It’s that time of year again: Back to school. For many college students, this is a time to leave their hometown, meet new people, and explore some of their passions. While this may be an exciting new adventure, it also puts many students at greater risk of experiencing sexual assault. Moving to a new and unfamiliar city, living and sharing common spaces with strangers, and having access to drugs and alcohol are some of the reasons that students (all students, not just women, ages 18-24) are more likely to experience sexual assault.
I graduated from Indiana University in 2019. Several of my friends and roommates were a part of Greek life, a community with a particularly high rate of sexual assault on campuses across the country. Caitlyn Brady, one of my friends in a sorority, was passionate about sexual assault prevention in Greek life and became a trained “Safe Sister” in her chapter at IU.
What is Safe Sisters?
Safe Sisters is a group made up of women from all 23 Panhellenic sororities on IU's campus who want to provide support and education to those who are a survivor of sexual assult at any point in their life. All members of SS are trained through IU Health Center's Sexual Assult Crisis Service counselors on the apporpriate ways to support survivors and provide the variety of resources available to them on IU's campus or in the Bloomington community.
How did you get involved? What made you want to get involved?
I applied for the position my sophomore year at IU and was chosen to be one of the two women representing my sorority that year. Many people close to me have experienced sexual assault to varying degrees and I wanted to learn to support them better. I've always been an empathetic person, but I wanted to learn the appropriate ways to provide that support in a confidential and individual way.
What were your responsibilities as a Safe Sister?
We attended a training seminar at the beginning of our "term" and were asked to attend two meetings a semester with all the Safe Sisters. Within my sorority, it was my responsibility to make resources known and easily accessible for those who did not feel comfortable talking to someone immediately about their experience but wanted help. I made my position well known and educated my sorority sisters that they could come to me (in person or via phone) at any time and their experience would not be shared. I reassured the women that nothing will be forced upon them, whether reporting or seeking services; instead I would act merely as a resource and support person as they felt comfortable with.
How did this training impact your college career?
The training opened my eyes to how many women have unfortunately experienced sexual assault at one point in their lives and how it has had a lasting impact. I met so many women who were not aware of the resources available and felt honored to help find their own way to recovery. It made me look at every person I encountered through a different lens, as you never truly know what someone has experienced.
Any advice on how students can be advocates for survivors of sexual assault on campus?
Students can educate themselves on the resources available in their community and be open to sharing the resources with someone they feel might need it. They can be a listening ear, a validating voice, or someone providing a safe space for the survivor.
It’s crucial that all students preparing for college educate themselves on staying safe and being an advocate for others. The rest of this article contains information about sexual assault prevention on campuses in Southern Indiana and the Louisville area. If you don’t see information about the school you’re attending, I encourage you to do your own research before move-in day.
Did you know that the legal definitions of sexual assault, rape, consent, etc. vary from state to state? Take the time to familiarize yourself with the legal definitions of these terms so that you can offer more support to survivors and keep yourself safe.
RESOURCES FOR SURVIVORS
If you or someone you know experiences sexual assault, it may be hard to know what to do next. Many colleges have on-campus resources and counselors that students can use in the aftermath of sexual assault. Here are some links to these resources for a few colleges in the Kentuckiana area.
If you are underwhelmed by the survivor resources and prevention strategies in place at your school, consider finding ways to spread awareness on your campus through organizing events, starting a club with some friends, or getting involved in the city your campus is in.
College is the perfect time to put yourself out there, try some new things, and spend time volunteering for causes that you’re passionate about. Get involved in sexual assault awareness and prevention by joining clubs, becoming a peer educator, volunteering at local organizations , becoming a “Safe Sister,” and going to on-campus health fairs.
As you get settled into your dorm and find your way around campus, start thinking about how you can stay safe and support your new friends. Educating yourself and being aware of the available resources is the first step to becoming a great on-campus advocate.
Photo of Jocelyn Williams and JDA table at IUS Health Fair