given moment when I have the SARA phone.
At first, it made me think that I wasn’t cut out for SARA. But then, I realized that my worry is because I care so much about helping a survivor of sexual assault in any way that I can.
It shows me that I am more equipped to handle the situation than I give myself credit for. And, it constantly pushes me to be better at this role and constantly learn new things.
I have only had the phone ring once while in my possession. It was someone that wanted to ask a few questions for a paper they were writing.
At first, I was a little upset. The phone rang, I panicked, and then I called back to find out that it was just for information.
Sometimes I forget that the informational role of SARA is just as important as the advocacy role.
We are here to provide information in any way that we can, so I’ve come to terms with the fact that sometimes non-crisis calls are going to happen.
That call scared me a lot. But, it also showed me that SARA is making a difference on our campus because people feel comfortable calling the line.
I now realize that it is great that the individual called, and that even though they weren’t in a crisis situation, I provided my knowledge and applied my training to the conversation, and I ultimately taught that person something important.