Central Ga. colleges wage battle against sexual assault

In April, The White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault released its first report.

The task force was created by President Obama in January to find ways that schools could prevent sexual assaults from happening and finding better ways to handle it when it does.

The task force released a list of 55 schools that are under investigation for mishandling sexual assault complaints.

No colleges in central Georgia made the list.

In fact, some colleges here say they are trying to make a difference.

In April, Georgia College and State University held their annual Take Back the Night program. GCSU students who are survivors of sexual assault, shared their stories with fellow students.

"When I was a freshman in college, I was raped by a guy that I thought was my friend," one woman said.

"It didn't matter how smart I was. It didn't matter that I got into grad school. It didn't matter that I got into law school," another woman said through tears, "It didn't matter because I got drunk, and I was in a dress, and he thought that was OK."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five women report that they've been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.

But on central Georgia college campuses, those assaults are almost never reported.

The most recent campus crime statistics from 2012, show four of the central Georgia colleges that provide on-campus living, reported sex crimes.

Fort Valley State University reported one sexual assault.

Macon State College, Middle Georgia College and Wesleyan College all reported 2.

"We live in a rape culture where women are shunned and our victims blamed when they do come forward," said Jennifer Graham, the director and co-founder of the Women's Center at Georgia College.

It's one of only three women center's on college campuses in Georgia. Graham says she's not surprised that most victims don't report those crimes to law enforcement.

"The questions that are asked of them are 'Well, what were you wearing?' 'Why were you there?' 'Why were you out at whatever time of day?'"

That's one of the reasons why the center's volunteers accompany victims to the hospital for medical exams and to police to report the crime.

"Victims experience a lot of shame and embarrassment. The fear that they will be blamed for what's happened to them and it's never a victim's fault," said Graham.

Attorney Tachunta Thomas has represented sexual assault victims.

"There is never, ever any justification or excuse, for any type of acts of violence against another person," Thomas said.

She says victims should report, and they should do it immediately. She says it's because the evidence will be more accessible, and because it will be easier to remember what exactly happened.

Fort Valley state's campus Police Chief Ken Morgan says it troubles him that there could be victims that never come forward.

"I would not want to see it happen here, but I do want to see students, faculty, staff or anyone that's engaged or knowledgeable of any type of crime, more specially sex crimes, to report it," Morgan said.

Fort Valley state has programs in place to combat the crime.

Jacqueline Caskey-James, the director of Health and Counseling services on campus, says during the school's domestic violence and prevention awareness months, the school has a walk.

"That walk includes staff, faculty, students, and we're all looking to elicit change," James said.

To look up crime statistics on all U.S. college campuses click here

Patty Gibbs is the Vice President of student affairs and dean of students at Wesleyan College.

She says although the women's college takes preventative measures like teaching students self-defense classes, she says it's when the women leave campus that heightens the risk.

"We also remind them that if you're gonna go out, leave no woman behind," Gibbs said, "Make sure everybody goes home together. Make sure that you know where everyone is, because that is when situations can occur, when they're not on our campus."

Gibbs says Wesleyan is starting a new peer program in the counseling center that will have peer resident students who will work with students specifically on sexual violence issues.


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