Our Views: Program helps guide victims of assaults on road to recovery

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Risks of sexual assaults should frighten parents of young women heading off to college.

According to the Campus Sexual Assault Study, a 2007 survey of women at two large public universities, one in five was sexually assaulted while in college. If those statistics mirror what occurs on campuses nationwide today, your daughter stands a 20 percent chance of being a victim.

Parents send children off to college full of hopes, dreams and career aspirations. While parents struggle to help their kids pay spiraling higher education costs, thoughts that their daughters might fall victim to rape might not be foremost on their minds. But they should discuss this concern.

The numbers aren't surprising, given that young adults are spreading their wings for the first time, away from the watchful eyes of parents. Alcohol and drugs often are prominent at college parties. Many young adults at various stages of maturity who might have experimented with these substances in high school abuse them at college. Too often, drug or alcohol use plays a role when young men abuse or assault dates, friends or acquaintances.

Intoxication, however, does not justify rape.

Don't think it doesn't happen in southern Wisconsin. Last month, the federal government announced that UW-Whitewater is among 55 colleges and universities under investigation for mishandling sexual abuse complaints. The government revealed few details, and a UW-W spokeswoman declined comment.

Because sexual assaults happen, it's good that the Sexual Assault Recovery Program operates with offices in Janesville and Beloit. SARP also serves victims in Green and Lafayette counties. It offers help at emergency rooms and when victims young and old report the crimes to authorities. It provides resources, counseling, referrals and safety planning.

The reality likely is grimmer than even the above statistics suggest. Rape is one of the most under-reported violent crimes. SARP says only between 5 percent and 20 percent of victims report the attacks. Nearly 90 percent of victims know the perpetrators, and these victims are less likely to report the crimes.

“Many victims think they could have prevented it or are at fault because of what they were wearing or what they were doing,” Bryn Golden, volunteer and outreach coordinator of SARP's Janesville office, told reporter Anna Marie Lux in Sunday's Gazette. “Lots of times, blame is put on the victim.”

Risks don't start on college campuses. SARP says one in three high school relationships involves battering or rape. Still, SARP helps many college-age victims, and it is starting a support group for these women. It will meet in September in Beloit.

The group will offer opportunities to share experiences and improve recovery chances.

“There is less fear of judgment when you are with survivors your own age,” a Beloit College student, who was assaulted in Chicago, told Lux. “Survivors fear being blamed. I've experienced it firsthand. It is so devastating when you are attempting to heal.”

SARP helps victims realize they are not responsible for causing the assaults. Counseling helps instill coping skills.

“Survivors feel like they're in a fog,” said Anna Grzelak, SARP's program director. “We go at their pace and help them access other services, if they need them. A big part of healing for the victims is being re-empowered.”

Heaven forbid that your child becomes a victim. If he or she does, however, reaching out to SARP could be the first step on the road to recovery.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper's editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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