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Inequality plays a role in campus sexual violence.

Byline: Jennifer M. G-mez

Sexual violence unfortunately occurs across the lifespan. Being sexually assaulted while pursuing higher education is disturbing, but so is being raped in childhood by a parent. What explains the recent national focus on campus sexual violence?

One contributing factor is likely to be race and class. Many people from privileged backgrounds and with privileged identities are found in institutions of higher education. Sexual violence in this context could be an affront to perceived meritocracy and upper-class lineage: Privileged people should not be sexually assaulted in this privileged setting.

Local and nationwide efforts to address campus sexual violence have been relatively public and swift, with a special mind to the differential prevalence and impact that sexual violence has on university women who are white, not transgendered and presumed to be heterosexual.

What complicates campus efforts, however, is that there are victims of sexual violence in college, albeit at smaller numbers, who in addition to being female are members of ethnic minorities, Muslims, members of the LGBT community, and from low-income backgrounds, among others.

This makes it necessary for advocacy, policy, research and medical and clinical interventions addressing sexual violence to incorporate the context of social inequality.

It's perplexing to me that the effects of bigotry appear not to be meaningfully and explicitly incorporated into all facets of efforts to address sexual violence on college campuses. Why isn't tackling oppression openly and thoughtfully included in all work that addresses on-campus sexual violence?

This is precisely the wrong question. A deeper, more uncomfortable question has implications for everyone in society: How is the relative absence of inclusivity in mainstream work to end sexual violence on college campuses just a symptom of interpersonal and institutional inequality in American society?

Many are averse to facing the truth is that bigotry is found within social justice movements, including those that address campus sexual violence. With this acknowledgement can come different discussions and solutions: solutions that include institutional changes that have the potential of helping all equally.

At the university level, this means having transparent, mandatory and ongoing education about various forms of oppression, including how these forms of oppression influence the prevalence and experience of sexual violence. Because sexual violence affects every aspect of university life, this education must reach not only undergraduates, but also faculty, staff, administrators, graduate students, therapists, clinical supervisors, psychiatrists, nurses and advocates.

Given that inequality is omnipresent in American society, it would behoove universities to take a pro-active approach, asking "What more can we do?" and "How can we use scientific evaluation to inform what we do?" Defensive responses, such as "We already offer some training sessions," will leave little room for innovative growth and improvement that can benefit all members - privileged and oppressed - of the campus community.

This dedication should be matched by university policy that corrects historical and current indicators of inequality. For instance, Deady Hall - named after the U.S. district judge who, among other things, added a clause in the Oregon Constitution forbidding African-American settlement - is where the majority of math classes are taught at the University of Oregon.

Such realities communicate - correctly or incorrectly - that this university is not a safe, sensitive, understanding or relevant for minorities. This perception extends to when minorities experience sexual violence.

In every effort - each colloquium, each intervention, each policy change, each research study, each guest lecture, each new hire - to address sexual violence, considerations of personal and institutional values, fairness and equality must be in the forefront, with inclusion of diverse perspectives being paramount.

To this end, in addition to its annual mental health conference - Roadmap to the Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Violence on Nov. 13 - the Center for Community Counseling ( and its partners are hosting a free event called Learn, Listen, and Speak Out: A Community Response to Sexual Violence from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 12 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 1465 Coburg Road in Eugene.

Attendees can learn about facts and myths of sexual violence across the lifespan, community resources, the judicial process, how to be an advocate, how to be an effective bystander, and much more. This event is one step in mobilizing a diverse community that can address the layered interpersonal, situational, institutional, systemic, and cultural factors that contribute to sexual violence, on campus and off.

Jennifer G-mez is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Oregon and will be a keynote speaker at the Learn, Listen, and Speak Out event.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 21, 2015
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