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Melanie D. Hetzel-Riggin, Ph.D.

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  Dear Western Courier Staff, 

I would like to commend you on your coverage of the recent sexual assault on campus, as well as the Macomb Police Department, OPS and the University at large for how they handled the assault. 

As stated in Monday’s paper, sexual assault is unfortunately too frequent, with one in four college women assaulted during their college experience. In your article and the subsequent editorials, the Courier suggested some ways students can reduce their risk of sexual assault, including never walking alone, using emergency call boxes, being aware of your surroundings, staying on your guard and taking a defense class (such as RAD). 

While these are all excellent suggestions, these tips will be most useful to reduce the risk of sexual assaults perpetrated by strangers. Approximately 73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and 28 percent are committed by someone the victim knows intimately. Fifty percent of reported sexual assaults occur within one mile of the victim’s home, with six in 10 occurring in the victim’s or victim’s friend’s home. Approximately 60 percent involve substance use, usually alcohol, on the part of either the victim or perpetrator. 

Perpetrators who know their victims often intrude on the potential victim’s personal space, desensitize potential victims to their intrusion and then isolate them. Only 11 percent of sexual assaults involve the use of a weapon. Most sexual assaults are crimes of motive, power and opportunity (U.S. Department of Justice). 

Some further tips to reduce your own risk of sexual assault and to learn how to help others who might be at risk include going to social gatherings with a group of friends and watching out for each other, not leaving any drinks unattended and never accepting drinks from people you do not know well, trusting your instincts, communicating clearly and frequently about sex and respecting others when they say “no.” 

Men can be great allies by offering assistance to the victim, communicating to the perpetrator that their behavior is inappropriate and to leave the person alone, to remain at the scene and to be a witness. If you are concerned that you or someone you know is in trouble, call 911. Take the Interpersonal Violence Prevention Education online program to learn how to recognize potentially dangerous situations and about how to intervene as a bystander (https:// ivpe.wiu.edu). Become involved in the Social Justice Theater Troupe that is part of the Interpersonal Violence Prevention Initiative, or join the Men Advocating Nonviolence (MAN) group that is part of the Center for the Study of Masculinities and Men’s Development. 

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault (or any type of intimate partner violence), know that Western Illinois University and Macomb have a number of resources available to you. The Western Illinois Regional Council Victim Services’ crisis line is available 24/7 at 309/837-5555; WIRC Victim Services also provides advocates to provide information and emotional support. The Beu Student Health Center and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) at the McDonough District Hospital are available to attend to the medical needs of survivors, while the University Counseling Center and Western Illinois University Psychology Clinic can help survivors deal with the emotional impact of the assault. 

Macomb Police, the Office of Public Safety, Student Judicial Programs and the McDonough County State’s Attorney’s Office are available for survivors to report the assault and seek judicial and legal recourses. The Student Development Office can serve as an emergency contact if survivors experience academic difficulties due to a sexual assault or other forms of intimate partner violence (contact information for these resources can be found on Western’s website. 

Remember, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, no matter the circumstances. If someone tells you they have been assaulted, listen and be nonjudgmental. Be patient and empower the survivor by allowing them to make their own decisions. Encourage them to seek medical, mental health and police assistance and offer to go with them. Together, we may be able to reduce the frequency of sexual assaults on campus and prevent future violence to those we care about.