Amid the excitement of starting college comes a sobering statistic: one in five women will experience sexual assault or attempted sexual assault before graduation, according to the United States Department of Justice.
That statistic is so high that President Obama in January issued a call to action and created the White House Task Force To Protect Students from Sexual Assault. More information can be found at notalone.gov.
Lake Bluff resident Anne Searle Bent knows all too well what happens to students in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Ten years ago, when few wanted to talk about college sexual assault, Bent founded Porchlight Counseling Services. Porchlight is an Evanston-based nonprofit that provides free counseling exclusively to college sexual assault survivors, serving Chicago and the suburbs.
Bent and Porchlight have organized “Country for the Cause,” a concert to be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, in the Gorton Community Center auditorium in Lake Forest. The concert will raise awareness and funds to keep counseling free for student survivors.
Parents and students are often surprised to learn that sexual assault on campus is such a big problem, Bent said. Universities are under more scrutiny than ever since the task force was announced and increased news coverage followed, she said.
“Every college and university has their own way of managing sexual assault cases,” Bent said. “In our experience, most schools do everything they can to keep the problem contained, leaving one with the impression that the school may be more focused on damage control than on the experience and well-being of the survivor and the proper adjudication of the perpetrator(s).”
Survivors may experience debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, eating and substance abuse disorders and even suicidal thoughts or attempts, said Executive Director Diana Newton. Students are at risk of dropping out of college because they can’t concentrate or attend classes, and that’s what Porchlight tries to prevent. Porchlight provided more than 2,000 hours of free counseling to students from 11 different universities in 2013, Newton said.
But many more survivors stay silent.
“Blaming and shaming behaviors towards the survivor, even from friends, from school authorities, and, sadly, sometimes from law enforcement officials, further complicate the experience,” Bent said. “If the perpetrator is a valued athlete, the survivor can be subjected to everything from group taunts to threats.”
Gary Nichols, one of three performers at “Country for a Cause,” was so moved by Porchlight’s mission when he performed for the organization’s fundraiser in April that he wanted to return from his home in Alabama and bring musician friends for the upcoming concert at Gorton.
“Good cause isn’t even the word; it’s a good mindset,” Nichols said of Porchlight’s work. “We have to spread the word about how to protect each other and keep us all safe.”
For more information about Porchlight, visit online. Survivors can call the 24-hour helpline: 773-750-7077.
“Country for a Cause”
When: 7- 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, VIP reception 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Where: Gorton Community Center, 400 E. Illinois Road, Lake Forest
What: Featuring Gary Nichols, lead singer for the Grammy-nominated blue grass group The SteelDrivers and singer on Billboard hit “Unbroken Ground;” Angela Hacker, winner of TV’s “Nashville Star;” and James LeBlanc, who has written hits for Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts and more. Fan and aspiring singers, songwriters and musicians can talk to the three in a small group at pre-concert reception (VIP ticket).
Tickets: $45 each or $90 for VIP reception. Buy tickets at