After a long and uncommonly cold winter, Americans have welcomed April and the official beginning of spring with open arms. However, underneath the return of warm weather are the cold, unavoidable truths that come with Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reported that annually there are about 293 thousand victims of sexual abuse, with a new victim every 107 seconds.
However, the problem does not stop there.
While advocacy groups and government agencies have been fighting for more transparency on these figures, colleges across the country have finally begun to take more proactive stances on the issue as well.
On April 7th, members of the Gallaudet University community did just that as they marched across their campus in honor of the SAAM National Day of Action, a nation-wide effort to combat sexual assault.
Over 1,200 Gallaudet students, staff and faculty members donned matching teal shirts and rallied across the college in efforts to combat sexual assault, specifically by advocating the ideas of the It’s On Us campaign.
It’s On Us is an initiative that was launched by President Obama in 2014 with the goal of ending sexual abuse in colleges across America. Since its creation, “more than 250 colleges and universities [have taken] a definitive stand against sexual assault.”
Despite its historical significance as the first college for the deaf and hard of hearing, Gallaudet has found itself in the spotlight after the Washington Post reported that it has the highest rate of sexual assault per capita in the United States.
The University had 18 reported counts of forcible sex in 2012, amounting to an offense rate of “more than 11 per thousand students.”
The school has since responded to the report, claiming these figures are not indicative of an unsafe environment, but of an environment in which students feel more comfortable reporting assault than hiding it.
The university’s dean of student affairs and academic support Dwight Benedict said “we believe the reason why our numbers measure higher than other universities… is due to the ability of students to have direct access in terms of communication and language with on-campus personnel.”
Gallaudet Professor Kathryn Baldridge, who planned the event, said, “my goal was to make Gallaudet University a unified front in the fight against sexual assault.”
In fact, the march turned into an all day event, and was followed by rallies, speeches, photo booths and a dance party. Students were also encouraged to sign the Its On Us pledge, ensuring a lifetime commitment to fighting sexual assault and setting an example for colleges across the country.