One-in-four women will experience some form of unwanted sexual contact, and most of those happen during the first year of college, according to Noel March, chief of police for Public Safety at the University of Maine.
“First-year students, male and female, are often less experienced with new relationships, alcohol use and social situations that might lead to high-risk behaviors such as unplanned or unwanted sexual activity,” March said.
In 2006, victims reported 11 forcible sexual offenses at UMaine, compared to five in 2005 and nine in 2004, according to the Public Safety Web site.
These numbers match those of other universities. The University of New Hampshire had seven assaults in 2006, six in 2005 and 10 in 2004, according to their Campus Safety Web site.
“Unfortunately, it is present here at the University of Maine just as it is among one of the other 4,200 colleges and universities across the U.S.,” March said. Public Safety investigates about six or seven assaults per year, but more go unreported.
“One-in-10 sexual assaults among college and university-aged students will be reported,” March said. “The choice always rests with the survivor.”
A grant from the U.S. Department of Justice allocated funds for the creation of The Safe Campus Project in the spring of 2001.
The project works to stop interpersonal violence and promotes healthy, safe relationships.
The Safe Campus Project receives about 100 requests for services per year, including reports of stalking, harassment, abuse and sexual assault, according to Carey Nason, project coordinator for the organization.
She works with many off-campus agencies, including legal services such as Penquis Law Project, which offers free legal services for civil cases. Safe Campus Project also hosts and supports events like Rock Against Rape and put up bulletin boards and posters to raise awareness.
March said that when people think of rape, they often think of a stranger in a trench coat attacking them in a dark alley in the middle of the night. The truth is, most assaults are come from people the victim already knows.
Miscommunications can lead to an assault, especially when alcohol is involved, March said. An instance such as an offer to walk a girl home could lead to the expectation of a hook-up. He said friends should socialize in groups and not go off alone with an acquaintance until you know them well.
Men are responsible for the majority of the assaults, according to March. “In my view, men need to take a stand with other men to stop these exploitive behaviors that end in a woman being victimized,” he said. He also said that in 2004, two men reported assaults against them.
The Safe Campus Project recently posted fliers in girls’ bathrooms of residence halls, informing students of their services and what they could do to help a female friend who had been assaulted. Nason was surprised when she got e-mails asking why they only posted flyers directed toward women, and that men are victims too.
“I’m really happy that people gave me their feedback,” she said. “It helps us to improve our services.”
“On a positive note, there are so many people vested in and supportive of efforts to support and educate around the topic of sexual assault,” March said.
The Safe Campus Project is located in 120 Fernald Hall and can be reached at 581-2515.