WINCHESTER — At Shenandoah University, more students are getting involved in creating a campus free of sexual violence, said Sarah Celec, SU’s safety and health programs coordinator.

“We have definitely more students who are interested in talking about this issue, and I think it’s because of what’s happening nationally,” Celec said recently.

In the past year, the university’s number of trained peer mentors has almost doubled, from 11 to 21, Celec said. Peer mentors are students who receive about eight hours of training and can be a confidential source in which sexual assault victims can confide.

Peer mentors also share information about healthy relationships and creating a campus free of sexual assaults. They work through the Not Just Women’s Center, a group organized on campus that seeks to create an inclusive environment free of sexual violence for all people.

Most recently, the Not Just Women’s Center has been focused on participating in The Red Flag Campaign, which invites students to write indicators or “red flags” about potential dating violence on small, red flags that are then placed around campus.

Last year, messages were written on 85 flags, Celec said. That number has increased to at least 145 this year. A message written on one flag in this year’s campaign says, “He always used my past against me.”

Earlier this month, SU released its annual security report that is prepared by its Department of Public Safety together with the university’s Title IX coordinator and assistant director of student conduct.

Universities that receive federal aid must report crime statistics in compliance with the Clery Act to help inform students, parents and employees about campus safety.

On SU’s main campus in Winchester in 2017, one rape and two fondling incidents were reported. In 2016, one rape and two fondling incidents were reported. In 2015, no sexual assault incidents were reported.

The university declined to provide the number of Title IX cases in recent years, particularly those involving sexual assault on campus that are reported and typically seek disciplinary action by the school.

Rhonda VanDyke, the university’s vice president for student life, said in a statement that releasing that information may violate the privacy of those reporting and being accused, as SU is small. However, she said the number of cases is generally “very small.” Releasing that information may also deter future reports, she added.

SU has about 4,000 students.

“Our community is close-knit,” VanDyke said. “Those involved are students and not statistics. We believe that to disclose information about the number or type of recent or ongoing cases has the potential to place both victims and those accused into an unintended spotlight. Even an unintended spotlight can cause a chilling effect on future reporting.”

SU freshman and peer mentor Anna Marshall, 18, said it would be helpful to know how many students have filed a Title IX report with the school.

“I think it would be nice for us to know. Just so we know how safe it is here,” Marshall said.

Source: The Winchester Star