- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2014

READING, Pa. (AP) - For many young people, going to college begins a series of milestones.

They are on their own for the first time, surrounded by a diverse group of young people and embracing many new opportunities.

But a disturbing number of women will leave college as the victims of sexual assault, carrying scars that will last far beyond their years on campus.

Carla Abodalo, a sociology professor at Albright College, said society must stop brushing aside sexual assault as another aspect of college.

“It’s time we outgrow that concept that there’s a certain latitude in society, that boys will be boys or just chalk it up to the college experience,” she said.

President Barack Obama addressed the prevalence of sexual assault incidents on college campuses last week when the White House released its report on rape and sexual assault.

The report states that 1 in 5 college women is a victim of sexual assault.

The president formed a task force to work at helping institutions increase prevention, response and reporting of sexual assault.

“We need to create and sustain an environment where these victims feel comfortable coming forward, without backlash from college officials, peers or law enforcement,” Abodalo said.

Grace Hill, director of Kutztown University’s Women’s Center, said college is a prime setting for sexual abuse because students are testing their wings as adults and are searching for new relationships.

Yet discussions about the dangers of sexual assault either don’t happen or are mentioned only during orientation.

“It has to be ongoing and consistent, but it’s something no one wants to talk about,” Hill said.

Women are especially vulnerable to sexual assault on campus. The college culture, often fueled by peer pressure, drinking and lower inhibitions, “makes for a good cocktail of events,” Abodalo said.

Dr. Joseph J. Cicala, vice president for university life and dean of students at Alvernia University, said the general stereotypes of college life are only making things worse for students.

“They come ready and eager to go through what they think are the rites of passage into this phase of young adulthood,” he said. “Some of the misconceptions they have is that you must drink and drink to excess, you must try all these new things and you must score with as many people as you can.”

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