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Raising awareness of sexual violence on college campuses as students enter the ‘Red Zone’

The co-founder of End Sexual Violence shares her experience and inspiration. “Students’ safety is at stake and I want to change that,” she says

End Sexual Violence (ESV) is a coalition of student organizations at Brown University dedicated to eradicating sexual violence. They have organized protests in Providence, launched email campaigns to authorities, and spread awareness of the reality of sexual assault on college campuses. Ha-Jung Kim, a junior at Brown University, co-founded ESV in March. As students return to campuses and enter “the red zone” -- the early part of the fall semester during which students, especially new students, are especially vulnerable to sexual assault -- she spoke to Globe Rhode Island about her experience. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

For so long, I ignored my sexual assault because I questioned the validity of the experience. Nobody had plucked me off the street and dragged me into their white van. Nobody lured me with an ice cream truck jingle and left me battered or maimed. I remember napping during the college orientation training that would have given me the vocabulary to understand what would happen to me. I thought I knew what sexual assault looked like.

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I experienced my sexual assault during the “red zone” of college. This was within the first six weeks of arriving on campus, when everyone enjoyed a new sense of freedom. As freshmen in a new environment, we wanted to belong. So we let our guards down. For me, the media failed to capture the ordinary settings in which sexual assault takes place; the ordinary people and acquaintances who become our perpetrators. According to a national sexual violence survey, about half of male and female rape victims are assaulted by an acquaintance. I was raped by someone I knew, someone who I had trusted.

Leading End Sexual Violence, I’ve heard stories of perpetrators introducing alcohol to their victims — not forcing them to drink, but slowly incapacitating them. Suddenly, the situation can escalate and details begin to blur. After a season of remote learning, the freshmen and sophomores coming to campus now may likely forget the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. A climate survey at Brown showed that 54.1 percent of students reported they had witnessed a drunken person heading for a sexual encounter. How many of those encounters could have been prevented if we spoke more honestly about sexual violence?

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We’re conditioned to think that being submissive and giving in to what the other person wants is a part of sex. But that is not at all the case. Anything done against your will is violence. And there doesn’t have to be blood to prove that harm was done.

While words like rape can trigger survivors, I believe that we need to hold perpetrators accountable and shroud them in the umbrella term of “general misconduct.” Students’ safety is at stake and I want to change that. End Sexual Violence hopes to support survivors through an online community and by enacting policy changes through mobilization and organizing. This coming year, we’re collaborating with other activist groups across the Northeast to directly challenge universities Title IV policies and to hold perpetrators responsible. I want to finally start changing public perceptions of sexual violence.