Students and educators discuss fighting sexual assault

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A Montgomery County judge last week declared a mistrial in the sexual assault case against Bill Cosby. Cosby’s publicist says the comedian will do a national tour to educate people on sexual assault, specifically how to avoid being charged with sexual assault.

The news did not sit well with many Americans including college students. People at the 2017 “It’s On Us Pennsylvania” summit say society needs to be more open about discussing sexual assault, but not in a way that blames victims.

“You can’t prevent yourself from sexual abuse or not getting charged with sexual misconduct if you’ve done something. That’s victim blaming,” West Chester University senior Madison Gharghoury said.

The It’s On Us campaign says one in five women and one in 20 men experience sexual assault during college. Friday’s summit was aimed at addressing these issues and understanding the impact they have on a student’s education.

“Making sure that we’re building things that acknowledged some of the barriers survivors face to come forward and share their experiences. More importantly, to access the help and the resources that they need to stay on track and to get back to what they are, which is students,” said Samantha Koch, policy director for the state Department of Education.

It’s On Us says first-year college students are more likely to be vulnerable to sexual assault during their first few weeks of school. They say students and parents should keep in mind the number of under-reported cases of sexual assault on college campuses.

“Seeing that zero column might feel good when you look at it, but it actually may be a bigger issue or a red flag compared to the school that’s down the street that has three or four,” Koch said.

The summit also emphasized communities being more open about discussing sexual assault, even saying it’s an issue students want to talk about. However, they say it should be done in an educational way that does not blame victims.

“You might experience something that you may not even realize is happening to you in that moment. It’s not just coming down to rape. It’s these little microgressions like sexual harassment, comments people are making to you that you may think, ‘oh that’s not normal, it’s campus culture.’ It’s not,” Gharghoury said.

Around 100 students and educators will take the issues, discussed at the summit, back to their communities.

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