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Sexual Assault Kit Task Force Focuses on Sexual Consent

Task force turns attention to college-aged youth.

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"Don't touch the booty unless you ask you the cutie."

That was one example of "sexual consent messaging" from Men As Peacemakers, a Minnesota-based nonprofit focused on ending violence against women and children, last week during their campus sexual assault presentation at the University of Memphis.

The Memphis Sexual Assault Kit Task Force invited Men As Peacemakers to Memphis for its quarterly community conversation series. Past meetings in the series have gathered women to discuss the rape kit backlog or focused on recruiting men's groups as partners to end sexual assault. Last week's meeting honed in on youth and the issue of sexual consent.

"There's a very high proportion of reported sexual assaults among youth ages 18 to 34," said Deborah Clubb, president of the Memphis Area Women's Council and a task force member. "There's a national impetus coming out of the White House to require campuses to do more and do better to respond to these assaults. So we wanted to think about how the task force can be a part of something helpful to that age group."

The crowd for the event inside the U of M's University Center River Room was small and mostly made up of women, many older than college-age.

Men As Peacemakers defined consent as a "mutual, voluntary, informed decision between clear-minded, of-age participants before any and every sexual act."

They encouraged attendees to come up with their own consent messaging using rhymes or song lyrics and then post the phrases on social media in an effort to start a viral revolution around consent.

Men As Peacemakers Program Director Sarah Curtiss shared some alarming stats — one in five college-aged women experience at least an attempt of sexual assault, and one in five college-aged men will perpetrate a sexual assault. And she warned that, too often, drunk women are blamed as "asking for it" when they're raped by men at college parties.

"If alcohol equals consent, they need to put that on the warning label on the bottle," she quipped.

If sexual assault is so prevalent on college campuses, though, it doesn't show in the crime statistics from most of the city's colleges and universities. In 2014, the University of Memphis reported zero forcible rapes and one instance of both sexual assault with an object and forcible fondling, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's most recent available statistics.

LeMoyne-Owen College and Southwest Tennessee Community College each reported one forcible rape in 2014, and Christian Brothers University and the Memphis College of Art reported none.

By contrast, Rhodes College reported 11 forcible rapes, five cases of forcible fondling, and one forcible sodomy in 2014. Rhodes College communications director Ken Woodmansee said he believes Rhodes simply reports more vigorously than the other campuses.

"We make sure that people know it's important to come forward and that we have a safe environment. It's important for us to know about any assault. We will investigate any report," Rhodes Title IX coordinator Claire Shapiro said.

Clubb said she thinks the fact that 75 percent of Rhodes students live on campus may also contribute to a higher number since assaults on students from other campuses may be happening off-campus.

"At Rhodes, a lot of their student body is within the fence 24 hours a day, and they're the only campus like that here. They have them corralled, even the Greek activity," Clubb said. "There's just no way Rhodes has a higher proportion of [sexual assault] than other campuses."

Better reporting on other college campuses is needed, Clubb said.

"These are young people who don't want to be humiliated or labeled as 'that girl' for the next three years, and they don't want that guy and his friends growling at her every time she crosses the campus," Clubb said. "But it's very frustrating for those of us who want help these college women when the women don't want to report. Then [her attacker] is free to go and go and go, and when one [victim] finally does report, there's no way to know there were seven others."

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