N.C. State University recently released a public service announcement aimed at getting students talking about a once-taboo topic: sexual assault.
The five-minute video, posted on YouTube this month, features 106 students, faculty and staff explaining why it is everyone’s responsibility to respect fellow students and protect them from sexual assault.
“It’s on us, because we are the Wolfpack,” says student body President Rusty Mau, using a catchphrase that is repeated throughout the video.
The Obama administration kicked off the “It’s On Us” campaign in September to try to end sexual assault on college campuses. NCSU is one of at least seven universities in the state to join the campaign.
“We were the first university in the Triangle and the state to put out a PSA,” said Carson Shepherd, a junior political science major and director of university affairs in student government.
Many colleges have already adopted new sexual misconduct policies, including UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University. Some have hired sexual assault investigators and coordinators in charge of Title IX, the gender equity law.
One in five women are sexually assaulted in college, according to a popularly cited 2007 U.S. Department of Justice-funded survey. The great majority know their attacker, and only 13 percent of survivors report the assault.
What’s on us?
The NCSU campaign is geared toward starting a campuswide conversation. Elements include watching out for friends who cannot consent – including those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol – and acting as more than a bystander during a situation that looks like sexual assault.
One important focus on the campaign is to never blame the victim of assault. One student in the video says people should question the behavior of the perpetrator rather than the victim.
“A lot of people just don’t know enough about sexual assault not to blame the victim,” Shepherd said. “You need to make sure if you’re attacked you know it’s not your fault – not because of how you were dressed or the environment.”
Campaign organizers have encouraged everyone on campus to get involved, but especially male bystanders, said Mau, the student body president.
“Men don’t always feel that it’s their place to step in if they see injustice,” Mau said. “As more people sign the pledge and more people are on board, conversations will happen on a campus level and a personal level.”
A movement begins
Since she spearheaded the campaign earlier this semester, Shepherd has been thrilled with the response from leaders on campus.
She plans to reach more students by hosting a week of speakers, showing the PSA publicly, and sponsoring student-led events Nov. 17-21 – the same week for similar campaigns at more than 250 college campuses nationwide.
The student body presidents of Duke, Elon, High Point and Wake Forest universities and UNC-Asheville have pledged to help stop sexual assault on their campuses.
“As students, we have a unique opportunity to end the stigma of sexual assault and make a difference on a critical issue,” Mau said.
Shepherd says the campaign is also personal.
“As a woman and college student and someone who plans to go on to law school, I’ve definitely felt a societal disadvantage against me because I’m a woman,” she said. “I (would) love to see that cultural shift while I’m in college and a part of it.”