College should be an exciting time in your life to look back on and remember with fond memories, however some of those memories are not very pleasant.

Sexual assault is a problem in colleges across the United States. Twenty-three percent of female students have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact while attending college. Ninety-one percent of victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and 9 percent are male.

The University of Tennessee is dedicated to creating an environment for students that is safe, respectful, and nonthreatening. The University has a 24/7 help line for students called 974-HELP, or you can also call the UT Police Department if an assault has occurred. The University of Tennessee considers safety a top priority, but the university could do more to help its students.

As a survivor of sexual assault, this topic hits close to home. I did not report my assault because I was drinking, and I was afraid of getting in trouble, since I was only a freshman.

Rape is the most underreported crime; 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Many victims believe that the assault is their fault, and that they might get in trouble if they report. UT should help their students feel more comfortable by making sure students know that they will not face consequences, even if underage drinking was involved. Victims think that nobody will believe them if they come forward and report their assault. UT should be on the side of the survivor no matter who they are accusing. UT should help promote a healthy environment in which it is okay to come forward and report without any hesitation or judgement.

At orientation, UT offers the “Be Smart. Be Safe. Be a VOL.” training for new students. This seminar talks about how to behave on campus for new Vols. I attended this short discussion and they made very valid points about partying on campus and the dangers that come along with it.

UT did a great job with this presentation, but they did not really talk about how to report assault if it occurs. I think that UT should have a member of the UTPD come and give a presentation about how to report assaults when they occur. Students would not fear about how to report or what will happen to them if they report. UT should have a designated staff member who deals solely with helping students report their assault. The staff member should always be accessible to students if they have any questions, or if it is to just talk about their feelings.

Students of the university already have access to free counseling, but UT should also offer a support group for survivors of sexual assault. This support group would show survivors that they are not alone. Members could talk to their peers and counselors about their experience and ways to cope. A support group could help victims who never reported get closure for their assault. Some victims never tell anyone about their assault, but this support group would be a safe space on campus to talk about their experience. Students could also create a group chat which could feature an anonymous option in case they do not want to disclose their identity. Having a support group is a great way for UT to show that they stand with the survivors of sexual assault.

The University of Tennessee truly cares about the safety of their students, but with a few simple changes the University can greatly impact the way survivors of sexual assault feel. With these new ideas UT would promote an open campus where victims would not have to hide or feel guilty about what happened to them. Together we can stand united on Rocky Top.

Victoria Smith can be reached at vsmith37@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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