Candle lighting event held for sexual assault awareness month

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Around 15 Shepherd students attended the candle lighting event (photo provided by freephoto.com)

Shepherd University students recognized victims of sexual assault Tuesday in a candle lighting ceremony on campus.

Sponsored by the Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center, 15 students gathered on the Potomac Place lawn wrote positive messages on paper bags that were filled with lit candles to represent a positive message of encouragement to those who have suffered or know someone who has suffered from sexual assault.

The Shepherd campus is not immune to sexual assault, and in fall 2018, two assaults were reported within two weeks. A third sexual assault at Turner Hall was reported in February 2019. Shepherd’s 2018 campus security and fire safety report states that seven cases of rape, and seven cases of fondling have been reported at Shepherd since 2015.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reported in 2018 that 23.1 percent of undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has proposed a major change to the Title IX law, which links federal funding for colleges to their reporting sexual assault and misconduct. Under the proposed rule, which activists say would weaken protections for victims, the type of cases colleges would be required to report are limited. Only misconduct within campus programs and only when officials receive a formal complaint would be reported under the proposal, which proponents say is designed to protect the accused.

The empowerment center is a nonprofit that assists victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in locating the legal assistance and health resources they need.

Jenna Hyde has worked for the Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center for a year and a half. Hyde attended the event to give Shepherd students support and provide information on how one prevents sexual assault.

“Shepherd students are always welcome to reach out to us for help,” Hyde said. “There is no need for a referral. Even if Title IX does not mention us, we are always a resource for them.”

Students at Shepherd University who wish to report a case of sexual assault or violence are encouraged to contact Title IX coordinator Annie Lewin at alewin@shepherd.edu. Those who wish to contact the Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center can call their 24-hour helpline at 304-263-8292