TCU Fights Back Against Sexual Assault with CARE
Sexual assault is a growing risk for college students across the country. In Fort Worth, Texas Christian University (TCU) is stepping up to address the issue and assist survivors and their families on campus and after graduation.
In the fall semester of 2017, TCU introduced a new resource called Campus Advocacy, Resources, and Education (CARE). The CARE office advocates and supports survivors of sexual and gender-based harassment, sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking. The CARE office stands apart from other assault-related student services on campus because of its certified Confidential Advocate, Leah Carnahan. She is not required to report to authorities. That differentiating fact can lead students to feel more comfortable discussing their experiences.
“It’s 100 percent your decision to go in and talk to her and it’s your decision what to do after that,” said a TCU student who wished to remain anonymous. “With CARE, you have to tell your story once. I didn’t want it to be dragged out a whole semester. I wanted to move on.”
Moving on from a trauma like sexual assault is easier said than done, and unfortunately, female college students are much more likely to become victims.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), women on college campuses are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted. And male students, ages 18-24, are 78 percent more likely to experience sexual assault than non-students of the same age.
In Texas, research shows that 2 in 5 women and 1 in 5 men are victims of sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. The number of people reporting sexual assault in their lifetime has increased since the last study in 2003 with an increase of 20 percent for women and 15 percent for men.
“Although Texas statistics appear to have increased over a 12-year period, it is important to look at how the culture has changed. Some of the increase can really be attributed to an increase in public knowledge and awareness about sexual assault, and a greater percentage of people being willing to acknowledge their victimization,” said Katharine Collier-Esser, Assistant Director of Research and Training Services at The Women’s Center of Tarrant County.
TCU’s CARE office launched a campaign in April to highlight Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Its goal was to increase awareness of CARE’s services and resources among students, faculty and staff while promoting education that empowers lasting change in the Fort Worth community.
With the concept, “We believe you. We C.A.R.E.,” the campaign focused on believing and supporting victims of sexual violence while challenging common misconceptions. For example, campaign headlines like, “Yesterday or years ago, we believe you. We C.A.R.E.,” and “Drunk or sober, we believe you. We C.A.R.E.,” encourages survivors of sexual violence to seek support.
“The CARE office has given me a place to bounce my feelings off and understand why I have the feelings that I do,” said another TCU student who wished to remain anonymous. “Moving forward, even months or semesters after your initial visit, small things may come up here and there that bring you right back [to the trauma]. That’s where the CARE office comes in, at giving you that long term support.”
“When someone experiences a trauma, the first thing to do is make sure they are safe and healthy,” explained Collier-Esser. She says once initial medical issues are addressed, the best way to work through the trauma is to seek help from a trauma-informed therapist or other mental health practitioner.
“Although many people do not report their assaults to law enforcement, they do tend to tell a friend or family member. If this is the case, the friend or family member can help tremendously by believing the victim. Due to the common myths surrounding sexual assault in our culture, and the deep-rooted victim-blaming that happens to victims, many people do not believe they will be believed, so they do not come forward. If a victim is believed when they tell someone about the assault, they begin healing right away,” said Collier-Esser.
Individuals who are sexually assaulted have a high chance of developing mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. When someone who gets sexually assaulted does not seek help after the fact, they might face more issues.
“On-going issues related to trauma that is not dealt with, can include increased depression, anxiety, substance use issues, as well as medical issues,” said Collier-Esser.
During the month of April, TCU hosted several events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month that included Listen Believe Support and Journey to Healing. Listen Believe Support was a trauma informed sexual assault survivor support training for anyone to attend. The overall premise of Journey to Healing was to highlight the possible resources available to students who have been sexually assaulted and show how these resources, along with the rest of the TCU community, are there for support. These events, along with the others allowed students, faculty, and staff the chance to get involved with supporting survivors.
Learn more about how to prevent sexual assault and support victims in your community @tcu_care on Instagram.
Katrina Palumbo recently graduated from Texas Christian University and received her Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication. During her senior year, she served as an Account Executive with Roxo, TCU’s student ad + pr agency.