Sexual Assault on Campus: What We Can Do

By Nicole Greene, Acting Director, Office on Women’s Health

*Originally published on the Women’s Health blog on September 27, 2017″

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Content Warning: Sexual Assault

One in five undergraduate women (PDF – 282 KB) are sexually assaulted during college. When I think about that number, I want to change it so everyone is safe. This National Campus Safety Awareness Month, I encourage you to support the theme “Take the First Step” and work to create a safe campus.

The Office on Women’s Health is committed to preventing sexual assault on college and university campuses. That’s why we launched the College Sexual Assault Policy and Prevention Initiative. This initiative provides technical assistance and support for implementing sexual assault policies and prevention strategies on college campuses.

At just a year into the initiative, we’re encouraged by the programs being implemented around the country. Schools are conducting bystander intervention trainings that are focused on fraternity and sorority advisors. Others are offering awareness and prevention video resources. Some have been conducting trainings on trauma-informed responses for their staff and incorporating messages about consent and bystander intervention into fall festivals.

I’m personally excited about these programs and prevention activities because they address this issue from multiple angles: awareness, prevention, intervention, and response. Demonstrating to students that their schools are aware of this issue and care enough to provide these activities and resources is a huge step in the right direction. So, what else can we do to help prevent sexual assault?

What Communities Can Do

Education about sexual assault and consent begins long before college, in the messages children receive from their parents and other adults. We can plant the seed of consent and respect in children from an early age with this simple lesson: People should not touch each other without asking first. As children grow, the messages grow with them. We also all have a role in modeling respectful and consensual interactions, both sexual and nonsexual. In addition, community members should pay attention to their local and state policies and legislation, and they should advocate for positive change in support of sexual violence prevention efforts and effective reporting and supportive services for survivors.

What Colleges Can Do

Administrators, faculty, staff, and coaches must work with students to implement comprehensive prevention programs. Schools should consider teaching consent and healthy relationship/communication skills throughout the academic year, institute stricter intolerance policies on assault, and make it clear that sexual assault has no place in higher education.

What Students Can Do

Students have a large role in preventing sexual assault of others, too. If they see someone at risk for assault, they can help prevent it by using the C.A.R.E. bystander intervention technique: Create a distraction, Ask the person directly, Refer to an authority like a resident assistant or security guard, and Enlist others’ help.

Every person on campus has a role to play in eradicating sexual assault from universities and colleges. When your sons and daughters go off to college, remind them what respecting themselves and others looks like. After that, it’s up to them to make the right choices and for the colleges to support them.

This National Campus Safety Awareness Month, I encourage students, administrators, faculty, and coaches to take the first steps together to prevent sexual assault. For more info on preventing sexual assault, visit Sexual Violence on Campus: Strategies for Prevention (PDF – 3.5 MB) and STOP SV (PDF – 2.85 MB).


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Nicole Greene serves as Deputy Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) and acts as the primary advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health — Women’s Health. A former Council for Excellence in Government Fellow and a graduate of the prestigious Leadership for a Democratic Society program through the Federal Executive Institute, Ms. Greene leads change management in the office. One of her first projects at OWH was to lead the restructuring of OWH, improving the efficiency and effectiveness by aligning the mission of the Office so it can better serve American women and girls. Read more here.

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Compliance through a Prevention Lens

By LB Klein, MSW, MPA

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As I recently attended orientation for my doctoral program, I’ve been reflecting on the seismic shift in how campuses address sexual violence from when I attended undergraduate orientation. Over the past several years, the manner in which we talk about sexual and relationship violence and stalking on campus has fundamentally shifted. Everything related to interpersonal violence on campus has been coded as “Title IX.” This is due to the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter explicitly applying the Title IX educational amendment that prohibits sex-based discrimination to gender-based violence. So much has changed since I first attended university orientation back in 2004.

To inform a recent research study I conducted with my colleagues Jill Dunlap and Drew Rizzo, I conducted a series of interviews with campus-based advocacy and prevention professionals around the country. As I attend orientation five years after the Department of Education sent the Dear Colleague Letter, I have been reflecting a lot on one participant’s words:

We’re having a cultural moment right now. Expectations have fundamentally shifted in the past five years around campus sexual violence. It’s possible to use this energy as a lever for broader change. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the way that things were in 2010.”

This momentum continues to build. It is incredibly exciting to be a part of this cultural moment that has the potential to inspire significant change on campuses. Back when I attended orientation as an undergraduate student, our orientation programming consisted of a reenactment of an incident of sexual violence. The only dedicated resources on campus were student-run, with little support from the institution beyond the kind-hearted volunteerism of a couple of faculty and staff members. As a student activist, I worked hard to bring attention to these issues, and to do my small part to achieve the kind of attention that campus sexual assault receives today. I did not think that I would see this level of attention to issues of sexual assault on campus in my lifetime, let alone in less than a decade.

While the new elevation of sexual violence to a “Title IX issue” has shifted our practices, there are also dangers with this approach. Another colleague I interviewed for our study pointed to the challenges of this recent shift:

Sexual violence is being treated like a new epidemic taking campuses by storm rather than the endemic societal issue it is. On campuses in particular, there is an increased challenge in separating prevention programming from policy programming. They are being conflated in educational programs, but the pedagogy should not be the same for both. ‘Because the policy says so’ does not change attitudes or culture.”

As my colleague pointed out, we cannot equate legal compliance with addressing the complex set of issues around campus sexual assault, which require a multifaceted response. A “checking the boxes” framework that centers on compliance can be at odds with the fundamental belief of a prevention approach: sexual and relationship violence and stalking is not inevitable. In order to work toward ending gender-based violence, we must truly believe that violence is preventable. As a college student, my peers and I wanted to eradicate rape culture on campus, to ensure survivors had confidential spaces facilitated by highly-trained professionals, and to have prevention programming—not just awareness-raising and scare tactics. We were not that different from many college students today, in that few of us would have considered legal systems the answer to the pervasive issue we saw affecting so many of our classmates and friends.

Title IX language centers violence as a civil rights issue. While this is incredibly helpful in ensuring a timely and appropriate response after an incident of violence occurs, few students are experiencing a sexual assault and considering it a civil rights violation. That can lead community members to only recognize as assault those forms of violence that satisfy their existing definitions for violence. These definitions tend to include less common acts, such as stranger assaults, kidnapping, murder by an intimate partner, use of a weapon, etc. More than a decade has passed since I was an undergraduate student activist, but we are still trying to help people define the continuum of violence and to place blame where it is deserved: with the perpetrator.

In addition, guidance on prevention efforts is actually not included in Title IX. While the Dear Colleague Letter mentions prevention, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE) or Violence Against Women Act 304 (VAWA 304) is actually what provides guidance on prevention. The language contained in Campus SaVE/VAWA 304 provides a powerful point of synergy between compliance and prevention: when read closely, it mandates prevention best practice through the definitions it establishes. As I have transitioned from student to professional and back to student again, I have seen how much our systems for disseminating prevention programming have become tied to compliance with laws. While this prioritizes the issue beyond what I could have imagined at age nineteen, it also creates new challenges for prevention professionals.

While my thinking has evolved since I was an undergraduate student activist, I now seek to leverage our new opportunities while keeping a student activist’s perspective in mind. Luckily, Campus SaVE/VAWA 304 provides process but not outcome mandates. It is informed by a public health approach, not one that asserts the possibility of checking a prevention “box.” There is but one simple paragraph about prevention in Campus SaVE/VAWA 304, which states that campuses must provide:

“Primary prevention and awareness programs for all incoming students and new employees including safe and positive options for bystander intervention, information on risk reduction to recognize warning signs of abusive behavior, and ongoing prevention and awareness programs for students and faculty.”

If we take a deeper look, the committee that crafted this language provides in-depth definitions for some key terms that can often be misunderstood. As a student activist, I would have been thrilled to be able to point to legislation that provided guidance on prevention best practice. Campus SaVE’s definitions prescribe public health processes, including community engagement, sociocultural relevance, assessment, and attention to social-ecological approaches that include diverse stakeholders and more groups than they appear to include on the surface.

For example, when I was going through orientation thirteen years ago, our programming centered my reducing my risk as a woman for being sexually assaulted. I even received a “safety whistle” (sometimes called a rape whistle) in my orientation packet and was told to not walk alone at night, even though I had a required night lab. However, these new regulations shift that problematic definition of risk reduction(emphasis mine):

The term risk reduction refers to approaches that seek to mitigate risk factors that may increase the likelihood of perpetration, victimization, or bystander inaction. Risk reduction focuses on helping individuals and communities address the institutional structures or cultural conditions that facilitate SV, DV & stalking to increase safety.

Cultural and structural changes, as well as taking a bystander approach to prevention, are even a part of a definition of a term like “risk reduction”— a term that would have made me cringe in college. We are making progress.

Compliance through a prevention lens means leveraging new legislation that reflects the comprehensive approach needed to achieve our ultimate goal of ending gender-based violence. To do so, we must work on multiple levels and include everyone in our prevention efforts. The community and structural level shifts that my student activists peers and I demanded are still needed. Thirteen years ago, I remember feeling the opposite of welcome as someone who survived sexual violence before I arrived on campus. Five years ago, as a campus advocacy and prevention program director, I remember immense pushback on simply including a line about resources for sexual assault survivors in orientation materials. Now, as a doctoral student, I am grateful to arrive on a campus at which I can clearly find a cogent policy and locate well-trained staff working to prevent and respond to violence. I hope that the Class of 2050 has a lot to take for granted.


LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW, MPA has dedicated her professional and academic life to ending gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and advancing social justice. She is a Lead Trainer and Curriculum Development Specialist for Prevention Innovations Research Center. She frequently travels around the United States and Canada, and is based in the Raleigh-Durham area, where she is pursuing a doctorate in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work.

“The Daily Bombardment of Rape Culture on a College Campus”: Part 2

By Olivia Legere

Editorial introduction: Olivia Legere, UNH ’16, carried out an independent study in the Sociology Department under the supervision of Dr. Sharyn Potter, PIRC Executive Director of Research that focused on manifestations of rape culture in the University of New Hampshire (UNH) community. Legere supplemented her work with cartoons that reflected her experience at two bars on Durham’s Main Street that are popular with UNH students. We are publishing Legere’s research in two parts. Part 1 was published last week and Part 2 is below.


Physical control

OL Image 2The most common recurring practice I observed was the use of physical control by men. Every time I went to Bar #1 when it was sufficiently crowded, men would feel my hips and body, sometimes with both hands, before they walked by and said, “Excuse me.” Most of the time they would even physically move me over so they could get by while feeling my body, which I did not want. I called those people on their behavior every time this happened. I also observed men doing this to other women, who often did not call them out, and therefore left an impression that they did not have a problem with this behavior by the men. This would happen on the dance floor, as well as near the tables and bars. I saw this to be an important depiction of rape culture because first of all, in each of these instances, the men could easily have gotten by me or around me without touching me at all, and without me even noticing them. The fact that they felt like their touch is not only acceptable, but wanted, is problematic. They feel that since I am there, I must want some sort of attention. Most of the men who touched me did so with pressure and intention. I believe that they wanted me to feel their grip on my body, which disgusted me and made me uncomfortable. I also believe that it was making them feel manly and in control.

This is an obvious indicator of gender inequality. Heterosexual men wouldn’t touch other men’s hips and bodies when they needed to get by them. They would make themselves smaller, and if needed they would tap them on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me.” Women, when they need to get by someone, make themselves smaller to fit through the space and try to do so without touching anyone. If they do touch someone, they apologize and say, “Excuse me.”  Men approaching women from behind is central to a lot of the themes in my research.

False Friendliness and Chivalry

When men would approach me and try and engage in small talk, I could see right through their intention. Often, men would use my arm tattoo as an excuse to touch me. They would ask me personal questions, but they would do so in a friendly and innocent manner, implying they were just trying to be nice. Sometimes I did think that they were just trying to be nice. On other occasions, they would lead the conversation to them asking me where I lived, or if I would like to “hang out with them after the bar.” At 12 am? Or, they would start touching me in ways that I did not want, invite, or appreciate. Sometimes, when I would express disinterest, they would get defensive, saying “I’m just trying to be nice,” when their behavior was getting aggressive.

Also, men would often bring up drinking in conversation by asking me what I was drinking, and if I needed another drink. I always said no, and sometimes they would still insist on buying me one. This theme outlines the idea that men’s perception of chivalry is that, if they are not vulgar and demeaning, then they are nice and chivalrous, and that all women should appreciate that they are somehow different than most men. This cartoon is based on an encounter that I witnessed between two friends and two men who acted like they wanted to dance around and have a good time, but then immediately started grinding with them and groping them. The two friends respectfully stopped dancing with the men, and the men walked away calling them sluts.

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Invisibility

Going to the bar while doing this research made me realize just how unaware most of us are of our surroundings and our behavior. The problems that I observed were seemingly invisible to most, since they have their alcohol blinders on while they are out at night. The men that walk by and grab women, the men that grope you as they try and get by you, and the women who watch and judge other women—having internalized sexism that leads them to “other” themselves from other women, particularly sex positive women, by calling them sluts—all of these people are unknowingly adding fuel to the fire that is rape culture. Alcohol is a big reason why rape culture is so invisible in society, because it blurs people’s inhibitions and feelings on consent, making it difficult for them to act the way that they would if they were more aware of their own actions and their impact.


oliviaOlivia Legere is a recent graduate from UNH with a Degree in Sociology with a focus on Women’s & Queer Studies. She grew up in Newmarket, NH but has recently moved to Portland, Maine to work with immigrants and refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries as a case manager. In her free time she likes to draw, play in the woods, critically assess her socialization to the world around her, snuggle with her cats and deconstruct social norms. Her big goals in life are to spend time on every continent, and eventually change the world.

“The Daily Bombardment of Rape Culture on a College Campus”: Part 1

By Olivia Legere

Editorial introduction: Olivia Legere, UNH ’16, carried out an independent study in the Sociology Department under the supervision of Dr. Sharyn Potter, PIRC Executive Director of Research, that focused on manifestations of rape culture in the University of New Hampshire (UNH) community. Legere supplemented her work with cartoons that reflected her experience at two bars on Durham’s Main Street that are popular with UNH students. We are publishing Legere’s research in two parts. Part 1 is below and Part 2 will appear next week.


“The Daily Bombardment of Rape Culture on a College Campus” is the title of the independent observational research I conducted under Dr. Sharyn Potter in Durham, NH. I went to two bars frequented by UNH students (Bar #1 and Bar #2) in downtown Durham and wrote about my experience as a woman in public spaces. I use my experience to comment on the prevalence and influence of rape culture on the college campus where I studied and conducted research.

Rape culture is invisible to most people. Some people feel like men and women are equal and we have already progressed as far as possible toward total gender parity, and others feel like they are drowning in a culture that objectifies them. Rape culture is mostly exposed at nighttime, often when alcohol is being used, and tends to occur in closed spaces like bars or parties rather than out in the open. At UNH, if you are not going to Bar #1, or to any parties, you could be blissfully unaware of what young women experience when they attempt to enjoy themselves at a party or at commercial establishments where young people congregate at night.

Before moving forward it is crucial to discuss the term rape culture. It can have harsh implications, much as feminism can. Both of these terms are often interpreted as exclusionary and accusatory of men, instead of signaling that there is an inequality in society that needs the attention and acceptance of everyone. I would argue that masculinity, not men, is the driving force behind gender inequality. The constant pressure to “be a man” creates an anything-goes ideology for men to not only achieve a particular standard of masculinity, but to prove it to their peers. Women are oppressed by men and men are oppressed by masculinity. The problem that rape culture brings up is that often the people who most take part in, and support, this ideology think that their behavior is reasonable based on past experiences. If their behavior has never been questioned, why would they question it?

The purpose of my study was to document the references and messages to rape culture that men and women experience when they are out at night in Durham, NH. For three months, I visited two bars an average of twice a week to document my observations on the differences between male and female experiences in those places. I did this as part of my study focused on the sexualization of women, sexualized dancing at parties and bars, sexual coercion, and slut shaming. At Bar #1 and Bar #2, I saw reoccurring themes that I will later discuss in detail such as: physical control, hit and run groping, false chivalry, and what happens when you call men out for their behavior.

There is a strong heteronormative culture in the places where I conducted observation, so my data is focused mostly on heterosexual white males, and how the ideas and goals of masculinity relate to rape culture. I will also not be discussing race, ethnicity or religion in regards to rape culture, mostly because I almost exclusively observed interactions between white people, likely due to the fact that UNH’s student body is predominantly white.

 Hit and Run Groping

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Unfortunately, I experienced a lot of unwanted groping while observing for this project. Most instances occurred indoors, but two of them happened on the street. The first time I was touched without my consent during my research period, I was outside of a Durham restaurant, enjoying a slice of cheese pizza, when I felt a firm grab of my butt. I immediately turned around and saw a man walking quickly away from me, assuming I would not say anything—although of course I did. The other time that this happened on Durham’s Main Street, I was walking past a line of people waiting to get into Bar #2, and a man reached out and grabbed my backside. I turned around to see who it was, but it was impossible to tell since there were so many men in a small area. I was shocked, and I also noted the speed and focus it took to violate me anonymously.

The rest of my experiences of hit and run groping happened in Bar #1. Since it is so crowded in Bar #1, I think that the men who behave this way believe that they can get away with more. A couple of these hit-and-run gropings occurred when I was alone, instead of with my friends, and being less attentive to my surroundings. For example, once I was texting my friend who was supposed to meet me at Bar #1 when two men walked by me, and both quickly slapped my butt. By the time I turned around, no one was there. It was heartbreaking how many times my body was touched without my permission. When I would call these men out on their behavior, they would immediately call me ugly, a slut, or a bitch.

–> PART II of “The Daily Bombardment of Rape Culture on a College Campus” will be posted to PIRCBlog next week!


oliviaOlivia Legere is a recent graduate from UNH with a Degree in Sociology with a focus on Women’s & Queer Studies. She grew up in Newmarket, NH but has recently moved to Portland, Maine to work with immigrants and refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries as a case manager. In her free time she likes to draw, play in the woods, critically assess her socialization to the world around her, snuggle with her cats and deconstruct social norms. Her big goals in life are to spend time on every continent, and eventually change the world.

When It Comes to Ending College Sexual Assault, We All Need to be Leaders

By Elizabeth Wilmerding, PIRCBlog guest

*Originally published on the FUTURES Without Violence Blog on April 14th, 2016*

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Last month, I had the opportunity to join the ten other FUTURES Campus Leaders for a meeting at the White House with members of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Launched in January 2014, the Task Force’s goal is to “help schools live up to their obligation to protect students from sexual violence.” As someone who has been working in the field of sexual violence prevention for the past seven years, and as a current master’s student in UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, it was an incredibly thrilling experience to meet with the federal officials charged with ending such violence once and for all.

While the members of the Task Force have great expertise and influence, I’ve learned that it takes leadership at every level to create sustainable change. As I sat in the meeting room in the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building, I was particularly impressed with the work each of my fellow Campus Leaders has been doing in their community. From awareness campaigns and peer education to campus policy advocacy and staff training, each leader offered a critical perspective into how to create safer campus communities.

The significance of leadership across all levels was highlighted for me when I returned to Berkeley in the days following the Task Force meeting. The university has been trying to address a recent flood of allegations that involve a lack of consistency when it comes to holding faculty and staff accountable when they harass or assault students and colleagues. While this is not a new issue for the school (in fact, the University of California formed its own system-wide task force in the summer of 2014 to address sexual assault on all of its ten campuses), students and community members have been speaking up more than ever before.

We are at a critical juncture when it comes to preventing sexual violence on college campuses. Those of us who have been on the ground doing the work have felt this movement building for some time. People who are new to the issue are often simultaneously shocked by the prevalence of sexual assault and eager to jump in and do their part to create change. And, all the while, more survivors are bravely contributing in any way they can―from taking care of themselves and getting support, to widely sharing their stories.

It’s time for us to acknowledge the power of leadership coming from every level. As exciting as it is to join other student leaders in meeting with the White House Task Force, it’s far from enough. We need everyone on campus—undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, administrators—and everyone who cares about the campus community—prospective college students, parents of students, alumnae, legislators—to stand together. Each and every member of a college campus community deserves safety and respect, and it’s on us to hold schools accountable until it happens.


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Elizabeth Wilmerding is currently a first-year master’s student in UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare and an intern at FUTURES Without Violence. She has a background in the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, and suicidality. Elizabeth lives in Oakland, CA.

From the Schechter Lab: Effects of Sexual Assault on Women’s Well-Being

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By Rebecca Howard

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In recent years, sexual assault on college campuses has become a topic of national conversation. Startling statistics report that one in five women will be raped during their college years.  Research has shown that sexual assault has devastating effects on survivors and can affect them years after the assault.  However, there is a gap in the current literature regarding how sexual assault in college affects women in terms of their educational attainment, future financial earnings and intimate relationships.

Since September 2015, I have been working in the Susan Schechter Lab at Prevention Innovations to better understand the long-term educational and economic impacts of sexual assault that occurs during a victim’s college years.   Under the incredible guidance of Dr. Sharyn Potter and Dr. Sharon Murphy, I have helped to design and conduct a study to gain insight from women who experienced an assault during college.  Using Amazon Mechanical Turk as well as a listserv of advocacy centers, we collected information from women across the country of all ages and backgrounds.  Through surveys and phone interviews, more than one hundred participants have bravely shared their stories with us.

Over the course of this semester, I spent nearly 200 hours transcribing phone interviews in the Schechter Lab and completed this stage of the project in March.  Currently, I am working with Drs. Potter and Murphy and Braxton Jones, a Graduate Assistant from the Sociology Department, to begin the qualitative analysis.  We are applying the principles of Heideggerian hermenutic phenomenology to interpret each woman’s story. I am excited to continue working for Prevention Innovations over the course of the summer as we move towards completion of this study.

I have had an amazing experience working for Prevention Innovations in the Schechter Lab doing such meaningful, hands-on work.  Of course, my dream is to live in a world where sexual violence is non-existent. However, if our study can help even one victim overcome the challenges they face after an assault during college, I know we have accomplished something worthwhile.

My hope is that this study will demonstrate the tremendous impact sexual assault has on all aspects of a victim’s life, not just on their current emotional state but on their education and career down the road.  I hope that the more schools become aware of these impacts, the more administrators will do to fund prevention and treatment programs, as well as show more sympathy and understanding to students who have been assaulted and need time off or help with their schoolwork. I also hope that survivors who learn about this study realize they are not alone and there are places to turn to for help if you are struggling with symptoms from the trauma.


Becca_Howard

Rebecca Howard is a Masters in Justice Studies graduate student who received her B.A. in English Literature and Justice Studies from UNH in 2014 and then spent a year off from school serving in the New Hampshire Americorps Victim Assistance Program as a victim/witness advocate for the Manchester Police Department. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to continue her career in violence against women prevention.