OLIVIA FOSTER, TRUMPET EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Note to readers: This article may be a trigger for survivors of sexual assault.
April is National Sexual Assault month. Like everywhere else in the world, sexual assault exists at Wartburg College.
Sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to,” by the Office on Women’s Health.
At Wartburg, Title IX Coordinator Karen Thalacker is one of the central contacts for reporting sexual misconduct.
Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
“People often think of Title IX as equity in athletics, but it also covers sexual misconduct and applies to any institution from kindergarten through college,” said Thalacker.
According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), female college students ages 18-24 are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.
Students may come to Wartburg having survived sexual assault or they may experience assault during their time at the college. Whether or not they are aware of it, most people know someone who has survived sexual assault.
“There are some people who don’t even know they’ve been the victim of sexual misconduct because our society has become sort of desensitized to it,” said Thalacker. “We want people to understand what it looks like and also how to help others who may have experienced it.”
The most recent available statistics for sexual assault at Wartburg are from 2018-2020. In 2019, there were three reported cases of rape on campus. There are two reported cases of fondling, one in 2018 and one in 2019.
Despite low levels of reported sexual assaults at Wartburg, many students feel unsafe on campus.
“I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of women I know that have experienced feelings of unsafety and harm on campus this year alone,” said third-year journalism and communication major Lauren Ulveling. “Sexual sssault is a serious problem at Wartburg that’s not discussed enough.”
Some students also choose not to report sexual misconduct incidents for a multitude of reasons.
“I was raped and never reported it,” said an anonymous Wartburg student. “I didn’t know if saying something would make a difference and emotionally, I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.”
The mental, emotional, and physical impacts of sexual assault can stick with survivors long after the assault has occurred.
“It’s so hard to get what happened out of my head,” said the student. “He doesn’t go here anymore, but when he still did, I hated being here. I hated seeing how okay he was and how much he didn’t even care that I was in ruins.”
The Trumpet’s policy is not to name victims of sexual assault or abuse.
Other Wartburg students have experienced the lasting effects.
“I know many women who have transferred schools or left social media because they see the person who hurt them on every social media post for the sport he’s in. They’re watching their assaulter being cheered on by fans. Seeing that can have a very real and harmful impact on a survivor,” said Ulveling.
Everyone can play a role in the prevention of sexual assault.
“The first thing would be to just be educated about it and understand what it is when you see it or experience it,” said Thalacker. “Understanding what it is and understanding how detrimental and devastating it can be, and then stopping it or calling it out when we see it are things that we can all do.”
Supporting survivors, listening, and educating yourself can also make an impact.
“Being able to talk to my friends about it has helped so much,” said the anonymous student. “Some of them have experienced similar things and even if they haven’t, it helps to have people who will listen and support me without judging.”
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, the national sexual assault hotline (800-656-4673) is an immediate resource for help. Riverview Center in Waterloo is a nearby nonprofit that specializes in providing care to those impacted by sexual assault. Pathways also provides confidential counseling services on campus.