Student shares sexual harassment on campus experience

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Student shares sexual harassment on campus experience

Christian Vasquez, Copy Editor

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April is sexual assault awareness month, and last week the UT System released a study, Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments (CLASE), about sexual assaults on campus that gives a unique insight to what happens to students. The study was taken system wide and included 13 out of 14 UT System campuses. At UTEP, 3,012 students were interviewed.

The study found that 15 percent of freshmen who participated in the study, or approximately 450 students, experienced sexual assault.

Incoming freshmen have a lot to take in, it’s a new environment with more freedom and responsibility, and many take this opportunity as a chance to meet new people. Unfortunately, not everyone  has the best intentions, which can lead to uncomfortable, even dangerous, situations.

A UTEP student, who wished to remain anonymous so we will call her “April,” experienced this first-hand during her freshman year.

“It was my first year at UTEP so I really didn’t know anybody, and one day I met this guy and he seemed so nice and said that he needed directions, and I’ve been at UTEP before as far as orientation, so I knew where he needed to go,” April said.

They exchanged information and began talking, and while she was just interested in friendship, he quickly wanted to move things further.

“He was just adamant about him and I being a couple. He would get upset when I would say ‘right now, my boyfriend is my education,’” April said.

He would visit her office, where she worked, and try to talk to her. Other times he would just stare at her through the windows. She tried to ignore him, but he had her phone number and eventually started calling her family members.

“He tried to kiss me and I didn’t like it and I had to push myself away, like he grabbed my head and he tried to push me toward him, and of course I had to push him off,” April said, recalling another incident.

Her bosses and coworkers knew about him, and would have to fend him off when he visited her office or when she was participating at events on campus. It wasn’t until her sophomore year, when he left UTEP that the incidents stopped.

“It’s pretty hard to go through that, because as a freshman you’re expecting great things and then this happens to you and you’re like, ‘what the hell?’” April said.

Going through that experience did not completely change how she interacts with people, but she says she’s a little more cautious when meeting new men.

According to the CLASE study, around 30 percent of victims of stalking either had a close relationship or were acquainted with the perpetrator prior to being stalked.

“If I could go back in time, I would tell myself just to be careful with this dude,” April said. “On the first day I met him I would have just told myself just give him directions and walk away, because I’m sure my whole freshman year would have been different.”

Another thing that April wishes she had done earlier is something that most sexual awareness programs, including the ones at UTEP advocate—report the incident.

“Just report it and talk to somebody, tell them that you don’t feel right about it and see what you can do about your own safety,” April said. “For me, it could have gone a lot worse. There were times when I was walking toward my car and I thought he was going to approach me while I was going to my car, but thank god he didn’t.”

The CLASE survey found that 70 percent of victims did not tell anyone about the incident until they took that survey, 11 percent told someone at UTEP and only 7 percent told the local police.

“These types of incidents are the most underreported types of situations anywhere. That’s not unique to a college campus, that’s anywhere, but we want folks to come forward and share with us what is happening,” said Catie McCorry-Andalis, the dean of students. “We have a very, very strong network with the city of El Paso and with our university, including Fort Bliss, El Paso Community College, the whole network, and so we’re in a great place to help folks if anything should come up. But we can’t do that unless folks come forward and share what has happened.”

Do One Thing (DOT) is a UTEP initiative that focuses on ensuring that communities don’t stand aside while people are sexually assaulted. Students can visit greendot.utep.edu to find out what they can do if they witness sexual assault or harassment.

Other campus resources are the University Counseling Center, the UTEP employee assistance program, Deer Oaks, and the Student Health Center.

For more information about what to do if you are a victim or witness of sexual assaults, visit admin.utep.edu/eoaa or utsystem.edu/sites/clase/ut-el-paso.

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