While some Penn State students rioted in downtown State College last night, others began to plan a candlelight vigil for Friday night and to help alumni raise money to help survivors of sexual abuse. Some students changed their Facebook profile photo from something football-related to an image of a candle, while others wore light blue lapel ribbons.
“I’ve heard many, many people express that not enough is being done for the sexual assault victims,” said Kyle Harris, 21, a senior public relations major from Massachusetts who is helping to plan the vigil. “We want to support these victims. We’re just horrified.”
The issue of sexual assault has gained increased attention on many campuses in the past year, especially after the Department of Education released new guidelines for how administrators should address allegations. But those discussions often focus on the victims colleges see most, college-aged women — not children or boys.
Nearly half of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, and 15 percent are under the age of 12, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. While a majority of those victims are girls, boys who are abused are often even more confused about what’s happening.
“Even for young boys, there are some expectations of being a boy,”especially in sports programs, said Jennifer Marsh, RAINN's hotline director. “They are supposed to be the protectors.”
Two-thirds of victims know their attacker — and often they trust that person, who might be a friend, relative, teacher, mentor or coach. And it sometimes takes years for them to realize that an incident was molestation. Therefore, it often falls to the adults in a child’s life to realize something is amiss and investigate.
Most victims of sexual assault do not speak openly about their experiences, and jokes about rape can bring back painful memories. So Penn State students and others need to be tactful in discussing the charges against Sandusky and other officials.
“This isn’t a problem that is isolated,” Marsh said. “You never know who is around you [who has been assaulted], so you need to be sensitive.”
The Patriot News has spoken with the families of the alleged victims and shared their painful stories of watching as the story consumed national news for several days. The sister of one victim is a junior at Penn State and has been avoiding class.
“I can’t escape it,” she told the paper. “I’ve been going to minimal classes, because every class I go to I get sick to my stomach. People are making jokes about it. I understand they don’t know I’m involved and it was my brother, but it’s still really hard to swallow that.”
The “Candle Light Vigil for Abused Victims” is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. on Friday on the steps of Old Main, the university’s administration building. Everyone is encouraged to bring a candle.
Meanwhile, a group of Penn State alumni are collecting money for RAINN through a Twitter campaign using the hashtag, #ProudPSUforRAINN.
And if you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted and needs help, visit RAINN’s online hotline or call 1-800-656-HOPE.
Do you know of other initiatives happening on campus? Let me know in the comments section.