A federal law now requires colleges to educate students and staff on preventing sexual assault. The guidelines are called the Campus SaVE Act. It’s a response to the growing number of reports that rape and sexual violence are rampant on university campuses across the US.
South Dakota colleges are complying with the Campus SaVE Act to make higher education a safer environment. Some college participants are more vulnerable to encountering sexual assault.
As hundreds of students file into Alfs Auditorium at the University of South Dakota, they laugh and joke around. It is the annual alcohol and sexual assault discussion for sorority and fraternity members. Even speaker Elaine Pasqua has jokes about risky behavior.
“They roll over in bed. They open up their eyes. And there’s this individual that’s laying next to them that’s so ugly that they want to chew their arm off so they can get away before that person wakes up. It’s called Coyote Love, and we hear that’s happening a lot," Pasqua says.
What’s happening, however, is not a joke. Pasqua says every year about 97,000 sexual assaults happen on college campuses nationwide. Eighty percent are date rape. Most involve alcohol.
One online newspaper reports sexual assault is commonly associated with Greek life on college campuses. The September report in The Guardian US says fraternity members are 300 percent more likely to commit rape.
Fraternities at USD work to have a different reputation.
Lucas Peterson is the Vice President of Tau Kappa Epsilon. He says safety is an expectation.
“We don’t have problems in the Greek community that I know of with sexual assault at USD, and that’s because, I think, the Greek community as a whole and the individual fraternities hold their members to a certain standard and a certain set of morals and a code of conduct,” Peterson says.
One way to set the standard is education. William Lewis is the Vice President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at USD. He says the men in SAE believe treating people with respect makes for a stronger organization.
“I know personally when I was going through as a new member in my fraternity, our education placed a very big emphasis on women and making sure they feel comfortable at all times," Lewis says.
Director of sorority and fraternity life and leadership Amber Groh says Greek houses are some of the safest places at USD. She has not dealt with a sexual assault case among the fraternities and sororities.
“A lot of times they get the finger pointed at them very unfairly. You know, these are the students that are the leaders in our university community," Groh says. "They’re in charge of Dakotathon. They’re our SGA leaders. They do all these wonderful things and then there’s this unfair spotlight on them. If something bad happens in a fraternity house, it is all over the place. It’s in all the newspapers when the exact same thing may have happened multiple times in a house party off campus.”
But that doesn’t mean Greeks are immune. That’s why sorority and fraternity members participate in a group demonstration with clear liquid and plastic cups. Speaker Elaine Pasqua tells everyone to combine their liquids with three other people’s. In the beginning, a fraction of the cups hold a colorless chemical. Most contain water. But the exchange spreads the substance throughout the auditorium.
Elaine Pasqua holds the same demonstration an hour away at the University of Sioux Falls. The fluid swap represents unprotected sex. Students wait with their clear cups as she drops a chemical into their solutions.
"They see the person who they exchange with get their cup tested before them and their cup turned pink, and they’re like, ‘Oh no! I have it, too,’" Pasqua says.
Pasqua tells students the rosy hue represents HIV or herpes, viruses that attack the body and never leave. These diseases can be the impact of poor decisions or sexual assault. She says drinking too much and sexual abuse are connected, but being drunk isn’t an excuse for a perpetrator, and it doesn’t make an assault the victim’s fault.
"This blaming response has got to go," Pasqua says. "A person should be able to inadvertently get drunk and know that they’re safe and know that nobody is going to take advantage of them, so this is when we’re talking to everybody about having the integrity to do the right thing."
Pasqua says, like it or not, that standard is higher for student athletes. The risk behavior expert says college kids who play sports are more visible to their classmates and to people off-campus. That means they represent their universities on the court and at parties.
Irene Samaniego is a soccer player for USF. She says her teammates practice together, compete together and unwind together. They also look out for one another.
"If one of my friends decides to take a few more drinks than they [should have] that night, the team’s going to be there helping them, make sure no one takes advantage of that person," Samaniego says. "I don’t know if I can say that for everyone, but I’ll say, right here, we’re a very close community. We’re very close to each other, and we always have each other’s back."
Samaniego says all college students may make reckless decisions. But coaches – and college associations – set strict standards for student athletes when it comes to those high-risk behaviors.
"During mostly season, players are not allowed to drink. We can go out to parties, but, as a student athlete, you don’t want to be involved or known as someone who abuses alcohol or other substances," Samaniego says.
Samaniego says coaches stress that player performance declines when students drink. Speaker Elaine Pasqua says she also highlights property damage, injuries, and lower GPAs before reiterating that parties are prime grounds for sexual assaults.
"Our gut-level intuition is the greatest gift that we will ever have, and we often don’t follow that," Pasqua says. "And I even talk about that to students in my program. If you’ve got this invisible person tapping you on the shoulder saying ‘I’d get out of here if I were you,’ get out. Follow that voice."
Pasqua says partygoers should pay attention. By asking a person to talk elsewhere when she or he is obviously uncomfortable or addressing people who talk about disrespectful behavior… Pasqua says young adults can protect fellow students and prevent sexual assault.