Freshmen Women Most at Risk for Sexual Assault


    “I was very confused,” she said. “ I woke up. He was in the room. I didn’t know who he was or how I got there or how long I had been there.”

    Rachel Sienkowski is no stranger to sexual assault and she and others shared their story about being sexually assaulted with the Washington Post. Sienkowski talked about her encounter during her freshman year of college at Michigan State University.

    The scene was a college tailgating party; she was “blackout drunk” and only remembers waking up with a gash on her head and a stranger leaving the room. What Sienkowski didn’t know was that she represented the biggest target for crimes like this on campus.

    According to Ronette Sutton Gerber, UNC-Pembroke’s Director of Title IX and Clery Compliance, September and October are her busiest months because of the incoming freshmen. The first month in the fall semester is usually a time when students are just receiving their freedom but if you’re freshman female, you’re more likely to be sexually targeted by an upperclassman male and it is usually someone you know.

    The National Institute for Justice states that 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by women was with someone they knew or were dating. Gerber parallels this study with the results at UNCP. She said that incidents at UNCP have almost always been a dorm mate, friend or even a boyfriend. She said that there are very few incidents that involve a stranger and almost every incident involves alcohol.

    In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, the results found that majority of the incidents are from: a friend, acquaintance, partner or spouse, fraternity member or while on a date. It is typically in a party setting or dorm room. It’s also most prevalent at schools with on-campus residencies.

    What makes cases like this hard to solve, according to Gerber, is the perception from both parties. Typically the accused aren’t aware they hurt anyone and are confused as to why they are in her office while the reporting party is has a different perception. Gerber said that this is why she is sure to be impartial and listens to both sides in an unbiased way.

    “I take every case on its merits; listen to both sides and I write up my report,” Gerber said. “ So my role is to help and be fair and make sure they’re treated fair.”

    Redefining Sexual Harassment

    UNCP and other campuses are newly defining sexual harassment. Under the Title IX Act, universities are giving broader representation of the term sexual harassment: sexual misconduct.

    Referring to the term as sexual misconduct umbrellas many other terms so that there is more coverage of gender-based issues involved in Title IX. As of March of 2016, the newly renovated policy at UNCP has adapted many categories that fall under the sexual misconduct and the list is extensive. The list includes: bullying, dating violence, stalking, hazing, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, etc. Under this new policy, Gerber also wants students to be aware that although the conditions are typically male on female, the policy supports all genders.

    “Most cases are male on female,” she said. “But our campus has seen a variety of reporting parties and accused parties.”

    How to prevent being the accused or becoming a victim

    Many commit sexual assault because they are unaware of what they are doing. Knowing the situation can help prevent future problems.

    ●Control substance intake. Drugs and alcohol are almost always involved so be cautious entering a crowded party and becoming intoxicated.

    ●Trust instincts. If a situation is uncomfortable or unsafe, get out of it. Know intentions and limitations early on and make them known. Bring a group of trustworthy friends that can look out for each other when going out to parties or clubs.

    ●Get consent. It is important that students get verbal consent from their partner. If in some way the person that is with you cannot give consent because they are mentally or physically unable to, whether that be because they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, asleep or passed out, then you are at risk of being guilty of assault or rape.

    ●Don’t assume. Don’t assume you know what the other person wants. If a person agrees to go into a room with you, don’t assume it is because they want to have sex. If you are getting mixed signals, for example, the person was okay at first but is becoming hesitant then stop.


    To prepare for the new school year and onslaught of new students , Gerber has required all professors to go through training to learn the about the office and what to do when facing situations with a student. She said she has talked to over 700 professors because they are more likely to report to her.

    “This is a safe place,” said Chancellor Robin Cummings. “Were gonna work with you. We’re gonna help you and get you through that period.”

    Chancellor Cummings and Gerber were both in agreement when giving advice to the new freshmen coming on campus. They said that freshmen are adults and “adult decisions have adult consequences.

    “It’s important as freshmen to make that shift,” Chancellor Cummings said. “I’m not in the 12th grade anymore. I now have more responsibility. I now have more freedom than I’ve ever had. You can abuse that freedom and get in trouble or you can respect that freedom.”

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