When the Women’s Resource Center advertises an event titled, “I Love Female Orgasm,” the response is overwhelming – some 750 showed up for the session two years in a row. But the intent isn’t titillation; it’s education.

College women are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault, one in five college women will be victims of rape while at school, and one in four women and one in 20 men will be victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. Education is critical.

Sex is not always an easy topic to discuss, so providing information in an open, safe environment helps students become more proactive about making healthy sexual decisions, according to WRC Director Summer Little.

This summer she offered sexual violence prevention training for various groups. “It works into what we are doing to educate and inform students about healthy sexual relationships,” she said.  “Promoting healthy dialog and communication about sex helps students understand healthy ways to be in a relationship.”

“We address things like ‘enthusiastic consent,’ which is affirmative, voluntary and sober,” she said, adding that if someone is too drunk to drive, he or she is too drunk to consent to sex. “That is our guideline – it is the point at which they are no longer able to consent legally,” She added that 90 percent of all campus rapes occur when the assailant or the victim has used alcohol.

And speaking of consent, WRC shows a video by sex education activist Laci Green during training. Green focuses on communication – making a mutual decision about how far sexual partners want to go and being able to clearly express their comfort with the situation.

“Both partners need to feel comfortable and safe to stop at any time. Anytime someone doesn’t feel safe asking to stop, then coercion or pressure could be happening. If sex is unwanted, it is assault. Giving in or submitting is not the same as giving consent,” Little said.

Little explains that sexual violence is on a continuum that begins with unwanted jokes, gestures and catcalls. “When someone is on the receiving end of that, especially when she is alone, there is an implied threat.” From there, it can go to exploitation and pressure to engage in sex acts.

Men may not consider that at all. “We include men in the training so that they can understand the lived experiences of women all around them,” Little said. Men are taught that when they get a “no,” it is not a “yes”….yet. “Wearing someone down is not consent. It is coercion,” Little said.

The continuum moves to intimidation if the sex acts aren’t performed. Nonconsensual sexual touch such as groping, grabbing or feeling is next on the sexual violence continuum, with sexual assault, rape and physical violence the end of the line.

Sexual violence also encompasses domestic violence when someone develops a pattern of abusive behavior that is used to intimate or control a partner. “It can be sexual, emotional – even economic threats,” Little said.

One aspect often overlooked is that women are capable of being the perpetrators. “There are very few domestic violence services for men or for gay men and women,” Little said.


The Red Zone

The Red Zone is the time period between students first setting foot on campus through Thanksgiving, when sexual assault is most likely to occur. According to multiple studies, female students are at an increased risk for sexual assault during the first few weeks of their first semester on campus.

At this early stage, freshmen are unfamiliar with college social life. They are meeting new people and trying to fit in, and they may participate in certain activities for the first time. Also, less parental supervision and increased independence may lead to new behavior, such as experimenting with alcohol or other drugs, making them doubly vulnerable to sexual predators.

“Our students’ safety and well-being is of the utmost importance,” said Tomas Aguirre, Dean of Students. “If students need support with making friends, getting adjusted to college life or tips on how to have fun safely, there are resources on campus to help.”

A 2008 study published in the Journal of American College Health found "substantial" support for the Red Zone. The study — conducted by a group of Middlebury College researchers — revealed that overall there were more reports of unwanted sexual experiences during the earlier part of the academic year.

The term may have been adopted from the Red Zone in football that refers to the 20 yards prior to the goal line. It’s the zone where the offense asserts its will over the defense to score.

Rape culture
Language, laws and images offer everyday phenomena that perpetuate and validate rape. It’s only as recent as 1991 that it was deemed illegal for a husband to rape his wife.

The threat of sexual violence affects the lives of all women. “Our culture makes violence against women normal because it is so pervasive. In music videos of all genres women are featured as props, available objects, not main characters.

It carries over into the media, advertising and even the law,” Little said. She explained that defense attorneys will ask a woman, “Well, why were you out at night?” as if that can be used to explain away why she was attacked. It’s blaming the victim.

Myth 1. Stranger rape is the most common. “Someone is more likely to be raped at home than a dark alley. Eighty-five percent of all sexual assaults are committed by those we know and trust,” Little said.

Myth 2. Women cry rape to get men in trouble. The FBI reports that the false report rate for rape is about the same as it is for other crimes: 2-6 percent. “Whether there is adequate evidence to support conviction is another thing altogether,” Little said. Rape victims are less likely than victims of other crimes to report it. “Almost 90 percent of all sexual assaults are not reported because of that mindset that the victim is the perpetrator,” Little explained.

When a rape victim doesn’t seek help, there is subsequent trauma. “It becomes a public health issue,” Little said.

Be an active bystander
For college students in particular, it is important for them to talk to one another, especially before going out. Little said that establishing a plan before going out to keep each other out of trouble is a good idea. No one has to be a hero, but if a student sees a friend who is drunk and being led into a room with a couple of guys, it might be a good time to call out to her or to one of the guys to divert them.

“It also means not calling a victim a ‘slut’ just because you support the perpetrator,” Little said.

Little said that the numbers of reported rapes will very likely increase, due to the establishment of the Sexual Misconduct Response Team (formerly Sexual Assault Response Team) and other University efforts. “It is a good thing. It means we’re doing a better job of getting people to report it and get help,” she said.

Individuals can report any sexual misconduct to the Office of Equal Opportunity, Dean of Students, UNM Police Department, the Women’s Resource Center, Albuquerque Police Department, Rape Crisis Center and SANE. Each provides differences in levels of confidentiality. Additionally, UNM has created LoboRESPECT, which is the name of UNM’s comprehensive approach to preventing and responding to sexual violence within the campus community.

”Sex is not an easy topic for some to discuss. Most young people don’t want to think about sexual violence at all. It is difficult and important subject matter. By talking about it more, we can make a difference,” Little said. 

UNM educates campus community about sexual violence through LoboRESPECT

** "Understanding healthy sexual relationships is part of a college education" is the first in a series of articles by the University Communication and Marketing (UCAM) Department to raise awareness regarding the seriousness of the topic, highlight issues surrounding sexual violence, and to educate and inform the campus community of available resources.