WCU student addresses sexual assault on college campuses

Beth Winze catalogues responses to her survey regarding sexual assault awareness on college campuses. Photo by Haley Smith.

Beth Winze catalogues responses to her survey regarding sexual assault awareness on college campuses. Photo by Haley Smith.

A recent survey (spring 2015) conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU) on 27 university campuses throughout the United States, reported that 23 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted due to physical force, threat of physical force or incapacitation. Out of this percentage, 10.8 percent experienced penetration.

WCU criminal justice student, Beth Winze, is hoping to reduce this statistic with her research project titled, ‘Determination of Sexual Assault Awareness on College Campuses.’

The goal of her research is to determine how much college students know about the prevalence and definition of sexual assault on their campus. Winze is conducting her project on her own at the moment, but she is hoping to pair up with a criminal justice professor.

“The literature is so inconclusive,” said Winze. “Every source seems to have a different statistic and varying information. That’s why I’m asking students how they define sexual assault.”

Winze conducted an anonymous survey as part of her effort to discover how aware college students are about this issue and how many of them have been affected by it. The informal survey was posted on Facebook and targeted towards college students.

“I wish there was a way that girls could do more than just keep walking when they get catcalls or touched when not wanting it. There is honestly not much a girl can do unless it starts to get very physical,” said an anonymous student in response to Winze’s survey.

Winze hoped to receive 50 responses to her survey, but the attention to the subject was more than she expected. Within three weeks, the survey received 54 responses that Winze characterized as “insightful.”  The survey is now closed and the results have been incorporated into her research.  

“I believe the unexpectedly large response to my survey proves that people want to talk about this, they just don’t know how,” said Winze.

The AAU reports that most people who fail to report a sexual assault claim that it wasn’t serious enough, they were ashamed of what happened or they didn’t think anything would be done about it.

“I think a lot of people don’t like to consider themselves victims, and I think that’s the problem,” said Winze. “Throughout my research, I realized that the majority of sexual assault cases go unreported because of fear.”

Brooke Andrade, Winze’s roommate and fellow WCU student, believes this project is important for students and staff of any college to learn about.

“I feel like it’s a topic that really needs to be talked about more openly so that victims are more comfortable discussing the issue,” said Andrade. “I think [Winze’s] research will help make WCU students more aware of the situation and the statistics.”

Winze was inspired to start this project when a friend divulged to her that they were unsure if someone’s actions to them would be considered sexual assault.

“I think there’s a lot of myths about sexual assault on college campuses,” said Winze. “It made me wonder just how much knowledge people have on what sexual assault actually is and why these crimes are so often not reported.”

Many websites offer information about sexual assault, but Winze found that each website gave different information and it made it difficult to really learn about the issue. Ultimately, she intends to create a website that will provide a collection of information about sexual assault and organizations that help victims or aid in the effort to stop this issue.

“The biggest myth is that people ‘ask for’ sexual assault to happen to them by acting or dressing a certain way,” said Winze. “Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of how you’re dressed or acting.”

Students seem to agree that sexual assault is indiscriminate. It can happen to people regardless of their race, gender, dress or actions.

Hunter Atchley, a WCU student and close friend of Winze, has known about Winze’s research project since its inception.

“A lot of people treat sexual assault like it’s not an issue when it happens to more people than we realize,” said Atchley. “This project could make people more aware of the signs of sexual assault, so they know when it is happening and how to prevent it.”

WCU student Drew Hunt hasn’t heard about Winze’s project, but he says its an important topic that needs to be discussed.

“I think it is useful for college students to know that things like this happen all the time,” said Hunt. “I believe people have a pretty vague knowledge about what sexual assault really is. I think if you make a woman feel uncomfortable or violated, then that is sexual assault.”

“Sexual assault is any verbal assault in the form of sexual language or non-consensual sexual interaction,” said Winze. “I think a lot of people fail to see that sexual assault can also be verbal.”

Although Winze hopes that her project will have a positive impact on schools across the nation, her first goal is to help students and administration at WCU. She stresses the importance of telling the administration how much or how little students know about sexual assault. To do this, she has used the Clery Act to determine how often sexual assaults are reported on campus.

The Clery Act is the annual report of security policies and crimes reported in the WCU community. University police is required by federal law to report these statistics.

“I hope that WCU students will be more aware when they come in contact with a victim of sexual assault, or are a victim themselves, and they better understand the importance of reporting it,” said Winze.

After college, Winze hopes to use her degree in criminal justice to become a public information officer for either local, state or federal law enforcement.

“For me, this project has helped me learn how to represent a group of people who have been victimized and discover how to change the way people view a crime,” said Winze.