University of San Francisco students have made their outcry about the recent allegations of rape and assault on campus heard. A group of student activists have organized and released a clear message: rape is not an isolated incident. In other words, this most recent and highly publicized case of a USF senior Ryan Caskey being charged with four counts of rape and aggravated assault is not the first incident of this nature that has occurred at USF.
These concerned students organized a public forum for the community to discuss their concerns about sexual assault on campus. Though this most recent case sparked the discussion, students wanted to emphasize that rape and sexual assault are ongoing problems.
Barbara Thomas, Ph.D. and director of USF Counseling and Psychological Services, confirmed that rape and sexual assault are more common than most people hear about at USF. In her 20 years of experience at the university, she has talked confidentially with many students who have experienced various forms of sexual assault. Acquaintance rapes, rapes committed by “friends” rather than strangers, are not unusual at USF, but they most often go unreported. They almost always involve drugs or alcohol, and many of these students do not realize they have been raped until Thomas tells them.
Students came to the forum to discuss the general lack of awareness and discussion about sexual assault taking place right here on campus. Many had other grievances as well, such as feeling starved for more information than was provided in USFConnect bulletins. Others complained about the wider-scale problem of a lack of education and programs about sexual violence. Others digressed into a discussion of whether Caskey’s affiliation with ROTC had led to his violence toward women. Emotions were raw on this Thursday, exactly a week after the news had broken of Caskey’s arrest. Some of the individuals at the forum were survivors of sexual assault. Thomas explained that a public incident such as this can reopen those wounds, especially if the individual never fully dealt with those issues after they happened.
Many, such as senior Jennifer Herrera, were concerned that there needs to be more education about sexual assault on campus. As a resident advisor in a freshman residence hall, Herrera said she feels well educated about these issues, but she said, “As a freshman, I wouldn’t have known exactly what qualifies as rape. I know our students aren’t very educated on this subject.”
Thomas said that in her experience at USF, she has not found any means of educational training about sexual violence to be particularly effective, though there have been attempts ranging from education during freshman orientation, informational programs within residence halls and peer counseling for men. But the reality is that these methods of education have been ineffective.
“I don’t want to be defeated by that, but I think the reality is that people just think, ‘That’s not about me; that’s about someone else.’ There’s this inflated sense of safety that’s just not there,” she said.
Thomas’s best idea for creating more awareness about sexual violence is to continue public discussions and open conversations. “Let’s talk about sex,” she said.
Junior Andrew Biederman said similarly at the forum, “We need more discussion between the sexes. It’s important for everyone to come out and say exactly how they feel affected by this to understand each other more and prevent something like this from happening ever again.”
Dan Lawson, director of public safety at USF, encouraged more discussions like the one at the forum.
“I think this is a wonderful thing that’s happening here in regards to this forum,” he said. He only hoped that the conversation would not end as soon as people forgot about this particular incident. He said, “People generally don’t get upset and excited until something terrible happens.”