My #NSAC2018 Experience

By Becca Howard, Prevention Innovations Research Center Project Manager

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This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) in beautiful Anaheim, California. NSAC is the largest conference of its kind, with nearly 2,000 attendees and more than 100 workshops over the course of three days, all focused on the best strategies to prevent and respond to sexual violence in our communities.  This year’s theme was Bold Moves: Ending Sexual Violence in One Generation, which was demonstrated through the boldness and strength of the many speakers throughout the week.

The conference began with keynote addresses from two powerful survivors with vastly different backgrounds, Annabella Aguirre and Tarana Burke. Annabella told the audience about her journey from Guatemala to the United States, and her victimization while working as a janitor after settling in Los Angeles. Because of her status as an undocumented immigrant, she was unable to seek assistance, and endured sexual assault in the workplace in order to provide for her children. Today, she has overcome adversity to become an activist and founding member of ¡Ya Basta! (Spanish for “Enough is Enough”), a coalition to end sexual violence against workers in janitorial services.

The second keynote speaker, Tarana Burke, is the founder of the “me too.” Movement, a campaign using the idea of “empowerment through empathy” to help survivors heal. Burke has worked in social justice and Black arts and culture for over twenty-five years.  In the fall of 2017, “me too.” became internationally known after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against Harvey Weinstein and many other powerful figures. This was the first NSAC since the “me too.” Movement’s introduction into mainstream culture, which Burke noted in her address.

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Keynote speaker, Tarana Burke, addresses the audience.

“This is a unique historical opportunity…an opportunity to advance our work,” Burke told the enormous audience of advocates and activists. “We have a big job to do, and sometimes it feels like it’s getting bigger every day.”

Burke reiterated this message in her workshop later that day. During the session, she spoke of her own background in community organizing. As a youth leader in Alabama, she realized the majority of girls she was working with had been sexual victimized, yet no platforms existed to raise awareness of sexual violence in her community.  She founded the “me too.” Movement in 2006, with the mission of organizing to end sexual violence, while also sharing resources with survivors.

“The phrase ‘me too’ gives survivors language to say really hard things in a really simple way,” she explained.

Burke encouraged the audience to reflect on our own communities, and determine what must be improved to help support survivors and prevent sexual violence from occurring. The “me too.” Organization will soon be launching a database of resources for sexual violence survivors that will be hosted on their website. Burke hopes to continue to spread the message of “me too.” and motivate individuals to come forward about their experiences.

“Take ownership of this movement,” Burke told the audience. “If each of us go back to our communities and remind people that ‘me too.’ is not just about celebrities, that will validate the movement and move us forward.”

Over the course of the conference, I heard from many different speakers at a variety of workshops related to sexual violence prevention and response. On day one, I attended a session hosted by University of Wisconsin researcher, Rose Hennessy, who shared her research findings on the effectiveness of current prevention programs, based on her review of 33 articles. Hennessy’s review revealed the efficacy of bystander intervention programs, including Bringing in the Bystander®, especially when combined with programming focused on preventing perpetration.

Later that day, I participated in a workshop facilitated by Heather Imrie of Catharsis Productions on creating effective prevention programming for college students. Her approach to engaging students in sexual prevention involves humor, story-telling, and inclusive language. She emphasized the importance of knowing your audience, and framing the prevention program content within the context of the larger community culture. .

“I always provide multiple examples relevant to the audience I’m working with,” Imrie explained. “You can also bring in allies from the community, such as coaches or student leaders, who can give you credibility in the eyes of the students you are working with.”

On Day Two of NSAC, the audience heard from three powerful young speakers – Kayteshia Wescott, Dalton Dagondon Tiegs, and Melody Minuet Klingenfuss, who each shared how they are creating change in their underserved communities. In my first workshop of the day, I learned more about ¡Ya Basta! and other organizations that are working with the labor movement to end sexual violence. The session panelists had unique backgrounds, but had a shared goal of representing workers who have been sexually assaulted or harassed in the workplace. As one panelist explained, women laborers who are being sexually assaulted often do not have the language to describe what is happening to them. They may tell an advocate, “I’m tired of having sex at work,” instead of saying, “I was raped by my superior.”

Through their activism, ¡Ya Basta! and other organizations have successfully helped to pass laws  in California to address the issue of sexual violence in the workplace. These include Bill AB 2079, which adds protections for sexual violence among janitorial workers, including a peer-led prevention training program that is required for all employees in the industry. The panelists emphasized the importance of connecting the labor and sexual violence movements, to protect all people regardless of their job, race, nationality, or immigration status.

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During the conference, I met many incredible people from across the U.S., including a Crisis Center Advocate from Wyoming, a Community College Title IX Coordinator from Texas, and a Social Work Professor from the University of Guam. I was humbled to be surrounded by so many strong advocates and allies to learn from. While each individual had their own unique experiences and reasons for attending NSAC, we all shared the collective vision for a world free of sexual violence. As closing speaker, Farah Tanis, said so eloquently, “We have to twist the trauma of all forms of violence out of our bodies and communities, knowing that as we free ourselves, not only do we free our ancestors, but we free the generations to come.”

My NSAC experience taught me so much, and I am excited to share what I learned with my colleagues at Prevention Innovations Research Center, where we work every day to end sexual and relationship violence and stalking through research and practice.  I gained new information about best strategies for prevention programming, survivor resources, and organizations like ¡Ya Basta!, who are fighting to end sexual violence in communities across the country.  I will also carry with me the stories of the amazing speakers, who inspire me to keep going, even when this work is challenging. While ending sexual violence might seem like a daunting goal, NSAC reminded me that it is possible, and we are now closer than ever before.


becca2.jpgBecca Howard, PIRC Project Manager

Becca is a PIRC Project Manager, and works on a variety of projects related to ending sexual and relationship violence and stalking. Her research focuses on the impact of sexual violence on survivors’ educational and economic attainment. She is passionate about social justice and ending violence in our communities. 

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The Lasting Influence of the #MeToo Movement

By Emily DuChene, Prevention Innovations Research Center Intern

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With our country’s overwhelming 24-hour news cycle, it can be difficult to sift through the haze of attention-grabbing article titles and clickbait. Because there is so much news out there, it is hard to gauge the true impact of the stories that are being reported. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we have seen an ever-increasing amount of news articles that focus on sexual assault and harassment cases. This reporting is important and must continue in order to reveal the true scope of sexual violence in this country. Since the fall of 2017, story after story have revealed new details of powerful people abusing their positions and taking advantage of the women and men around them. It can be disheartening to read the testimonies of the many strong survivors that are coming forward, especially when it is hard to see real changes occurring because of this reporting. The media provides survivors a platform to share their stories and use their voices to push for change. The impact of the #MeToo movement is demonstrated through the many laws and bills that have been brought forward on the state and national levels.

On the state level, legislatures are reviewing existing laws and rapidly working to enhance and change them in order to effectively prosecute sexual assault and harassment cases, and support and protect survivors who choose to come forward. In California alone, more than 20 bills have been filed relating to sexual harassment in the workplace. These bills range from employee safety for hotel workers, to sexual violence and harassment prevention training for janitorial staff. In New Hampshire, the influence of the #MeToo movement is reflected in the passage of legislation that raises the marriage age from 13 years-old to 16 years-old and protects against child marriage, as well as legislation that protects incarcerated individuals from sexual assault by prison administration.

In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the groundbreaking Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act into law. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, states have been reenergized and are now pushing to pass their own legislation guaranteeing state-level protections mirroring those outlined in the federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act. New Hampshire passed their own Survivors’ Bill of Rights legislation in June of 2018, following in the footsteps of 13 other states who have passed similar legislation, including states across a range of ideological spectrums like Illinois, South Dakota and Virginia.

On the national level, representatives in Congress have been engaged in similar efforts to expand protections against sexual violence. One example is Bill S.534, passed in the United States House and Senate to protect amateur athletes from sexual abuse, after several high profile disclosures in the sports industry, including allegations by more than 300 survivors against gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar. In the same vein, there has been a resolution introduced in the Senate to investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee, with a special focus on USA Gymnastics. And, like the many states who have refocused their attention on the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, Congress has also renewed its efforts to implement the steps outlined in the Survivors’ Bill of Rights. In early 2018, the House Judiciary Committee invited Amanda Nguyen, the woman who helped draft the original Survivors’ Bill of Rights, along with actress Evan Rachel Wood, to discuss their experiences of sexual violence and the positive impact the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act will have on future survivors who come forward. Later in 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee invited Nguyen, along with actor Terry Crews, to testify in front of the committee as survivors of sexual violence and advocates for the implementation of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act. Both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees plan to use these testimonies to inform committee members, and Congress at large, of the importance of civil rights protections for survivors of sexual violence and the importance of enforcing the Survivors’ Bill of Rights across all fifty states.

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Internally, the members of Congress have even taken it upon themselves to examine the procedures for identifying and handling sexual assault and harassment claims in their own offices. Both the House and Senate passed legislation to update the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act. The ME TOO Congress Act is designed to ensure that lawmakers are held accountable if they sexually harass a staffer or another congressional employee. The House and Senate bills also removed rules that deterred survivors from coming forward, including mandatory arbitration and a thirty day “cooling off” period before survivors could submit a complaint. Presently, Congress is working on a bipartisan effort to combine the House and Senate bills to create comprehensive legislation that would cover all Congressional offices.

These legislative changes that will support survivors’ voices and protect victims when they come forward are a step in the right direction. However, these policy advancements have to be paired with cultural changes in order to make a lasting difference to end sexual violence in this country. Research has shown that prevention trainings and misconduct policies that work to combat harassment in schools and workplaces can be helpful, but without real cultural change at the heart of these organizations, these rules and training can actually reinforce stereotypes and lead to more hostile environments. In order to make the most of the recent legislative actions, we must pair these new laws with evidence-based prevention. For example, if the bill in California calls for training of janitorial staff on sexual violence and harassment prevention passes, the training the state mandates should be in-person group training that focuses on how to identify and report harassment, how to support someone who has been harassed, examples of what harassment looks like, and how to intervene to stop harassment when it occurs. In addition, the training needs to focus on fostering a safe and respectful work environment. Without this type of evidence-based prevention training, a law meant to combat harassment among janitorial staff will not have the desired impact and, ultimately, will not make a difference in the level of harassment taking place.

The glare of media coverage on the #MeToo movement has been an effective tool for keeping the issues of sexual assault and harassment in the forefront of public discussion and legislative action. The country is already seeing a shift in how our culture views harassment because of the increased media coverage on survivor’s stories and intense scrutiny of perpetrators. This shift can be made permanent through the policy changes we are already beginning to see, combined with increased scientifically proven prevention trainings and emphasis on the need for environments that foster respect and equality for marginalized groups and people that may be more vulnerable to harassment and assault. Hopefully, as time goes on, there will be fewer incidents of sexual assault and harassment to report and more journalistic outlets for survivors’ stories. And, maybe, we all can rest easier knowing that the #MeToo movement has spurred real changes and moved society in a permanent and positive direction.


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Emily DuChene, PIRC Intern

Emily is a senior at the University of Michigan working toward earning her Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Political Science with a minor in Judaic studies. On campus, she is involved with WeRead, a volunteer organization that works to improve reading and writing skills in sixth grade students at Noble Elementary School in Detroit, Kappa Alpha Pi, a pre-law fraternity, and Delta Gamma where she works with the Sexual Violence Empowerment and Education Division of the Panhellenic Peer Education Program. Emily is interested in law and politics and hopes to eventually study law and policy to advocate for women’s rights and give a voice to people in need.

 

 

Advice on Facilitating a Campus Bystander Intervention Program

An Interview with Dustin Struble from KU on his Proven Bystander Programming Methods for Success

By Meghan Stewart, Prevention Innovations Research Center Communications Intern

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Bringing in the Bystander® (BITB) is a comprehensive bystander intervention training program created by researchers and practitioners at Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire and is used to teach students on college campuses across the globe how to be active bystanders in situations where a sexual assault may occur. PIRC has evaluated the effectiveness of BITB with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice. BITB is also constantly being improved using feedback PIRC receives from facilitator trainings. During these “train-the-trainer” programs, we consistently get questions about facilitator retention. Specifically, how can campuses ensure that they have enough trained, competent, and committed facilitators to roll out Bringing in the Bystander to thousands of students each year?

To answer these questions, I turned to Dustin Struble, the Prevention Educator at the University of Kansas. Dustin has been with the Sexual Assault Prevention & Education Center at KU since 2016 and is responsible for bystander intervention training and men’s engagement programming on campus.  BITB has been part of KU’s sexual assault prevention education since 2015 and is delivered in the 90-minute version as a requirement for all freshmen students. I asked Dustin how he structures his program to maintain a core group of facilitators. Dustin explained that building up a comprehensive sexual assault prevention program can be challenging, and training enough trainers to facilitate BITB across a campus of nearly 30,000 students is a continual process. The process for recruiting and preparing new facilitators is completed in three phases: recruitment, recognition, and supervision.

 Step 1: Recruitment

Dustin’s process for finding friendly, motivated, and committed facilitators begins with a list. This list represents audiences who would not only benefit from BITB training, but who also may be inclined to deliver the training themselves, such as faculty from Women’s Studies or the Social Work departments. He meets with the deans of various departments to make connections across campus in order to build a long-term programming plan. Dustin’s initial list was about 120 names long with the majority of individuals being full-time staff and faculty, accompanied by a few graduate students. After finalizing the list, he invited each person to attend the first “train-the-trainers” BITB program. He told me that 40 people attended the first training. Now, about two years later, he has 154 facilitators on KU’s campus and about 45 of them regularly train students.

Step 2: Recognition

Once he found a core group of individuals to roll out the training, Dustin focused on team building with the facilitators to create a group synergy. He described communication as one of the most important aspects to ensure that you have a solid group of facilitators. Communication with his team includes an “on-call system” where there is always one facilitator ready to step in if the assigned facilitator is no longer able to deliver the training. Dustin also delivers monthly updates to his team, including recognition of milestones such as the “Five-Timers Club.” Facilitators that have delivered 5 or more trainings receive a certificate of achievement and a gift card as a way of saying “thank you” for their service and commitment. Five-Timers gift cards are often for campus dining establishments, including coffee shops and university dining halls, as they are beneficial to all facilitators regardless of where they work on campus.

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Step 3: Supervision

Dustin emphasizes self-care to ensure that facilitators are able to deliver the best possible BITB trainings, which can address heavy and emotional topics. He tracks how many trainings each facilitator has done so he can check in with those who are taking on a lot, or less than usual. He also often encourages his facilitators to check in with him to address any issues or questions. He believes it’s important to remember that the facilitators are doing this work because they care, and therefore it is important they receive the same attention and recognition back.

Capacity Building & Sustainability

Although Dustin has been working with BITB for a while and has a good process that works for him and his campus, he acknowledges that it takes a lot of work to get comfortable with the training. One of the challenges with having a team of 154 facilitators on campus is that each facilitator possesses a different working knowledge of bystander intervention. Some have been doing this work for a long time and are familiar with the conversation, while others are new to the field and need time to build up their confidence with the program.

This is where communication between the facilitators becomes important. Regular communication among facilitators creates a space for building off each other’s experiences and learning from one another. Dustin noted that it is important to create a space where questions are expected and appreciated. He takes time to make sure his facilitators know that they are not experts, nor are they expected to be. He encourages his team to “trust the curriculum” and know that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes. Fixes are always possible.

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Dustin says he constantly makes new connections on campus with faculty, staff, and students to ensure he has the best team to deliver BITB. He continues to meet with different departments to help determine where bystander intervention training may be helpful in their existing curriculums. Dustin wants to see bystander intervention become the norm on his campus and build support for students, faculty, staff, and the rest of the KU community.

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For those currently using Bringing in the Bystander, we ask you: as part of your campus sexual and relationship violence prevention work, how do you ensure you always have a team of motivated and committed facilitators? Comment below with any advice or thoughts! Please reach out to Jennifer Scrafford, PIRC’s Commercialized Product and Training Coordinator, at Jennifer.Scrafford@unh.edu, for more information on BITB.


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Dustin Struble, Prevention Educator

Dustin serves as a Program Educator for the Sexual Assault Prevention & Education Center. In this role, Dustin is responsible for bystander intervention and men’s engagement programming. He came to KU in the fall of 2012, working in the Student Involvement and Leadership Center for four years. Prior to KU, Dustin earned his Master of Education (MEd) in Higher Education Administration and Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina. Originally from Durham, California, Dustin earned his Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Political Science from California State University-Chico. Dustin is currently working on his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Higher Education Administration. In his free time, Dustin serves as a Victim/Survivor Advocate for the Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center.

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Meghan Stewart, PIRC Communications Intern

Meghan is currently working as a Communications Intern for Prevention Innovations Research Center. She is a senior at the University of New Hampshire studying Sociology & Psychology and is a member of Alpha Phi Omega, the nation’s largest community-service based campus organization. Before coming to PIRC, she worked as an Outreach and Prevention Education Intern for Independence House, a domestic violence and sexual assault counseling center serving Cape Cod. She is passionate about raising awareness for sexualized violence and will continue to fight for survivors.

Responding Effectively to Sexual Harassment

By Alan Berkowitz, Ph.D.

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With the cascade of revelations of sexual harassment and assault raising our awareness, many are asking “Why didn’t others do something?” and in particular “Why didn’t other men do something?”  Although men may also be sexually harassed (usually by other men) the majority are not and most men rarely fear sexual assault.  Yet men who witness other men harassing women or speaking offensively share similar fears, including retaliation, loss of social status, embarrassment, or thwarted career ambitions.  This results in men’s (and women’s) silence, thus enabling perpetrators to continue perpetrating, not to mention that our inaction weighs heavily on our consciousnesses.  Because men who offend may respect and care about what other men think more than they do women,  other men may have an advantage in interrupting sexism and violence against women.  In other words, preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault can be considered as men’s responsibility, although of course women have and will continue to take action.

One deterrent to responding is our surprise, shock, and discomfort with abusive remarks and behavior.  We now realize that these are more commonplace than once thought.  Thus, rather than seeing them as unusual, we must prepare ourselves to understand that they are commonly occurring.  Being emotionally prepared to perceive the injustices of the world – even if they do not impinge on us directly – helps us to be emotionally prepared to respond to them.  This is not only true for sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault, but for other injustices such as racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc.

There are many actions one can take in response.  First is to be believable allies who are safe for victims to report to.  By words and actions we can make it clear that we believe victims, are understanding, and will respond compassionately.  Exposing perpetrators supports victim healing and may also prevent future perpetration.  Second, when someone is uncomfortable with the words or actions of another person the chances are very good that others are uncomfortable as well.  Thus, it is important to talk to others to determine if your discomfort is shared and to explore possible responses.  Social science research confirms that a majority of men are uncomfortable with sexist language and behaviors but do not realize that other men are also, as well as that the majority of men would respect someone who intervenes but believe most others would not.  Knowing that you are not alone in your concerns and having the opportunity to share possible actions can empower us to respond effectively.

In particular, someone can intervene without suffering backlash. The science of ‘bystander intervention’ (now evolved as a state of the art prevention practice) offers skills and strategies for the majority of men (and women) who do not harass to intervene in the minority of men’s harassment and violence. Thus when confrontation is not an option, a bystander can respond to a sexist remark by: changing the subject; replacing a negative comment with a positive one; or using subtle sarcasm. In “How Wall Street Bro Talk Keeps Women Down” (NYT-July 7, 2017) author Sam Polk shares sexist remarks he has heard on Wall Street and describes his discomfort and inaction. For example, at a Brazilian steakhouse a superior’s comment about the waitress: “I’d like to bend her over the table and give her some meat” was responded to by awkward laughter.  In this case one could use distraction to change the subject, saying: “I’m more concerned about getting good service for dinner” or “What do you recommend from the menu?”   A distracting remark can successfully shift attention away from the problematic behavior. Alternatively, re-framing offers a positive comment in place of a negative.  For instance, having previously eaten at the restaurant one could say: “Actually she is a great waitress” or “I’ll show my appreciation by giving a nice tip.”  A truthful, appreciative remark can undermine the negative comment and refocus attention on the positive.  Finally, subtle sarcasm can also be effective, such as “I think I will be ordering from the vegetarian menu tonight” or “Brazilian visas don’t allow that.”

Another example cited in the article was when a superior asked a new male employee if he: “got laid last night?”  A safe response could be “I was up working” or “we watched a movie” or even “you are right, I was laid up on the couch last night.” Safe, honest responses can change the terms of the discussion without enabling the perpetrator, let others know that you don’t agree with the remark, and offers them a chance to affirm your response.

When I hear men making negative comments about female colleagues – especially about their physical appearance or competence – I find it very effective to reply by mentioning a positive characteristic or accomplishment of the person, such as “Actually she just received the teacher of the year award” or “She is one of the smartest persons in my seminar.”  One could also say “I think that remark could be misunderstood.  You are a great supervisor and I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble for something you didn’t really mean.”

Confrontation, which may be difficult with a superior, involves strongly objecting to a remark or stating one’s feelings, such as: “I really respect you and I am disappointed to hear you say that” or, more strongly, “I would prefer if you don’t talk that way around me.”

Clearly, it is possible to respond to an inappropriate remark by undermining it and registering disagreement while avoiding confrontation or to create an uncomfortable situation.  Responding  provides the opportunity for other bystanders to register their discomfort, help to shift the conversation, affirm the positive remark, or share appreciation and respect for intervening. As we recognize the prevalence and pervasiveness of harassment and sexist remarks, we can view the opportunity to intervene as a welcome one.

Imagine if the majority of men responded to objectionable remarks by either changing the subject or undermining the remark.  This would move us closer to creating a culture in which such actions were not tolerated and rewarded and it could help reduce the guilt that many men feel about doing nothing.  Taking action individually or as a group is essential, along with more systematic responses that are needed from our institutions and organizations.

Most perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual assault begin these behaviors long before we meet them.  Yet our silence and inaction helps to create a culture in which it is easy for them to continue.  There are many elements of a comprehensive response, including creating safe reporting options, taking complaints seriously, understanding that false accusations are extremely rare, training law enforcement in effective and victim supportive investigations, ensuring swift and effective punishment, and the modeling of healthy interactions and sexuality.  We all have a role to play and it is the responsibility of everyone – especially men – to reverse the culture of harassment and assault by creating safety for victims to report, sharing discomfort with others, serving as healthy responsible role models, holding our institutions accountable and intervening in safe ways against offensive behavior.


photo_alanb_headshotAlan Berkowitz, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized expert in sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention and the author of “RESPONSE ABILITY: The Complete Guide to Bystander Behavior” and “How to Respond to Sexist Remarks.”  More information about his work is available at: www.alanberkowitz.com

 

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.

A New Approach: Supporting Victims in the Justice System

Perhaps the criminal justice system is learning how to support victims of sexual assault and consequently becoming more effective in prosecuting rape cases.

By Amy Vorenberg

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The above Tweet came from the Metro Nashville Police Department just after a jury convicted a former Vanderbilt football player of raping an unconscious woman. Among the horrific details of the case—the perpetrators took a video of the assault.

When it comes to rape, the criminal justice system gets a bad rap, and deservedly so considering its past lack of effectiveness in prosecuting rape cases. Prosecutors have historically dropped or pled out cases, afraid of taking the ill-named “he said, she said” case to trial.

But maybe we are seeing a shift and the Metro Nashville PD tweet is just one example of it. The recent Stanford rape victim’s statement, which was read aloud by 18 members of Congress on the House floor, is another significant event signaling a possible shift.  Perhaps more victims are coming forward because the criminal justice system HAS improved its support for victims.

Recently I sat down with Lara Saffo, chief prosecutor of northern New Hampshire’s Grafton County. Her jurisdiction includes several colleges, including Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, the site of a recent high-profile sexual assault case. I asked Attorney Saffo about the efforts she and her fellow prosecutors make to support and protect rape victims as their cases make their way through the system.

Vorenberg: What steps does a prosecutor’s office like yours take that provide support to a victim before a case goes to trial?

Saffo: First, we have sexual assault resource teams (SART), including on the college campuses. These are teams of medical, law enforcement and victim advocate professionals who have been specially trained as rape first-responders. By working together, the SART teams develop and implement a victim-centered approach that, hopefully, will encourage more victims to come forward.

Vorenberg:  Do you also work with local crisis centers?

Saffo: Yes, we strongly recommend that all victims of sexual assaults seek services from their local crisis center.  Crisis program advocates, unlike first responders, can have protected, confidential conversations with victims.  Crisis centers make it possible for victims to speak freely, without the risk of unwanted exposure.

Vorenberg:  You also have victim advocates in your office. What is the difference?

Saffo:  We have victim-witness coordinators. The distinction between our victim-witness coordinators and a victim advocate at a crisis center is important. Although victim-witness coordinators absolutely provide support for victims, they are there to answer questions and explain the process. Our victim-witness coordinator’s communication with victims is not protected, whereas the communication between victims and crisis center advocates is considered confidential and protected by NH statute. One of the things that everybody has to remember is that victims may not process information instantly, so you often need to explain the process over and over again. Victims need to feel comfortable calling back and saying, “Wait a minute. What is the difference between bail and arraignment? Why is bail being set again?” They are usually new to this system, and it is more than a little confusing. The victim-witness coordinator is there to answer any questions or concerns the victim has about the legal process.

Vorenberg: The first time you meet with a victim are you actually introducing her to the victim-witness advocate?

Saffo: We are trying to do that; that is our protocol. Law enforcement calls us when a victim reaches out to them so we can initiate the relationship with the coordinator. We have an on-call county attorney, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so any officer, can call and say, “I have a sexual assault case, a victim will be coming in.” We can then reach out to our victim-witness coordinator to be on hand to meet with the survivor.

Vorenberg: After a case comes into a prosecutor’s office and a complaint or indictment is filed, both the defense attorney and the prosecutor make pre-trial motions, asking the judge to either limit or allow evidence that they think will help prove (or defend) the case. What motions do prosecutors make specifically to protect the victim?

Saffo: It’s pretty standard for the defense to ask the court to allow questions about the victim’s sexual history. State statutes do not allow such information because it’s not deemed to be relevant, and for good reason. We always object to these requests.

Vorenberg: What other types of motions do you make concerning the victim?

Saffo: In most adult sexual assault cases, there’s been an examination and the medical record contains a lot of information that needs to be protected. For example, medical providers will ask, “What medications are you on?” Medications like birth control or anti-depressants, or really almost any kind of medication, is just not relevant. There may be a little more of a fight over medications like anti-depressants but I generally feel that I can keep that information out of the record, although you can’t make any promises to the victim.

Vorenberg: What about counseling records?

Saffo: You want to protect the victim’s counseling records. However, sometimes counseling records may contain helpful information. They may contain proof of trauma that you want to tell the jury about. Often judges will do an in camera review, which means he or she will look at the records outside of the courtroom and decide which, if any, of the records are relevant.

Vorenberg: Before trial you make motions to keep out a victim’s private information. What about during the trial? Do you take steps to protect the victim’s privacy?

Saffo: We really are in a new era right now. We not only protect the victim in court, we also try to protect the victim in the media and no one really knows how to control that right now. We can ask the judge to limit live tweeting, and we can file motions to seal victims’ names. The judge may not grant these requests if the victim is an adult, although with the new reality of social media harassment of adult sexual assault victims, that request may be granted

Vorenberg: How about post-trial, whether there’s an acquittal or a conviction, is there anything you do on behalf of the victim?

Saffo: We make sure they have a support network and ensure that the victim-witness coordinator is available for them. However, we don’t want to presume that we are going to be the best support person for them, whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty, or in the case of a hung jury. So, it’s being there but not presuming that we are going to be the right resource.

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There was much more to talk about, but Attorney Saffo had a busy day ahead of her. The work she and so many others in law enforcement are doing to make the justice system more effective in rape cases was evident in our conversation.

This might be one reason why we are hearing powerful statements from victims who may feel the support of the system behind them. Recently, in a New Hampshire courtroom, a teen victim faced the man who admitted to kidnapping and sexually assaulting her over a period of nine months before she managed to escape. Her courageous statement included these words:

“I want you to know that I did not do this to you,” she said. “I didn’t put you in prison. You put yourself in prison.”


amy vAmy Vorenberg is a Research and Evaluation Consultant at Prevention Innovations Research Center, and the Director of the Legal Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire Law School. She began her legal career in New York as a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney. Later she worked as an Assistant Attorney General in New Hampshire. She moved to the NH Public Defender’s office in 1993 during which time she started the criminal clinic at the University of New Hampshire School of Law (then Franklin Pierce). She served for ten years on the New Hampshire Adult Parole Board. Amy started teaching Legal Analysis and Writing in 1998. She has also taught Criminal Law. Amy’s research and scholarship focus is legal writing, juvenile and criminal law. She is currently working on a three-volume legal writing practice-based textbook, “Preparing for Practice: Legal Analysis and Writing in Law School’s First Year” (working title). She has written editorials and spoken out on campus sexual assault.

Lara SaffoLara J. Saffo, JD is the County Attorney in Grafton County, New Hampshire.  She has prosecuted hundreds of cases involving all types of crimes, and has specialized in sexual assault and domestic violence cases, as well as alternative sentencing solutions, such as drug court, mental health court, veteran’s courts and juvenile diversion/restorative justice. She graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Law in Nashville Tennessee in 1992.  She began her career as a prosecutor in 1993, as an Assistant County Attorney and district court prosecutor.  Attorney Saffo then became an associate, civil attorney at Van Dorn & Curtis, PLLC in Orford New Hampshire.  She returned to prosecution in 2004.  From that time, until she became county attorney in 2009, she was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) prosecutor at the Office of the Grafton County Attorney. She currently serves as an advisory board member for the Grafton and Sullivan County Child Advocacy Center at DHMC, involved in initiates to expand Sexual Assault Resource Teams in Grafton County, the prosecution representative on the state-wide committee for Justice Involved Veterans, a member of the protocol review committees for the Adult Sexual Assault Protocols and Human Trafficking Protocols, a member of the NH Attorney General’s Commission to Combat Human Trafficking and an adjunct professor at Plymouth State University and White Mountain Community College.