April Brings Awareness to Sexual Assault
There are 2,824 women at the UA who have been victims of rape or sexual violence, according to a national survey that says one in four women are sexually assaulted while in college.
“I guarantee you know someone who has been a victim to sexual assault or rape,” said Mary Wyandt-Hiebert, STAR Central director at Pat Walker Health Center. “It may be your roommate, your sister, one of your friends, or your professor and you just don’t know it.”
Though sexual assault is extremely common, it is unfortunately one of the most under-reported crimes — with fewer than 5 percent of sexual assaults reported, said Wyandt-Hiebert. In 1998, she created STAR Central to address sexual assault and relationship violence.
STAR stands for Support, Training, Advocacy and Resources and is a central hub for advocacy against sexual violence. Various education programs are available and often are tailored to the specific needs of participants.
“We don’t want to just react to sexual violence, we want to proactively address and prevent it,” Wyandt-Hiebert said.
STAR Central staff offers various programs, presentations and campus-wide awareness campaigns. RESPECT (Rape Education Services by Peers Encouraging Conscious Thought) is a peer education internship program of STAR Central that encourages college students to consciously think about rape prevention and facilitate student-led discussions in a supportive environment.
Hiebert has seen the lasting effects that sexual assault can have on a victim. She has worked with many people whose traumatic experiences resulted in self-destructive behaviors like self-medicating, alcohol abuse and bad relationships.
“Sexual assault is about power and control and often leaves the victim feeling powerless over their lives in the days, weeks, months and sometimes years to follow,” she said.
STAR Central and RESPECT are addressing cultural attitudes and challenging myths that surround sexual assault. They have hosted several events in April to increase awareness and provide formats for dialogue.
“We create opportunities for people to talk about these issues and encourage change — for the prevention of sexual violence,” Wyandt-Hiebert added.
The Survivors’ Wall will be on display at the Pat Walker Health Center April 23 to 27. This display features first-hand experiences from victims of sexual violence and rape.
The effect sexual assault had on the individual is evident in the underlying tone of each story. Though each situation is unique, many commonalities can be found, Wyandt-Hiebert said.
“Lots of people read the stories and start talking about it. They’re seeing it from a different perspective—one that’s not often shared with people,” she added. “Most people don’t have conversations about rape—especially their own personal rape.”
Fourth Flag Project will display 2,824 flags April 20 to 26 representing the statistic that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted while in college, according to national studies.
“The purpose of displaying those flags is to bring awareness to the magnitude of this problem,” Wyandt-Hiebert said. “I often refer to sexual assault as a silent epidemic. Fewer than 5 percent ever make an official report because of a fear of what others will think.”
RESPECT will host the 10th annual Take Back the Night March on April 27 at 7 p.m. Participants will gather at the Arvest Plaza on the Fayetteville Square and march to the UA campus carrying signs that speak out against sexual assault.
It’s important for students to get involved in these events to encourage change and educate themselves— should they ever be that person someone who has been sexually assaulted confides in, Wyandt-Hiebert said.
“People need to have a greater understanding so they can be a part of change,” she added. “The only way we’re going to change our cultural attitudes, values and views regarding sexual assault if for people to have an accurate understanding about it.”