Increased prevention efforts lead to more sexual violence reports at MU

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 | 6:28 p.m. CDT; updated 12:03 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 31, 2012

COLUMBIA — Prevention efforts against sexual violence on MU's campus made victims feel more comfortable to open up and seek help, said Danica Wolf, the coordinator of MU's Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center.

Victims have reported more sexual assaults on campus to "non-police" organizations such as the RSVP Center and Residential Life in 2011 than in previous years, according to the annual Campus Crime and Fire Safety Report released by the MU Police Department.

Of the 11 sexual assaults on campus that were reported in 2011, five were reported to campus police and six to campus organizations — up from just one in 2010 and none in 2009 or 2008. 

Wolf said the spike in reports to campus organizations is a good sign.

"Campuses across the nation with really effective prevention programs also see a spike in numbers reported before seeing a decrease," Wolf said. "I tell students and parents that it is not a bad thing to see these numbers go up because then we know people are being taken care of."

Campus police has specific standards for what constitutes a sexual assault — it generally involves touching another person. Other sexual offenses, such as indecent exposure, are not counted as sexual assaults in the Campus Crime and Fire Safety Report.

The student groups from the RSVP Center, Stronger Together Against Relationship and Sexual Violence (STARS), Greek Advocates and RSVP Educators, have been working to spread awareness about sexual violence and reduce stigma around reporting it. The goal, is to have an impact on victims who are "on the fence" about whether to talk to somebody, Wolf said. 

Green Dot, the RSVP Center's primary prevention program, has been instrumental in spreading awareness about campus resources for victims who want to get help. It is a program based on bystander intervention, relying on onlookers to help prevent a situation that could lead to violence. 

"In just a few short years, most of the undergraduate students at MU know what Green Dot is and that incidents of violence are being prevented every day," Wolf said. "People see Green Dot buttons on bags and other things to remind them to intervene, and it helps to know they have a place to go if something happens."

Another contributing factor to the increase in reports is the new, well-trafficked location of the RSVP Center.  It went from a "little corner" in Memorial Union to a bright and centrally-located office in the basement of the MU Student Center, where Wolf says there is not as much stigma about going in to get help.

"When folks feel comfortable to come in and even just be in the space, they're going to be more willing to talk to us about these issues," Wolf said.

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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