University works to make students AWARE of sexual violence

September 10, 2013

Sexual violence can be devastating for those who experience it, for their friends and family, and for the entire community. As is the case on college campuses nationwide, education and prevention efforts are a priority at Penn State.

Currently, State College police are investigating five sexual assaults that took place between Aug. 23 and Sept. 2. None of the assaults are related and in each of the crimes the victims reported they were acquainted with the alleged suspects. All of the assaults occurred during late night/early morning hours and took place during or following alcohol-related functions.

Linda LaSalle, associate director for educational services at University Health Services on Penn State's University Park campus, said educating students about the nature of sexual violence might lead to an increase in reporting of the crime. "We want students who are sexually assaulted to report it, and to know that they'll be believed and supported. Seeking support and using the resources on campus can be an important part of the recovery process. We hope more people do report it, both for themselves and also to prevent others from experiencing it," she said.

According to Peggy Lorah, director of the Center for Women Students at Penn State University Park, probably fewer than 1 in 10 victims of sexual assault report the crime. She said alcohol is involved in 85 percent of the cases, and most of the time the victim knows her assailant.

"What people in general believe is that it's somebody that jumps out of the bushes, but typically it's somebody you know. If we could do away with the alcohol piece, we could do away with so many assaults. Alcohol really is a huge issue when it comes to sexual assault," Lorah said.

LaSalle said every alcohol awareness program done through University Health Services (UHS) talks about the risks of sexual assault related to alcohol consumption. " UHS conducts programs for fraternities, sororities, residence halls, first-year seminars and other academic classes," she said.

LaSalle said education is an important part of prevention. "Sexual assault is a crime of opportunity. We want to do everything we can to lessen that opportunity, and education is part of that."

The educational process starts before students arrive on campus. New students are required to complete online educational modules related to alcohol consumption and sexual assault education.

"Every incoming student is required to complete AWARE, an online module designed to educate them about sexual violence," LaSalle said. "Our key objective is to help students learn the facts about sexual assault and sexual harassment; to develop skills to help keep them and their friends safe; and to introduce them to campus resources." As of Sept. 3, more than 11,300 first-year students across all Penn State campuses have completed the program.

The program includes facts about sexual violence; legal definitions for rape and sexual assault in Pennsylvania; information about consent; and legal, medical and counseling resources.

Facts shared through the AWARE program include:

-- More than 90 percent of rapes at colleges and universities are committed by someone the victim knows.

-- Fifty-nine percent of rapes occur in the victim's home; 31 percent occur in the home of someone the victim knows; and 10 percent occur in fraternity houses.

-- According to the FBI, fewer than 2 percent of reports are false.

-- Rapists are looking for available and vulnerable targets.

-- Rape is an act of violence, not an uncontrollable act of sexual desire.

-- A common victim response is to "freeze," which renders the victim unable to act in self-defense.

-- Males make up about 10 percent of sexual violence victims.

The AWARE program educates students about consent, the dangers of alcohol and other date rape drugs, how to decrease vulnerability, how to help a friend who has been assaulted, what steps to take if an assault has occurred.

Consequences for committing a sexual assault also are addressed. "Sexual misconduct is a clear violation of the Penn State Student Code of Conduct, so a Penn State student who engages in sexual activity without clear consent or with an incapacitated person, could be held accountable under both the law and the Code of Conduct," said Danny Shaha, senior director of the Office of Student Conduct. The Code of Conduct can be found at

AWARE is designed for students, but parents and members of the Penn State community also can view the information. "Parents, especially, should go through the program and then talk to their sons and daughters about it," LaSalle said. The program is accessible to anyone with a Penn State access account or a Friends of Penn State account at

Peer education is another way students learn about sexual assault. Two groups: Men Against Violence (MAV) and Peers Helping Reaffirm, Educate and Empower (PHREE); provide educational programming and collaborate with other student groups on campus to inform others about women's issues. "The value of those two groups is huge. Students learn best from other students. They hear this information from other students in a much different way than they do when it comes from faculty or staff. The students in MAV and PHREE are very skilled at delivering these messages in a way that makes sense in students' lives, and they are dedicated to making a difference," Lorah said.

Several resources are available to those who have experienced sexual assault and relationship violence:


Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
Statewide hotline: 800-692-7445, TTY 877-585-1091
24-hour information and referral line: 888-772-PCAR

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
24-hour hotline: 800-656-HOPE


Penn State's Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Hotline
Available 24/7 at all campuses and staffed by trained counselors
800-550-7575, TTY: 886-714-7177

Commonwealth Campuses Sexual Assault Resources


Center for Women Students
The center serves all Penn State students, male and female, who have experienced sexual assault and/or relationship violence.

Centre County Women’s Resource Center

Counseling and Psychological Center (CAPS) 

Office of Student Conduct (OSC)

University Title IX Coordinator

University Health Services (UHS) Sexual Assault Services

Telephone Numbers for University Park Sexual Assault Resources

Medical services:
-- University Ambulance Service, dial 911 (identify yourself as a student)
-- Mount Nittany Medical Center, emergency department, 814-234-6110
-- University Health Services, 814-863-0774
-- Telephone advice nurse (24 hours a day), 814-863-0774, option 2

Counseling services:
-- Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), 814-863-0395
-- Centre County Can Help, 800-643-5432 (Crisis Line)
-- Centre County Women's Resource Center, 814-234-5050

Advocacy, information and support:
-- Center for Women Students, 814-863-2027
-- Victim/Witness Advocate, 814-865-1864
-- Student and Family Emergency Line: 814-863-2020
-- Title IX Coordinator for the University: 814-863-0471

Police and safety services:
-- Penn State Police Service, 814-863-1111
-- State College Borough Police, 814-234-7150
-- Penn State Escort Service (dusk to dawn), 814-865-WALK

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 10, 2013