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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Senator Shaheen Stands with Survivors this DVAM

By Senator Jeanne Shaheen

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On October 7th, 2016, just over a year after my initial meeting with sexual assault survivor Amanda Nguyen, my legislation to establish basic rights for survivors of sexual assault was signed into law by President Obama. The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, also known as the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2016, creates the first federally codified rights specifically for sexual assault survivors, and for the first time would allow survivors the opportunity to enforce those rights in federal court. Today I can say with certainty that our nation’s laws stand firmly on the side of sexual assault survivors. The basic rights in this new law include:

  • The right to have a sexual assault evidence collection kit preserved without charge for the entire relevant statute of limitations.
  • The right to be notified in writing 60 days prior to the destruction of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
  • The right to request further preservation of a sexual assault evidence collection kit.
  • The right to be informed of important results of a sexual assault forensic examination.
  • The right to not be charged for a forensic exam.

While the journey to pass this groundbreaking legislation was a relatively short one, it follows a long path of survivors and advocates calling for change in our system. And when Amanda Nguyen walked into my office last summer and shared her heartbreaking story, I knew that changes had to be made to ensure the justice system was on survivors’ side. So, we got to work on legislation and with input from Amanda Nguyen and dozens of nationally-recognized experts in the sexual assault advocacy community, we developed a bill that garnered incredible bipartisan and bicameral support, shuttling it all the way to the President’s desk.

Amidst the partisan bickering and gridlock in Congress, this law demonstrates that citizens can still effect positive change and that bipartisan progress is still possible. Sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes and I hope that these basic rights will encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice. Make no mistake, there’s still much more work to be done to change the culture around sexual assault, and I will continue to lead efforts in the Senate for survivors like Amanda.


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Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, is a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire.

To read Senator Shaheen’s full bio, click here

Congresswoman Kuster Recognizes DVAM

By Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster

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This summer, I stood on the House floor and, for the first time, told my own story about my experiences with sexual assault.

Afterward, I was overwhelmed not only by the support that I received from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but by the kind messages from constituents across New Hampshire, some of whom came forward with their own stories. Speaking out for the first time, almost 40 years later, was not easy. But I’m hopeful that sharing my story may help survivors know they are not alone.

Unfortunately, many people never feel free to come forward after incidents like the ones that I experienced.  Data from RAINN, the nation’s largest sexual violence prevention network, shows that of every 1,000 sexual assaults that occur, only 344 are reported to police.  Common reasons cited for not reporting include fear of retaliation from the perpetrator and a belief that the police could not or would not be able to help.  Clearly, we must do better.  We must create a better culture where survivors are able to come forward without fear.

As we mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we can both celebrate the progress we have made and reflect upon the hard work that remains to be done to combat sexual violence—on our campuses, in our military, and throughout our communities.  There have been important steps forward.  This summer, amid public outrage about the lenient sentencing of former Stanford University student Brock Turner, I joined with 17 of my House colleagues to read on the House floor, Emily Doe’s open letter describing her attack and ensuing trial, marking the first time a victim’s statement has been read in full in the House chamber.

Additionally comprehensive federal regulations, following the bipartisan 2013 re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), now provide additional guidance to schools regarding campus sexual violence.  And earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, which, among other reforms, formally codifies that assault survivors have the right to receive a comprehensive forensic physical exam free of charge and to have their rape kits preserved.  Legislation like this helps demonstrate to survivors that we have their backs, and that every effort will be made to bring perpetrators to justice as swiftly as possible.

I was proud to cosponsor the House version of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, but there are a number of other pieces of legislation for which I am advocating that are just as worthy of a vote on the floor—and President Obama’s signature.  They include:

  • H.R. 1310, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act; introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), this bipartisan legislation would strengthen Clery Act reporting requirements for schools that receive federal funding, as well as require them to develop enhanced campus security policies, among other changes.
  • H.R. 2680, the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency on (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act.  Introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), this legislation would require the Department of Education to publicly disclose schools that are under federal Title IX investigation, as well as strengthen penalties for schools that are in violation, among other reforms.
  • H.R. 1490, the SOS Campus Act.  Introduced by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), this legislation would require schools receiving federal funding to have designated independent advocates to focus on preventing and addressing campus sexual violence.
  • H.R. 5972, the Campus Sexual Assault Whistleblower Act; introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), this legislation would provide protection for students that report sexual assault (either against themselves or others) against “honor code” violations or other retaliation from administrators.

Together, we must focus on preventing future incidences of campus sexual violence, and creating college climates in which victims feel comfortable reporting and perpetrators are held accountable.  We should learn from schools that are already leading the way in this area, and hold accountable institutions that are not.  I’m proud of UNH’s and PIRC’s innovative approach to combating sexual violence, on campus and elsewhere.  Research has shown that only a small percentage of people commit these crimes, meaning that the majority of people who don’t can be part of the solution.  Initiatives like Bringing in the Bystander and Know Your Power are crucial to bringing everyone together to work toward safer communities, and I look forward to continuing to support your efforts in Congress.


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Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, a Democrat, is the  Representative from New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District.

To read Representative Kuster’s full bio, click here

Compliance through a Prevention Lens

By LB Klein, MSW, MPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By Olivia Legere

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


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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.

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

By Elizabeth Wilmerding, PIRCBlog guest

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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By Rebecca Howard

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

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

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

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

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


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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.

 

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.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

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.

Gender Essentialism, Engaging Men in Sexual Assault Awareness, & Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®

By LB Klein, Jen Przewoznik & Jeff Segal

*This post first appeared on Stop Street Harassment.*

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Every April, men all over the country stumble through public parks in high heels to raise awareness for the gender-based violence movement for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has been a staple of SAAM programming since 2001, and has been praised for engaging tens of thousands of men in conversations on gender, power, and sexual assault in an accessible and fun way. Men have embraced Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®—it’s very often the SAAM event with the most men in attendance, and its popularity has raised necessary funds for rape crisis centers and other national and international anti-violence organizations. However, many activists and organizers have begun to voice serious concerns over the popular event.

It is vital that we consider not only the intent but the impact of our sexual assault awareness events. In Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®, men step into high heels to show their solidarity with women. Wearing high heels is therefore equated with being a woman. But while some women wear high heels, many do not. Furthermore, women are often targeted specifically because they express themselves outside of the normative societal expectations of their gender. By equating high heels and women, we remove gender non-conforming women from our conversations about sexual violence entirely, and reinforce the common myth that people presenting in ways considered masculine are not vulnerable to violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® positions women as victims and men as perpetrators, but there are survivors of all gender identities, including men.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® also creates spaces where transgender people are marginalized. National transgender rights organization Forge (http://forge-forward.org/2013/04/walk-a-mile/) says participants in the walk should consider “whether they are re-victimizing more than a third of all victims by ignoring their very existence.” According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf), 64% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Transgender women are often incorrectly and offensively described as “men wearing women’s clothing,” a description that is often used to justify violence against them. Transgender women, particularly those of color, are at disproportionate risk of experiencing not only sexual and intimate partner violence but also street harassment, police brutality, homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, and murder. It is vital for people working to end gender-based violence to closely ally with transgender and non-binary people instead of holding events that exclude and further marginalize them.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® has raised attention, awareness, and funds, but at what expense? We cannot afford to raise awareness by perpetuating an essentialist view of what people should wear or how they should look and act. The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® narrative is accessible because it is reductive, and oversimplification in our work is dangerous. Of course, communities should still hold events to raise awareness, but we must be intentional about changing the norms that perpetuate violence instead of reinforcing them. Events that re-victimize, erase, or marginalize survivors do not have a place in our field.

So, what can we do instead to engage men during SAAM? We can hold events that encourage folks of all genders to work together. We can bring smaller groups of men together for meaningful conversation, or mobilize larger groups for fundraisers not built around reinforcing harmful gender norms. Perhaps, as Forge (http://forge-forward.org/2013/04/walk-a-mile/) suggests, we should hold events that encourage everyone to break stereotypes about gender and discuss how harmful gender norms perpetuate violence. Then, we will be raising awareness of the true message of the movement to end sexual assault: that to end sexual assault, we must change culture.


LB_Klein

LB Klein, MSW has dedicated her professional and academic life to ending gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and advancing social justice. She is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this August.

 

JenP

Jen Przewoznik, MSW has over 15 years of experience working with/in women’s and LGBTQ communities as an educator, trainer, technical assistance provider, practitioner, and program evaluator. She is founder of the Queer Research Consulting Collaborative, a project designed to consult with researchers studying LGBTQ issues. Jen is currently the Director of Prevention & Evaluation at the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and co-chairs the NC Sexual Violence Prevention Team and the NC Campus Consortium.

JeffSegalJeff Segal, BS resides in NYC, where he works in the tech sector and moonlights as a professional dancer. He has been a part of the movement to end sexual violence for ten years. Jeff has four years of experience as a sexual violence crisis counselor, and currently is leading initiatives to make social dancing in New York a safer space.

 

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.