Preventing sexual assault on college campuses

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As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this monthly column, where I will provide information and tips on how you can stay safe.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this monthly column, where I will provide information and tips on how you can stay safe.

With school in full swing, I’d like to remind parents and students about protecting yourself against sexual assault connected to being a college student. Young women on college campuses are the number one target for sexual assault. The most common weapon used against college women is alcohol and drugs. College students often let their guard down and think that they are safe because they are among other college students. Unfortunately, sexual assaults are most commonly committed by known people, posing as friends.

As many of us already know, rape by intoxication is a serious issue on college campuses and in general. Understanding the law and the consequences surrounding rape by intoxication may reduce the frequency of these incidents. 

In 2005, I pioneered a sex crimes and human trafficking division with a specialized team of prosecutors, investigators and victim advocates that are dedicated to justice for victims of sexual assault. However, these types of cases are challenging in court and the effects of the trauma to the victim can be devastating, which is why prevention through awareness and education is the best defense. In the rape cases our office prosecutes, however, alcohol or drugs are involved in the majority of them.

Under a new law that went into effect last year, anyone convicted of rape by intoxication must receive mandatory prison time of three, six or eight years. Another law also gave victims of sexual assaults enhanced rights.

Here are some tips:

Preventing Rape by Intoxication

If she’s intoxicated, asleep, or unconscious, she cannot give legal consent, no matter what she says to you.

Rape by intoxication is a serious felony that can carry eight years in state prison.

A person convicted of rape by intoxication must register as a sex offender.

If your friend tries to take advantage of a woman who is intoxicated or passed out, tell him to stop and explain the consequences. Don’t be a bystander! You have a responsibility to speak up for a vulnerable, incapacitated victim and stop the assault.

Pay attention to the warning signs including: slurred speech, staggered walking, lack of motor skills, loud speech, vomiting, passing out, falling asleep, and unconsciousness.

Protecting Yourself

Stay with your trusted friends at all times.

Think ahead and have a plan for you and each member of your group to get home safely.

Drinking games and binge drinking can be dangerous to your health and could make you a target for a sexual assault.

Never leave an intoxicated friend unattended. Help him or her by giving water to prevent dehydration, and by putting them on their side to avoid possible choking on vomit. If symptoms worsen, call 911.

Always lock your doors and windows; if you are taking care of a friend, make sure the doors and windows are locked before you leave.

Getting Help as a Victim

Call 911 if the crime just occurred, or call the police or sheriff’s department to report the crime.

Talk with your parents, a teacher, a counselor, or call a crisis hotline to get help.

Help law enforcement document your attack. That means not bathing, douching, urinating, eating, drinking, smoking, gargling, brushing teeth or chewing gum. All of these activities can erase valuable DNA evidence.

Don’t wash clothing.

Understand this is NOT your fault. There is a whole network of professionals ready to help you, no matter what the situation.

District Attorney Summer Stephanhas dedicated more than 28 years to serving justice and victims of crime as prosecutor. She is a leader in creating smart and fair criminal justice solutions and restorative justice practices that treat the underlying causes of addiction and mental illness and that keep young people from being incarcerated. 

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