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.

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

PIRCResearch

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.

 

National Campus Prevention and Policy: Title IX+ in Action

By Jill Dunlap

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[Photo Source]

The news about sexual violence on campus can seem dire and often overwhelming to parents, current and potential students, and campus administrators. It seems that every day a new study is released about campus sexual violence, its prevalence, and the culture that perpetuates it.[1] While it might seem easier to hide under the covers and never read the news again, it is important to recognize the good that has come from the increased attention to campus sexual violence. In fact, April is the best time to look around and appreciate all of the new and innovative sexual violence prevention and awareness programming taking place on college campuses. A mere five years ago, campus sexual violence prevention was likely the responsibility of a part-time prevention educator or student groups on campus who put on well-intentioned and perhaps sporadic prevention programs for students. With the new requirements under VAWA, and the more prominent role of Title IX coordinators in addressing hostile environments related to sexual violence, prevention programming has moved to the top of the priority list on many colleges. The greatest hope I feel is when I see campuses going beyond meeting the requirements to provide incoming students with prevention programs and developing multi-pronged prevention programs that span a student’s entire career on campus. Many campuses have well-developed strategic plans for sexual violence prevention programming. Other campuses have moved beyond defining VAWA crimes for students, and are training students on how to respond to disclosures by their peers and get them connected to resources. Prevention programming is increasingly evidence-informed and is moving away from single, one-hour interventions that happen only during orientation.

We are beginning to see the results of these efforts. This week, University of Connecticut released the results of a campus survey on sexual violence that found, among other things, that 55% of respondents knew how to report an incident of sexual violence and knew the confidential resources available to them. Surveys on other campuses have also indicated that more students are aware of their Title IX rights. While these results may speak more to awareness rather than a decline in the prevalence of sexual violence, they are telling us that students are absorbing the messages delivered via prevention programming on campus.

The other good news is that parents and students now have another measure to inform their decisions about where to attend college. Potential students can still look to Clery Act numbers to assess safety, but they can also look to the comprehensive prevention programming campuses provide—including who provides the programming, how often, and the types of programs campuses are providing.

Finally, the good news for campuses is that they are not alone in efforts to prevent sexual violence. This spring alone, at least three separate federal grant solicitations through the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, the Centers for Disease Control and the Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health were available to help campuses develop and assess the effectiveness of sexual violence prevention programs.

The problem clearly has not been fixed, and sexual violence on campus remains a major concern for parents, students and administrators. But, there is hope that the issue is being taken seriously and that campuses are finding innovative ways to prevent sexual violence on campus. Do not let April pass you by without taking part in sexual violence prevention programming on your campus or in your community. Sexual violence impacts every one of us. This issue belongs to all of us and we all play a part in preventing and addressing sexual violence on our campuses and in our communities.

[1] Lindo, J. M., Siminski, P. M., & Swensen, I. D. (2015). College Party Culture and Sexual Assault (No. w21828). National Bureau of Economic Research.


JillDunlap_Headshot_800x800 (1)Jill Dunlap is the Director for Equity, Inclusion, and Violence Prevention at NASPA. She is not only a PIRC friend, but she also served on the Violence Against Women Act Campus SaVE federal negotiated rulemaking committee with the Department of Education in 2014. Her work with that committee assisted in creating guidelines for campuses to follow when complying with new federal regulations on sexual assault, dating and domestic violence and stalking prevention and response. Jill’s work experience also includes having written and managed three Department of Justice Grants with the Office on Violence Against Women, all of which focused on funding campus-based advocates to assist student survivors. In addition, Jill is proud of her substantial work with community survivors through her commitment to volunteer work for local rape crisis agencies and domestic violence shelters for the past 12 years.