By Rylie Frohock
The Scene staff
Forest Park students who have been sexually assaulted are not alone.
They have access to many resources, ranging from campus counselors, faculty members and police officers to outside support groups, help lines and legal advocates.
“I definitely liked learning about all the different resources,” said emergency medical technician student Sam Rubio, 25. “I think it’s very important to have this kind of information, because (sexual assault) is very prevalent at colleges.”
Rubio was one of about 30 students, faculty and staff members who attended a Sexual Assault Forum on April 4 in Cafe West. Forums also were held on other St. Louis Community College campuses this month to educate and raise awareness.
Forum speakers included campus representatives who serve on a Title IX Task Force, organized by Associate Vice Chancellor Bill Woodward.
They discussed stalking, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment, which all fall under federal Title IX regulations.
One problem is that many sexual-assault victims don’t come forward to report what happened, and therefore statistics are misrepresentative.
“In a lot of ways, (victims) feel like there’s a stigma to coming forward,” said Woodward. “A lot of times, people feel like victims won’t be believed. … There’s so many avenues for people to come forward.”
Adjunct Counselor Lara Meier, who organized the Forest Park forum, said, “There needs to be fair and accurate reporting.”
One of the first steps in improving accuracy is educating students, faculty and staff on exactly what constitutes Title IX violations.
The forum primarily focused on sexual assault, which is defined as “any sexual act directed against another person without consent of the victim, which includes scenarios where the victim is unable to give consent,” according to the Sexual Misconduct Resource and Referral Options listed on STLCC’s website. “This includes unwelcome fondling, incest, rape and statutory rape.”
Domestic violence is “felony or misdemeanor crimes committed to the victim by a current or former spouse/intimate partner.”
Sexual harassment is “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or offensive work or education environment.”
Gender-based harassment is also prohibited under Title IX, which protects people who don’t conform to stereotyped notions of masculinity or femininity.
The Forest Park Student Government Association sponsored another campus activity to help raise awareness of sexual assault. It was called Denim Day, and it was part of a national campaign.
Students were encouraged to wear denim on April 28. SGA representatives passed out brochures, pens and other items in the Highlander Lounge.
“It’s part of our duty to keep that awareness (of Title IX) out there,” said SGA Vice President Chester Henderson.
At the forum, Forest Park Counseling Department chair Scott Queener walked people through the STLCC procedure on reporting sexual assaults.
Victims who want incidents to remain confidential should seek help from the Counseling Department or Student Assistance Program. Both are in the Student Center, Room 200.
Students can also report sexual assault to faculty members. However, faculty members are required by federal law to report claims to law enforcement.
“It’s important to know that whatever you share with a faculty or staff member, they have to report it,” Queener said.
After a report is filed, Campus Police will conduct an investigation. From there, victims can decide whether they want to press charges.
“The last thing we want to do is say, ‘Well, I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. I notified someone.’ That’s not enough,” Forest Park Police Chief Richard Banahan said at the forum.
In addition Title IX Task Force members, the forum featured speakers from St. Louis counseling centers, many of whom offer some services free of charge.
Representatives distributed fliers for Safe Connections, YWCA St. Louis Regional Sexual Assault Center, St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Victim Services and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
Safe Connections offers individual therapy and support groups for survivors of all genders 13 or older. The organization also has prevention education programs for college students.
The YWCA provides similar services, as well as a response team that goes to hospitals, police stations and other places where sexual assaults are reported, and supports victims through the investigation process.
Victims of sexual assault can get orders of protection, more commonly known as restraining orders, through Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
Woodward encourages victims of sexual assault to come forward and not be embarrassed or afraid.
“It’s really about giving them control of that conversation and making them feel like they’re in a safe space,” he said.
Students interested in getting involved in the Title IX Task Force can contact Meier at Lmeier21@stlcc.edu or 314-644-9237. For more information on Title IX, visit the STLCC website and click on Student Resources then Policies and Procedures.