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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It’s Time to Include Relationship Violence in the Campus Sexual Assault Conversation

By Elizabeth Wilmerding

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Recent strides have been made in sexual violence prevention in the college environment, although we still have a long way to go. To anyone working in this field for years—or decades—this small amount of progress can make one think, “It’s about time.” It’s time to acknowledge the amount of trauma occurring on college campuses. It’s time for survivors to get access to the support and services they deserve. It’s time for federal laws, state laws, and campus policies to promote cultures of nonviolence. And, it’s time to bring dating and domestic violence into the campus sexual assault conversation.

Our culture and policies around sexual violence are changing because our level of understanding is changing. Yet, we’re continuing to leave out dating and domestic violence. We now know that up to 90% of survivors of attempted or completed rape know their attackers. We know that 1 in 5 women will experience such an assault in their lives, as will 1 in 33 men and 1 in 2 trans* or gender-nonconforming people. We have begun to consider sexual violence from an intersectional perspective, recognizing that survivors have complex identities before an assault, and that those identities impact their experiences of trauma and healing in unique and complex ways. While our narratives around sexual assault and rape have shifted to include these realities, they haven’t changed enough to account for the intersections between sexual violence and relationship violence.

If we want to truly change our culture and eradicate interpersonal violence, it is critical that we acknowledge the link between sexual violence and relationship violence. One in 3 women have experienced violence from an intimate partner. Of these hundreds of thousands of women, 40-45% will experience sexual assault or rape as part of the abuse. New data shows us that 1 in 4 men may experience dating or domestic violence and these figures and those for trans* and gender-nonconforming people may underestimate the rate of incidence. Imagine if we dedicated the same amount of time, resources, and expertise to preventing dating and domestic violence on our campuses as we devote to preventing sexual assault and rape.

Many colleges and universities educate their students about affirmative consent, bystander intervention techniques they can use at parties, and definitions of sexual assault and rape. What if we expanded these dialogues to include the extreme jealousy and stalking that can indicate dating violence, and the intimidation and displays of power that often accompany domestic violence? What if we made sure undergraduate students understood that dating violence can happen in a variety of relationships, including those involving hook-ups or friends-with-benefits? And, what if we spoke with students about the many shapes domestic violence can take in marriages and long-term relationships?

I suspect that, by emphasizing the links to dating and domestic violence in our conversations about sexual violence, we will be able to greatly increase awareness of many types of interpersonal violence and reduce their occurrence and impact. Not only that, but we will validate the experiences of the many survivors whose experiences are not limited to one categorization of harm. True violence prevention depends on having a broad and nuanced understanding of both the current climate and our vision for the future. If we truly hope to end sexual assault, rape, stalking, dating violence, domestic violence, and sexual harassment, we must have a comprehensive approach. It’s time to include dating and domestic violence in our conversations and strategies about ending sexual violence on college campuses.


eliz1Elizabeth Wilmerding is pursuing a Master’s degree (2017) at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. Her background is in the prevention and support of survivors of sexual and relationship violence, in campus and community settings. A former intern at Futures Without Violence, she is currently doing a field placement at UC Berkeley’s PATH to Care Center, the university’s organization devoted to violence prevention and survivor support. She lives in Oakland, CA.

“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.