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University Tackles Sexual Assault Before The Parties Start


The minivans are loading up as many teenagers are heading off to college this week. On some campuses, students will hear lectures on how to avoid risky behavior, but a handful of colleges are assigning homework before students even get there. Some require students to complete online seminars about sexual assault and others ask kids and parents to have frank discussions about how to prevent rape.

Charlotte Albright reports on how one father and daughter tackled that topic before she left for the University of New Hampshire.

CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT, BYLINE: With classic red-brick dorms and stately fraternity houses, UNH looks like an inviting home-away-from-home. But like many universities, it's trying to curb sexual violence. An estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men between the ages of 18 and 25 are sexually assaulted each year. And the vast majority of the perpetrators are known to the victims. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly say that an estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men between the ages of 18 and 25 are sexually assaulted each year. That assault rate is actually over their lifetimes.]

So Maggie Wells from the Sexual Assault Prevention Center at UNH has e-mailed students with tips about how to talk with their parents before they leave home about a troubling topic - rape.

MAGGIE WELLS: And we understand that it's a hard conversation. And when we sort of say to parents, you know, tips to talk about with your son or daughter about these issues before they come, you see, like, the deer in headlights.

ALBRIGHT: But in Providence, Rhode Island, Kellie Reardon has little trouble sitting down in the kitchen with her father, Edward, a physician. Before she leaves for UNH, they have the talk, and record it for this story on Kellie's smart phone.


KELLIE REARDON: College is approaching in about a week. And what would you say are the most important things to know before I go off to college in terms of consents and assault and rape?

EDWARD REARDON: I would say the most important things to know is to anticipate a situation before you get into it. Always travel with friends. Have a planned evening of activities, a daytime activities. Avoid isolation. Avoid substances.

ALBRIGHT: Kellie, her father reminds her, has very little experience with drugs or alcohol.


E. REARDON: And that's where I see you as being very vulnerable in these frat parties, and there's all this ha ha (bleep) stuff with these males. Just be careful and back away.

ALBRIGHT: Kellie assures her dad that she feels prepared for whatever college life throws at her. And she figures this little kitchen table chat will be followed by conversations and presentations on campus about sex with college advisors throughout the year.


K. REARDON: They will definitely help me. How do you feel like UNH will help me?

E. REARDON: I like the fact that they're not afraid to talk about unpleasantness.

ALBRIGHT: UNH officials say it's surprising how many students arrive on campus without ever talking to anyone about what Edward Reardon euphemistically calls the unpleasantness of assault. That's why they're trying to reach students before the drinking games start. But even the people promoting these early prevention measures aren't sure they'll make a big difference.

Jane Stapleton is a researcher at UNH. And she's conducting a study for a White House task force about how best to educate students before they arrive about how to prevent or report sexual violence. Research does show, she says, that crimes like that are most likely to happen when a predator targets an unsuspecting young student early in the term.

JANE STAPLETON: These are perpetrators who very much sort of blend into the college culture.

ALBRIGHT: Stapleton says those criminals make up only about 4 percent of a typical college population, but they often commit more than one sex crime. That's why, over the next four years, students like Kellie Reardon are likely to keep hearing from older peers, faculty administrators and, yes, parents on cell phones about staying safe while having fun. For NPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 25, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
We incorrectly say that an estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men between the ages of 18 and 25 are sexually assaulted each year. That assault rate is actually over their lifetimes.
Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.