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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Strengthening the Domestic Violence Field: Building the Evaluation Capacity of Community-Based Organizations

By: Dr. Rebecca Rodriguez, Martha Martinez-Hernandez, MPA, and Dr. Josie Serrata

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Domestic violence organizations are tasked with providing evidence to funders and other stakeholders that their programs have a positive impact on program participants. For some organizations, evaluation can seem like a daunting task, especially if they have limited internal capacity, or do not have experience conducting their own evaluations in a way that is palatable to external stakeholders.  This is the reality faced by many small community-based organizations (CBOs) working in the field of domestic violence across the United States, in particular for those working with communities that have been historically marginalized.

Responding to the need for CBOs to document their work—while understanding that perhaps not all of us have experience with evaluation—the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities (NLN), a project of Casa de Esperanza, set about making the evaluation process accessible and practitioner-friendly.  Led by their research and evaluation team, the NLN partnered with several Latina community-based organizations from across the country (La Paz, Trans Latina Coalition, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, Voces Latinas, Casa de Esperanza’s Amigos program) to develop the Building Evidence Evaluation Toolkit,  a free web-based tool for organizations that approach domestic violence prevention from a culturally specific framework and are seeking to demonstrate the importance of what they do.

Using the analogy of a receta, or recipe, the evaluation toolkit seeks to build and expand the capacity of organizations to conduct evaluations of their programs. The evaluation toolkit is divided into different sections according to the level of knowledge and expertise of the user. For example, there is a beginner’s section that introduces the basic ingredients or concepts of evaluation and provides worksheets to walk the user through the various components of evaluation, including creating logic models; thinking through how to organize, interpret and analyze data; and how to use the results. In addition, the Evaluation Toolkit has more in-depth guidance for users interested in using community evidence to document the culturally specific nature of their work. It includes a Community Centered Evidence Based Practice approach, which is an adapted Evidence Based Practice model for practitioners and evaluators who engage community members in their programming (Serrata et al., in press).

There is also a learning community for those interested in sharing resources and learning more about each other’s work. Our team continues to add new tools. We are in the process of developing measures that capture the added value of culturally specific Domestic Violence organizations.

Here are links to what we have included:

We hope that you will find the toolkit beneficial to your work, and we would love to hear your feedback.

Source: Serrata, J.V., Macias, R.L., Rosales, A., Hernandez-M, M., Rodriguez, R., & Perilla, J.L. (in press). Expanding Evidence-Based Practice Models for Domestic Violence Initiatives: A Community-Centered Approach. Psychology of Violence.


rebecca-casaRebecca Rodriguez, Ph.D. (email: rrodriguez@casadeesperanza.org) is a community psychologist and manager of research and evaluation at the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities. Rebecca’s research interests broadly focus on culturally specific and community-centered approaches to prevent family violence in Latino@ families. Her research has examined marital and dating violence by investigating family dynamics (e.g. gender roles, parenting), U.S. immigration policies, and by working directly with Latin@ youth witnesses and survivors of violence in conducting participatory action research on topics they find important to their communities.  Her evaluation work includes participatory and culturally responsive evaluation practices and developing the evaluation capacity of community based organizations.

martha-casaMartha Hernandez-Martinez, MPA (email: mhernandez@casadeesperanza.org) serves as the Research Associate for the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families & Communities. She is originally from Managua-Nicaragua, where she holds a License in Psychology from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua. Her work experience in Nicaragua included providing services to victims of natural disasters and domestic violence, and research on men’s sexual health. In addition, she designed, delivered, and evaluated gender based education programs targeting health workers. Martha moved to the U.S. in 2002, and worked as a community organizer in issues of affordable housing, immigration, and education. Martha also holds a Masters in Public Affairs from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Martha’s major interest and passion consist of issues related to the intersections of gender, social norms, intimate partner violence (IPV), healthy masculinities from a Global South perspective, and the impact of public policies on women’s lives (e.g., reproductive health, human rights, development policies).

josieserrata-10Josephine V. Serrata, Ph.D. (email: jserrata@casadeesperanza.org) is a clinical community psychologist and director of research and evaluation at the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families & Communities, a project of Casa de Esperanza. Her research and evaluation work are embedded in practices that are culturally affirming and community driven. Her research includes studying the intersections of domestic violence with issues of oppression, privilege and strength in Latin@ families and communities. Her evaluation experiences have included evaluating community based prevention and engagement efforts, including a leadership intervention for immigrant Latina survivors of domestic violence. Her clinical work focuses on trauma informed, culturally relevant approaches.

 

“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.

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.


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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.

 

How Do We Know If It Works? Measuring Outcomes in Bystander-Focused Abuse Prevention on Campuses

PIRCResearch Summary

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The use of bystander education programs (including Prevention Innovations Research Center’s (PIRC) Bringing in the Bystander ® In-Person Prevention Program) to prevent sexual and relationship violence and stalking is increasingly common, and as more colleges and other institutions adopt these programs, better means of evaluating them are needed. Since the programs focus on preparedness, attitudes, and behavior changes, evaluations should test their effects in these areas. Research that helps develop reliable means for testing the impact of bystander education programs is important for demonstrating program efficacy—hence the article title, How do we know if it works? Banyard, Moynihan, Cares, and Warner—a team of two psychologists and two sociologists—have developed several potential instruments for measuring the attitudes and behaviors that bystander programs target. Measures like these make it possible to assess bystander education programs by allowing comparison between peoples’ attitudes and behaviors before and after participation in a program.

The bystander intervention framework addresses shortfalls in earlier prevention efforts by emphasizing the community behaviors and attitudes that create a culture of respect and collective responsibility for preventing violence. Informing people about sexual assault, empowering them to speak out against it, and giving them tools to help prevent violence has the potential to create safer campus cultures. New programs have developed faster than evaluation metrics, and the authors of this study created and tested several possible means of evaluating a program’s efficacy. (See Banyard, 2015; Banyard, 2008; and Banyard, Plante, and Moynihan, 2004 for more information on developing metrics). Three of the proposed bystander-focused measures gather responses on self-reported attitudes, and a fourth gathers responses on self-reported behavior.

Drawing on responses from 948 first-year students at two U.S. universities, the authors investigated the psychometric properties of four key measures of bystander action. Since asking someone, “are you now prepared to be a good bystander?” is unlikely to prove informative, several steps of evaluation are needed to determine whether a person has internalized the intended messages of bystander intervention training. The authors drew on related research that established the validity and reliability of several approaches to measuring participant attitudes and behaviors, and tested their reliability and validity with this population. Their aim was to see if the measurements were equally valid and reliable for testing the attitudes and behaviors that bystander education programs aim to encourage as they had been in other contexts.

The Readiness to Help scale is revised from a 36-item assessment of readiness for change (Banyard, Eckstein, and Moynihan, 2010), and re-named Readiness to Help. Designed to gauge participants’ awareness of a problem and their willingness to take responsibility for addressing it, the scale consists of 12 parallel items related to sexual abuse, relationship abuse, and stalking. It asks respondents to rate how likely they are to perform those actions on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (not at all likely) to 5 (extremely likely). This metric was broken down into subscales for Action, Responsibility, and Awareness.

Perceptions of Peer Helping drew on a series of 20 questions developed for this study that asked participants to indicate how likely their friends were to help in various ways in different situations, on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all likely) to 5 (extremely likely).

Intent to Help Friends and Intent to Help Strangers uses a set of 38 actions related to helping friends and 41 actions related to helping strangers to measures attitudes or willingness to help in situations where there is risk for sexual assault or relationship abuse. It is based on a shorter, 51-question scale by Banyard (2008) that showed good reliability and construct validity.

Bystander behaviors directed at friends and strangers was assessed using a set of 49 actions related to helping friends and 49 actions related to helping strangers that could be taken in situations where there is an apparent risk for sexual assault or relationship abuse. This scale builds on an earlier, shorter version developed by Banyard (2008).

The results from this study indicate that “readiness to help…, intent to be an active bystander, self-reported bystander responses, and perceptions of peer norms in support of action all showed adequate reliability and validity” (101).

The researchers also noted that this particular study relied on notions of what helping looks like in a university context, and was designed with a student lifestyle in mind, where attending parties features prominently. As assessment measures mature, researchers will need new evaluation strategies that reflect different cultural contexts. The metrics developed in this study, and related ones, are available in full on PIRC’s website http://cola.unh.edu/prevention-innovations-research-center/evidence-based-initiatives#BEM. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Banyard, V.L. (2015). Toward the Next Generation of Bystander Prevention of Sexual and Relationship Violence: Action Coils to Engage Communities. New York, NY: Springer Publications.

Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., Cares, A. C., & Warner, R. (2014). How Do We Know If It Works? Measuring Outcomes in Bystander-Focused Abuse Prevention on Campuses. Psychology of Violence 4: 101-115.

Banyard, V. L. (2008). Measurement and Correlates of Prosocial Bystander Behavior: The Case of Interpersonal Violence. Violence and Victims, 23, 83– 97.

Banyard, V. L., Eckstein, R. P., & Moynihan, M. M. (2010). Involving Community in Sexual Violence Prevention: The Role of Stages of Change. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25, 111–135.

Banyard, V. L., Plante, E. G., & Moynihan, M. M. (2004). Bystander Education: Bringing a Broader Community Perspective to Sexual Violence Prevention, Journal of Community Psychology, 32, 61-79.

Embracing Digital Bystander Intervention

By Nora Draper, Ph.D

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This past week, a horrific story highlighted the complicated relationship between social media, sexual assault, and bystander intervention. An 18-year old Ohio woman has been indicted on multiple charges, including rape and distribution of sexual materials involving a minor, for broadcasting the rape of another young woman with the live-streaming app Periscope.

Mobile app Periscope allows people to stream real-time video to viewers around the world. This use of Periscope to broadcast an incident of sexual assault is a recent example of social media platforms being used to facilitate and publicize abuse. Stories about cyberbullying, revenge porn, and fraping (taking over someone’s social media profile without their knowledge or consent), show how digital and mobile tools have the potential to enable online harassment. Despite the qualifier “digital” or “cyber,” the consequences of digital harassment almost always cross the largely artificial boundaries between the online and offline worlds.

Certainly, digital platforms have the potential to facilitate anti-social and even illegal behaviors. The story above, however, calls attention to the important and often overlooked ways that social media tools can be—and often are—deployed to support positive practices. In an act of digital bystander intervention, a viewer who saw the Periscope feed reportedly contacted authorities to report the rape. As prevention campaigns turn their attention to the role bystanders can play by intervening to deter or stop sexual assault, there is an opportunity to rethink how digital and mobile technologies are already used as tools for intervention, and incorporate these strategies into intervention campaigns. Indeed, as Communication researcher Carrie Rentschler has recently written, online bystanders can themselves be culpable in the perpetration of digital violence.

Smartphones, which are in the pockets of 85% of young adults, are often seen as encouraging frivolous behavior. Such framing, however, ignores smartphones’ empowering potential as tools for media production and accessing information. Given the ubiquity of these devices, it is essential that bystander intervention campaigns begin to focus on how these tools can turn witnessing into digital and mobile action.

Digital bystander intervention need not be exclusively the kind of crisis intervention witnessed in the story above. Bystander intervention programs, such as the University of New Hampshire’s Bringing in the Bystander ® In-Person Prevention Program, focus on the need for intervention along the spectrum of abuse, from microaggressions to sexual violence. The digital environment is full of opportunities for intervention. From the comments sections under news articles to social media pages, there are myriad platforms for small forms of digital bystander intervention. The types of intervention often marginalized as slacktivism— actions such as voting down sexist content, flagging harassing posts for review, and posting supportive comments—all have the potential to support a growing culture of digital intervention.


Nora_Draper_HeadshotNora Draper, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of New Hampshire. Her research examines the complexities of authenticity, privacy, identity, and reputation in the digital era through frames of cultural theory, critical institutionalism, and public policy. Her work explores how identity, particularly gender, race, class, and sexuality, shape experiences of privacy, surveillance, and visibility in a digital environment. Her work has been published in the International Journal of Communication, Critical Studies in Media Communication, the Journal of Children and Media, and Surveillance & Society.

Remembering Mass Rape During Sexual Assault Awareness Month

By Nicole Fox, Ph.D.

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Photos of Rwandan genocide victims hang in Kigali Memorial Center; Image courtesy of the author, Kigali, Rwanda 2012. 

Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the terrorist group ISIS for the violent acts they have committed in Iraq and Syria, noting that this violence constitutes what the United Nations considers genocide.  Furthermore, France’s Minister for Family, Women, and Children’s Rights described the atrocities committed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria as femicide.  The World Health Organization defines femicide as the intentional killing, rape, and torture of women. Feminist author Diana Russell narrows the definition of femicide to “the killing of females by males because they are female,” a bold statement drawing attention to the gendered relationship between perpetrator and victim in sexual violence and the killing of women.

April marks a month of awareness and memory.  In April we pledge to become “aware” of sexual assault: an experience that is reported by 300,000 people, mostly women and girls, every year. Many women across the globe fear sexual violence in April—like every other month of the year— and they perform daily rituals to prevent sexual assault (to learn about macro level prevention visit PIRC’s homepage).

April is a month of awareness in the US and a month of memory across the globe. Annually, April 7th marks the start of a 100-day mourning period commemorating the 1994 Rwandan genocide. During the Rwandan genocide, an estimated 250,000 women were raped, and the majority of survivors of female genocide are either survivors or witnesses of gender-based violence, with many suffering multiple rapes. After many of the men were killed in the early phases of the genocide, the rape and murder of girls and women were commanded by the highest-ranking officials. Genocidal rape and gender-based violence have been documented in every prefecture of Rwanda, victimizing women and girls of all ages, including infants and older adults.

For my research on memorials and reconciliation in post-Genocide Rwanda, I had the honor of interviewing survivors, including many survivors of genocidal rape. Women noted that rape was the rule during the genocide rather than the exception, and that prior to the genocide Rwanda was experiencing economic turmoil. This turmoil made it difficult for men to find work, so when genocide propaganda began, the genocidal campaign presented killing and rape as “work.”  Survivors described how women were demonized, sexualized, and dehumanized prior to the start of the genocide, creating a climate of rampant sexual violence.  In the aftermath, women still suffer over two decades later, and survivors experience significant trauma, severe poverty, and health challenges such as HIV/AIDS.

So what can we make of this month of April—a month of sexual assault awareness, a month for remembrance of genocidal rape, and a month when femicide and sexual violence continues to occur across the globe? I believe it is important to remember that all of these cases are connected. Sexual violence on college campuses is eerily similar to sexual violence during political conflicts. Rape is so rampant globally because we live in a world in which women are devalued economically, emotionally, intellectually, politically, and ultimately physically. Rape takes place within a globalized patriarchal supremacist culture and cannot be disentangled from this context; while the specifics of the environment in which rape occurs do vary, the devaluation of its victims does not. How else might we explain the silence about and tolerance for such brutal acts to such a large portion of our world’s population?


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Nicole Fox, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the sociology department and PIRC member.  She received her doctorate in sociology from Brandeis University.  She researches how communities recover after mass violence paying particular attention to how gender based violence shapes reconciliation efforts and participation.  Her most recent research has focused on post-genocide Rwanda and how survivors of genocide and genocidal rape have rebuilt their lives in the aftermath of such destruction.  Her scholarship has been published in Journal for Scientific Study of Religion, Societies without borders, and the International Journal of Sociology of the Family.

Why Don’t Survivors Just Report Sexual Assault to the Police?

By LB Klein, MSW

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[Photo courtesy of morgueFile]

According to the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. There are many reasons why a survivor might choose not to report an assault, or to stop pursuing a case after reporting it. Every survivor’s healing process or sense of justice is different, and it’s always the survivor’s right to choose whether or not to report sexual violence to law enforcement. The following are just some of the reasons that survivors may choose not to report:

  • Survivors might feel embarrassed about what happened, or want to avoid publicly discussing sexual acts or repeating the story over and over again.
  • Survivors often blame themselves or believe others will blame them.
  • Survivors might believe that involving the police or criminal legal system could lead to time-consuming and invasive processes with little chance of tangible results. They might also worry that these lengthy processes could delay their recovery.
  • Survivors might worry that the criminal legal system will find the perpetrator not guilty, making the reporting seem like an unnecessary and demoralizing ordeal. This might lead survivors to feel even less safe having gone through these systems. Failed legal cases can make survivors feel even more at fault, and as if no one believes them.
  • Survivors might not want others to find out about what happened, or to become targets for gossip or retaliation. Survivors might fear both physical retaliation and social consequences that could inhibit moving forward with their lives.
  • Survivors might not want their families, significant others, or friends to find out for fear that they will worry, become overly protective, blame them, retaliate against the perpetrator, or insist that they leave certain environments like school or work.
  • Survivors may not recognize that what happened to them was sexual assault or rape. They likely know and sometimes care about the person(s) who committed these acts. They might want help or support, but would not want to pursue actions that label what happened as “rape.”
  • If the perpetrator is found guilty of committing a sexual assault and receives a significant punishment, the survivor may face retaliation from other members of the community for getting someone in trouble.
  • The survivor may have been threatened by the perpetrator or be frightened of the perpetrator.
  • Survivors may fear compromising or complicating relationships with mutual friends.
  • The survivor may fear that others won’t believe an assault occurred. A common reaction from friends or family members that the survivor might have experienced is disbelief—that situations like this could not possibly happen. Another common reaction is to blame and scrutinize the survivors’ behavior, making the survivor reluctant to report assaults in future.
  • The survivor may have already had a bad experience with legal systems or have a criminal record, or know someone else who has been victimized by the system.
  • The survivor might not have the resources to pay the legal fees that are sometimes associated with reporting.
  • Survivors from communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, American Indian and low-income communities may have negative histories with law enforcement perpetrating state violence against them or their communities and may not view law enforcement and the criminal justice system as a source of healing, justice, or support.
  • The survivor might be focusing on coping with mental health symptoms, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, PTSD, academic or work difficulties, and safety concerns, and not have the time, energy, or support to pursue the case. Participation in legal processes often exacerbates these problems rather than alleviates them.
  • The survivor may have been engaging in other embarrassing or illegal activities when the assault occurred, and fears the conduct or legal process will uncover these.
  • If survivors identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or queer, or they were engaging in sexual activity with a person of the same gender at the time of the assault, they may be concerned about being outed if they pursue a legal process.

For these reasons and many more, many survivors do not choose to report to law enforcement. No one should ever force or coerce a survivor into reporting an assault to the police, and it should be a survivor’s decision if and when to report. It is crucial to put survivors’ self-determination at the center in all sexual assault prevention and awareness programming to help survivors regain the power and control taken from them when they were sexually assaulted.  We must continue to validate the experiences of survivors, regardless of whether they ever report to a police officer or spend a day in a courtroom, and to consider ways to address sexual violence outside of criminal legal interventions.


LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. In that role, she builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA.

 

Welcome to PIRCBlog!

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          We begin this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month with the launch of our newest communication platform, the Prevention Innovations Research Center blog. Welcome to PIRCBlog!
         Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC) is internationally recognized for its collaborative research and community engagement, with a focus on preventing and responding to sexual and relationship violence and stalking.
          We hope to bring you interesting updates from our work here at the University of New Hampshire including work by our PIRC colleagues and collaborating partners from around the globe. Together, we are engaged in cutting-edge scholarship, research, education and developments that are making news and making a difference in ending sexual and relationship violence and stalking. Our research informs policy and practice and we convene practitioners and researchers to develop strategies for evidence-based, innovative approaches to violence prevention. We are committed to mentoring the next generation of researchers, scholars and advocates. Therefore, PIRC researchers involve graduate and undergraduate students in their projects at all stages, from design to implementation to publication. Our Susan Schecter Domestic and Sexual Violence Social Justice Lab is an interdisciplinary research laboratory where PIRC offers paid and credit-earning research assistantships to UNH students.
          PIRCBlog will include contributions from the PIRC team as well as from guest bloggers. Contributors will discuss current practices in social change and violence prevention, take a deeper look at the evidence-based research that drives our mission and summarize their peer-reviewed publications. We will also examine the partnerships with practitioners and communities where research findings are put to use and discuss their implementation. PIRCBlog will recognize practitioners and researchers world-wide who are working toward the same goals by highlighting like-minded organizations, tracking the news related to the prevention of sexual and relationship violence and stalking, and reviewing books, movies and other media that highlight sexual and domestic violence.
          As the launch of our blog coincides with April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we have planned a series of posts on this year’s theme:preventionWatch for discussions of the importance of prevention and PIRC’s efforts helping post-secondary institutions, federal and state efforts,and local communities develop and implement model policies, procedures and programs. We’ll also be addressing prevention efforts in the military and on college and university campuses, prevention and public policy, and prevention in the media.
          We invite you to read and to comment on the blog, follow us on WordPress,visit our website, and subscribe to our semi-annual newsletter, PIRCNews, for information about PIRC. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, please see our submission guidelines. You can also follow us on Twitter (@WePreventNow), on Instagram (@preventioninnovations) and on Facebook where you will find updates about our work, and announcements of new blog posts. Thank you for visiting PIRCBlog!
          –Sharyn Potter and Jane Stapleton

SharynPotter1Sharyn J. Potter, Ph.D., MPH, is a founder and Co-director of Prevention Innovations Research Center: Ending Sexual and Relationship Violence and Stalking at the University of New Hampshire and is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology.
stapletonJane Stapleton, M.A., is a founder and Co-director of Prevention Innovations Research Center: Ending Sexual and Relationship Violence and Stalking at the University of New Hampshire.