By MORGAN SOLOMON/Montana State News
Sexual assault reports were up last semester on and around the Montana State University campus. But those who deal with the issue say the incidents are not necessarily on the rise, just the reporting of crime.
“We have received a subtly higher amount of calls from sexual assault victims this past semester,” said Hannah Stark, direct services coordinator for the VOICE Center at MSU. The VOICE Center, a 24-hour confidential support organization, received 166 calls regarding sexual assault and harassment during the Fall 2013 semester.
However, Stark believes that changing attitudes toward these crimes is causing the increase.
“I believe that we are slowly creating a more inclusive and accepting community through education and discussion on the topics of interpersonal violence,” Stark said, adding that efforts to destigmatize these crimes were a response to Title IX mandates from 2011.
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination in higher education. One mandate has been particularly hard for sex crime victims: any higher trusted authority must report these incidents with or without their permission, and that discourages victims from reporting the crimes.
“There is a lot of supportive community members, but there is also a thick culture of victim blaming and victim shaming,” Stark said. “Since these mandates, it has become more crucial than ever to have safe and confidential support available to students.”
An MSU student who wished to remain anonymous said if the support offered from the community today was common 10 years ago, she may have reported an incident in which she was involved.
“It just seems like the community is more understanding and accepting of us,” she said. “We’re not aliens anymore.”
According to Stark, 5 percent of college women and 0.16 percent of college men will be sexually assaulted each year nationally. This amounts to 350 women and 11 men for the MSU campus alone. The VOICE Center predicts that 40 percent of the cases will be reported, compared to 12 percent nationally, as predicted by the White House Council on Women and Girls.
In Bozeman there are five organizations, including the VOICE Center that provide help and support for victims of sexual assault. There are also over 20 counselors located in Bozeman that are working within and outside of those organizations.
Stark also points to the Montana Legislature for setting equal standards in defining sexual assault.
“Montana as a state has also presented itself as being highly progressive in the nation for creating a code to define sexual assault that is unbiased and represents all genders,” Stark said.
For full details on the Montana Code for Sexual Assault, visithttp://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/45/5/45-5-502.htm. To contact the VOICE Center call 406-994-7069.
– Edited by Kerry Byrnes