Earlier access to education could help lower sexual assault numbers
COLUMBIA - Sexual assault is an issue on college campuses around the country. Some sexual violence advocates are trying to change that raising awareness in high schools.
"I was sexually assaulted as a high school student, when that happened to me I didn't really identify that I was raped or sexually assaulted," Tori Schafer said.
She is the director of the University of Missouri's branch of the national campaign It's On Us. Its mission is to end sexual assault.
Schafer said the conversation about sexual assault needs to start earlier.
"When you're that young and you don't have experience in that area, or sex at all for that matter, you don't really know how to explain or put into words what has happened to you," she said.
According to a 2012 CDC report, 37.4 percent of female rape victims were first raped between the ages of 18 and 24. Of those women, 19 percent of them experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.
It's On Us, as well as other programs, help to educate and inform college students about sexual assault. Schafer said, if programs like these existed for younger students, it would be even better.
"At the high school level we don't see advocacy, you know there's not Title IX at the high school level," Schafer said. "There's also not programs like Green Dot or It's On Us to give you the avenue to express your feelings and reach out and ask for help."
The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence program provides the opportunity for people throughout the community to learn more about sexual violence.
Prevention Director Matthew Huffman said teaching people about sexual violence and healthy sexual behavior early can help prevent sexual assaults in college.
"By the college age, people have already started to develop their own attitudes and opinions and beliefs around sexuality, so starting these conversations much earlier helps build a resilience as well as the skills that young people need to navigate relationships and sexual identities," Huffman said.
The program host seminars and counseling sessions and works with other sexual violence awareness groups like Green Dot to spread the message.
"Promoting healthy sexuality is, in and of itself, violence prevention because you're working to reduce the likelihood that harmful, coercive sexual behaviors will really start to take shape and root," Huffman said.