Miss USA sparks important discussion on sexual assault

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Critics took to social media blasting Miss USA, Nia Sanchez’s response to the question, “Recently Time Magazine said 19 percent of U.S. undergraduate women are victims of sexual assault in college. Why has such a horrific epidemic been swept under the rug for so long, and what can colleges do to combat this?”.

Miss USA, Nia Sanchez, has been taking heat recently for her response to a question that upset feminists and stirred up a sensitive but serious topic on sexual assault.

Sanchez was asked, “Recently Time Magazine said 19 percent of U.S. undergraduate women are victims of sexual assault in college. Why has such a horrific epidemic been swept under the rug for so long, and what can colleges do to combat this?”

“I believe some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation and that would be a reason that it could be swept under the rug because they don’t want it to come out into the public,” Sanchez said. “But I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves. Myself as a fourth-degree black belt, I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and [be] able to defend yourself, and I think that’s something we should start to implement for a lot of women”

In the days following the pageant last month, critics took to social media blasting Sanchez’s response. Some said shame on her for putting responsibility on the victims. Others argued that stopping predators from attacking in the first place should be a priority.

Katie Hollingsworth, from Las Vegas, who is an English major at BYU, wrote an article, published on her blog thebippityboppitybeautifulblog.wordpress.com, after seeing the post on Facebook and Twitter. The article focuses on what wasn’t being talked about and addressing the real issues, according to Hollingsworth.

“What’s missing from Miss [USA] response, and the responses of many social media commenters, is the need for more education, more encouragement for survivors, more prevention, more access for recovery and more opportunities to fight this terrible injustice,” she wrote.

President Barack Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on Jan. 22. This campaign focuses on rape-prevention with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.

“There are some really good studies that have been done nationally, and even in the state of Utah,” said Lanae Valentine, director of BYU Women’s Services. “So there is pretty good data to demonstrate that the problem is pretty prevalent. And for some reason people just don’t like to admit that and talk about that.”

The traditional approach to address the issue is educating women, children or potential victims on how to be safe. The issue with this is that it still puts the responsibility on the potential victim, according to Valentine.

“If something should happen then we still blame her for not doing enough to protect herself,” Valentine said.

There is resistance in facing the issue of people committing these crimes or minimizing the amount of predators. According to Valentine, sexual predators wear many faces and often appear to be normal, average people.

Supporters gathered at the Voices of Courage 5K, sponsored by BYU Women's Services last fall. BYU Women's Services is taking a different approach in making a positive change to sexual assault prevention. (Photo courtest BYU Women's Services)
Supporters gathered at the Voices of Courage 5K, sponsored by BYU Women’s Services last fall. BYU Women’s Services is taking a different approach in making a positive change to sexual assault prevention. (Photo courtest BYU Women’s Services)

BYU Women’s Services is taking a different approach in making a positive change to prevention. Personnel have created a campaign called Voices of Courage, which asks bystanders to speak up if they see something that looks suspicious and intervene early.

“Abuse runs on a continuum. It usually starts with verbal and emotional abuse,” Valentine said. “If we could intervene at that level on the continuum, then we don’t think the bad stuff would happen.”

This includes standing up to someone who is being verbally abusive or someone saying a sexist joke. Valentine said she believes change can start on the small scale, starting at home, with peers, and a ripple effect will happen.

To find more information about Voices of Courage, or to take part in its 5k run in October, visit voicesofcourage.byu.edu.

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