Advocacy centers at the University of Louisville report spikes in traffic following Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, newly installed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and the ensuing discussion of sexual assault.
Directors for UofL’s Counseling Center and PEACC, which works with sexual assault and interpersonal violence survivors, said there’s been an increase in students needing urgent consultations or just needing to talk in light of current events.
PEACC’s traffic doubled since Ford’s Sept. 27 testimony, director Tisha Pletcher estimated. Some students came in more than once in the days since, she added
“Many survivors have been triggered from the confirmation coverage and its ensuing discourse,” Pletcher said in an email exchange.
Aesha Uqdah, director of UofL’s Counseling Center and a licensed clinical psychologist, said the number of walk-in urgent consultations from last August to early October jumped 150 percent compared with last year.
A nationwide trend of more demand for mental health services from college students overall continued this year, leading to around 100 students on a waiting list to schedule an intake appointment at the center, Uqdah said.
However, the spikes cannot be directly attributed to recent political events, Uqdah said. The waitlist isn’t new — the center had around 75 students waiting around the midsemester point in 2015, taking 17 days to two months to see a mental health practitioner.
The bumps follow a national trend, with national and state groups and hotlines reporting high traffic. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network saw a 338 percent increase in hotline calls between Sept. 27 — the day of Ford’s testimony — to Sept. 30.
Statewide, the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs said its centers are reporting an increase in calls from survivors in a judiciary committee meeting on Oct. 5. KASAP did not respond to a request for additional comment.
However, official sexual assault reports did not increase. UofL Police Department did not see an uptick in calls or reports of assaults, a UofL spokesman said. Student conduct reports, a way to report a sexual assault as a code of conduct violation rather than a crime, didn’t increase, either, Dean of Students Michael Mardis said.
Only two sex-based crimes have been reported to ULPD in 2018, according to ULPD crime logs, both in the spring semester.
From 2014 to 2017, ULPD received nine reports of sex offenses, according to Clery Act reports, ranging from two to four reports a year. The ULPD Clery reports include crime reports from on-campus, plus reports from students in non-campus areas and public spaces. (For a breakdown, hover over the interactive graphic below.)
In the same time frame, there have been 36 Violence Against Women Act crimes reported to ULPD. VAWA crimes include domestic violence and stalking, events that may not be sexual in nature but fall under PEACC’s umbrella.
In total, ULPD received 42 substantiated reports of sex or VAWA offenses from 2014 to 2017. In the same time, it received only one report it found unsubstantiated.
But like elsewhere, sexual assaults are believed to be underreported for a variety of reasons, survivor advocates say. While more people aren’t reporting their assaults, they are talking more, both in safe spaces like PEACC and publicly, they say.
“The Kavanaugh process, specifically Dr. Ford’s testimony, has certainly emboldened many to share their stories,” Joey Wilkerson, a UofL law student and creator of Greek Law, said. “Just by pursuing Facebook, I have learned about many of my classmates through their personal stories.
“They take the issue of sexual assault out of the newspapers and off of TV and sits it right next to you in class. Hearing all of these stories show you firsthand just how large of a problem sexual assault is,” Wilkerson said.
Three years ago, Wilkerson created Greek Law to combat sexual assault in the Greek system by “educating the undergraduate members in their own language.”
The group works with several Greek systems, including UofL’s. Since the Kavanaugh hearing, Wilkerson sees “a lot of strength building” in sorority women overall.
One sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, hung a banner supporting survivors outside of its chapter suite on campus. Photos of the banner have been widely shared on social media, showing students are paying attention to the issue of sexual assault and are “ready to speak out against it,” Wilkerson said.
Alpha Omicron Pi has made a commitment to prevent sexual assault on our campus. We hope you join us in our efforts. We challenge @PanhellenicUofL @UofLIFC @UofLNPHC to #standwithsurvivors pic.twitter.com/fbbOs6vPIc
— AOΠ Pi Alpha (@AOII_UofL) October 3, 2018
But with men, “it’s been a little quiet,” Wilkerson said.
“I think the majority understand that sexual assault is wrong in general,” Wilkerson said. “However, sexual assault is not a common topic of conversation in the fraternity house.”
As students return from fall break, the groups hope to continue the conversation and help survivors. Pletcher said she plans to meet with the school’s Survivor Network, a group of sexual assault survivors on campus, to gauge interest in organizing events to discuss the confirmation.
“People can definitely benefit from a group/support experience when it comes to trauma, but it really depends on where they are in the healing process,” Uqdah said in an email. “It is often helpful to be with people who have shared similar experiences.”
Wilkerson said his Greek Law group would continue to engage Greek life members, especially those in fraternities.
“If we truly want to help survivors, then men must step up to the front lines as vocal advocates,” Wilkerson said. “Collegiate men must say something and do something when they encounter situations that we know are wrong. And men in general have to hold each other accountable. It is truly on us.”