New resource for SIU sexual assault victims

One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, as is one in 16 men. Reports from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center say 90 percent of those assaults will go unreported.

Sexual assault is back in the spotlight after the recent release of Brock Turner. He’s the former Stanford University swimmer who served just three months in jail after he was convicted the felony sexual assault of an unconscious college student in California.

Now, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is stepping up and offering more support for victims through a new adviser position.

One SIU’s newest resources is one you hope you’ll never need.

Rebecca Gonnering is the university’s first confidential adviser helping counsel sexual assault victims and provide support for victims of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. She says rape is an issue there and on every college campus in the country.

"It’s something that cuts across all barriers and boundaries," Gonnering says.

According to an annual safety report, SIU had 13 reports of rape in 2014, up from three in 2013. Gonnering says SIU has added protection and prevention measures by better educating students in the classroom on assault and consent. She says she believes the spike in reports has happened because more students are coming forward to report rape, rather than an increase in violence on the campus.

Gonnering educates, but she’s also there to listen to victims and help them move forward. For those looking to press charges or make changes based on the assault, she says navigating the systems can be confusing, and those systems are different depending on if it happened on or off campus.

"Learning how to navigate the institution can be very difficult after an assault," Gonnering says. She says from there, her office can help support victims and help navigate what happens next at the university level. It partners with the Women’s Center in Carbondale if the victim needs an advocate, counseling or help pressing charges.

Hannah Kitograd, a medical and legal advocate for rape crisis services at the Women’s Center in Carbondale, says people from the center are at the hospital as often as a few times each week. They bring victims a fresh change of clothes after theirs are taken for a rape kit, offer counseling and emotional support and help victims navigate the legal system if they decide to press charges against attackers.

The Women’s Center helps victims of all ages, and typically sees 2,000 a year. But, with Illinois’ budget impasse creating funding uncertainty and straining resources, Kitograd says having Gonnering as another option for victims makes a big difference in support.

"I think it’s immensely helpful, because now we have one extra person who’s sole interest is that survivor. And they’re going to know a whole other aspect of what help they can get," Kitograd says.

"The university is moving forward on the issue," Gonnering says. "The country is moving forward on the issue. People are more aware of it now." She says rape cannot be ignored, but the campus and community can be here to help victims heal.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact the Women’s Center in Carbondale at 618-529-2324.

To find a center near you, or to speak with someone, click here or call 800-656-HOPE

To read the latest crime safety report from SIU, click here.

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