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Higher sense of awareness Gender Comm class hosts expo on sexual assault

UTRGV Police Chief Raul Munguia (from left), Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention Director Cynthia Jones, Valley Baptist Medical Center Forensic Nurse Examiner Laura Dominguez and UTRGV Office of Institutional Equity Office Director Alicia Morley listen as Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Omar Saenz answers a question asked by the panel during a panel discussion on sexual assault awareness and prevention. ANA CAHUICHE /THE RIDER

Psychology junior Brisa Gonzalez said there is a stigma when it comes to male sexual assault victims because people often think they can defend themselves.“But, you know, sexual assault can happen with someone that you are comfortable with and then just out of nowhere,” Gonzalez said. “Men need to be recognized as victims of sexual assault.”

She was among the speakers in a free speech alley that was part of the Gender Comm Expo, which took place last Wednesday on the Brownsville campus.Gonzalez said 17.7 million American women and 3 percent of men have been victims of attempted or completed rape.

The free speech alley consisted of students giving statistics, facts and opinions about sexual assault and was followed by a panel discussion.

“The event, it’s basically to just spread awareness about sexual assault and the statistics here in the Valley, and how students can get help not only on campus … and how they can get help off campus,” said Rebeca Rodriguez, a communication junior in John Cook’s Gender Communication class, which coordinated the event.

The panel consisted of UTRGV Police Chief Raul Munguia, UTRGV Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention Director Cynthia Jones, Valley Baptist Medical Center Forensic Nurse Examiner Laura Dominguez, UTRGV Office of Institutional Equity Director and Title IX Coordinator Alicia Morley, and Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Omar Saenz.

“The aftermath of being a victim of sexual assault can be incredibly traumatic,” Jones said. “One of our goals is to move people to what I like to call the survivor stage. We want them to identify as survivors of sexual assault.”

Staff at the office of Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention accompany victims to the hospital, police station and
the Student Rights and Responsibilities office.

“Having somebody else there who is purely there for the victim can be very empowering,” Jones said. “Our goal is to
get them better.”

Dominguez said a victim of a sexual assault should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Victims are recommended to gather medical evidence within 96 hours of the assault.

“Studies say maybe 120 hours, but the sooner the better,” she said.

Many people in the Valley are not legal residents of the United States. Panel moderators Ann Jacobo and Esai Torres,
both communication majors, asked about the rights of victims who are not legal residents.

“They have every right. … In fact, we have laws in place that add further protection,” Saenz said. “[The] reason
is that if you think about it, especially here in the Rio Grande Valley, there are a number of people who are not citizens.”

He said one of the main resources for people who are not citizens and are victims of sexual assault is a U Visa, in
which the victim cooperates with the prosecution toward solving the case. The victims can then be granted citizenship
status based on their cooperation.

If the victim doesn’t want to go to the police department, they can go to Student Health Services or Student Rights and
Responsibilities.

“It’s very important to have these types of events to spread awareness … so that they know that they are not alone and just bring awareness to support them and give them information that there is help out there if needed,” said Corinna Reyna, a special education senior who works with the office of Clinical Affairs in the UTRGV School of Medicine.

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