By Hadley Barndollar, Contributing Writer
The University of New Hampshire’s Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program, also known as SHARPP, held their annual open house on Thursday afternoon.
Located at 2 Pettee Brook Lane, also known as the Wolff House, SHARP serves as a center of education and a safe haven for students and the community.
Available to the public, the open house offered many forms of educational materials as well as access to all program staff and representatives from the UNH and Durham police departments.
SHARPP highlighted that the main allies on campus are friends, classmates and even people in a common space.
According to the official website, SHARPP’s progressive mission statement is “to eliminate sexual and intimate partner violence. [Our] mission is accomplished in two parts: by providing free and confidential advocacy and direct services to all survivors and their allies; and by offering culturally competent awareness and prevention programs to the University of New Hampshire community.”
The open house complimented SHARP’s mission very well, combining a warm and welcoming environment with an incredibly prevalent and serious cause.
Student concern regarding safety on campus has risen increasingly due to the unsettling events that have recently occurred. Between an attempted abduction on Strafford Avenue, the domestic violence arrest of a UNH hockey player, and an armed robbery at the Circle K convenience store, students have been forced to reevaluate the basic concept of security and comfort on their own college campus.
Senior Emily Lohr feels as though she now looks quite differently at her traveling habits after dark.
“I’m definitely pretty nervous. I live a mile off campus and while it is in a residential area, it’s quite unlit,” Lohr said. “I try really hard to not walk back alone. I’d rather sleep at my friends’ houses in town than do that.”
SHARPP’s statistical evidence of sexual assault and harassment on campus from the 2013-2014 year is alarming. That year, there were 49 incidents of sexual violence. That did not include 20 incidents of relationship abuse, 8 reports of sexual harassment and 11 stalking cases.
In addition, the distribution of the offenders is eerie; about one-third are UNH students, one-third are unknown perpetrators, and one-third are not affiliated with the university.
While all of these statistics are overwhelming, Zachary Ahmad-Kahloon, SHARPP’s Male Victim Program Coordinator and Educator, assured that UNH is no different than any other college campus.
“It is a two-pronged approach; some people think this is an issue they will never have to deal with, or they think it is a rampant problem,” Ahmad-Kahloon said. “Sexual assault happens here at UNH at the same rate it happens on college campuses across the country.
Know that these issues are real: one in four women has an unwanted sexual experience in her lifetime. But it’s not just a women’s issue or a heterosexual issue, one in ten UNH men have had a unwanted sexual experience, as well.”
Ahmad-Kahloon also emphasized that most assaults on college campuses occur within the first six to eight weeks of the semester. He promoted the basic safety tactics; go out in a group, come back in a group and to not “assume your friend wants to go home with the guy she is hanging out with at the party.”
He accentuated the power of the bystander and how each UNH student has the opportunity to help another.
“Let a bouncer know, let security know, call the police,” he said. “We don’t expect you to jump in there with a cape, but don’t let it go unspoken or unnoticed.”
Durham Patrolman Thomas Kilroy addressed the safety concerns of students, as well as the police department’s consistent efforts to follow up on every call they receive.
“We investigate these things fully to find facts and dispel all rumors,” Kilroy said. “By being at open houses like SHARPP’s, we want to meet with as many students as possible.”
Kilroy reiterated that every single incident, whether it is assault, rape or violence, is addressed.
“Anyone who calls, we investigate immediately,” he said.
Students continue to push for further safety measures to be taken, such as extended hours of bus transportation on the weekends. The campus police escort does not currently service off-campus students; many students are hoping to change this.
University safety has now become a communal effort because these issues are no longer far-fetched; they are happening here on campus.
Jacob Moss junior resident assistant takes pride in being an ally and holding the responsibility of ensuring his residents’ safety.
“Part of my job is to listen to problems that include sexual harassment, rape or anything of that nature,” Moss said. “There’s a level of confidentiality that I cannot keep when situations get to a certain point. I feel this position is important and I am more than glad to fill that role.”
SHARPP is looking forward to making a tangible change this year, last April, in recognition of its work, SHARPP was honored by a White House task force looking to conduct further research to finally put a foot down on college sexual assault.
SHARPP is available through a 24-hour support line (603) 862-7233 as well as by office appointments and walk-ins.