Tag Archives: sexual assault prevention

Stanford, Vanderbilt and bystander intervention on college campuses

By Hannah Stein, JWI

This has been a profoundly important week for the sexual assault movement. On Tuesday, January 27, a Nashville jury convicted former Vanderbilt football players Brandon Vandenberg and Cory Batey of crimes including aggravated rape and unlawful photography, stemming from a 2013 gang assault. Pending sentencing on March 6, Vandenberg and Batey will each face at least two decades in prison.

Just hours later, news broke that last week, Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, a freshman All-American swimmer, raped an unconscious woman outside a fraternity party. Two students happened to bicycle past the assault and, upon noticing the woman wasn’t moving, chased Turner down. Turner will be arraigned on felony charges of sexually penetrating an unconscious person and assault with intent to commit rape on Monday, February 2.

In contrast to the Vanderbilt case, bystanders played significantly active roles in the Stanford incident. Rather than ignoring the situation, the two students dropped their bikes and ran after Turner, tackling him to the ground before dialing 911. Members from the fraternity party also took action, aiding in holding Turner down until the police arrived. Neither Turner nor the survivor was a member of Greek life.

Without bystander intervention, Turner likely would have gotten away with his crimes.

In the Vanderbilt assault, though, countless people witnessed — yet failed to report — the gang rape of an unconscious student. Law enforcement only learned of the incident after school officials saw the assault on video; they had retrieved the surveillance footage for a completely unrelated issue. The woman was unaware of her rape until contacted by police.

In these cases, bystander intervention and technology helped bring offenders to face the justice system.* They played instrumental roles the investigations, aiming to hold the rapists accountable for his actions.

However, this is not representative of many assault cases.

Women are most often assaulted by people they trust, resulting in attacks where no one else is present. This eliminates the possibility for bystanders to step in, when rape occurs in private settings. Because survivors frequently know their attackers, assaults often take place in the survivor or attacker’s home. No bystanders, no security (or other) footage. Without statements from witnesses or proof from surveillance, sexual assault cases boil down to the survivor’s word versus the rapist’s word.

Proving sexual assault is hard. Not only do survivors become crime scenes, but they face more skepticism than any other victim of crime. Undergoing post-assault examinations is often as violating as the attacks themselves, so what survivors need most is support. The best thing we can do for survivors isn’t to question, doubt, or belittle them; it’s to believe them.

College students often find it difficult to intervene once they realize that someone needs help. For this reason, JWI works on college campuses to teach the importance of bystander intervention through our Safe Smart Dating program. To learn more about this program, visit jwi.org/SSD.

*Brock Turner has not yet been tried; the arraignment will take place on Monday. February 2.

The Evil on Modern Campuses

By Lori Weinstein, CEO/Executive Director, JWILoriWeinstein

While I’ve never called out another woman, I have a problem with Camille Paglia. Here, I’m talking about her recent post on time.com, “The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil.” In less than 750 words, she summarily dismisses the issue of assault on college campuses, denigrates women and attempts to set the domestic violence movement back decades. Her post is dangerous, misleading and ill-informed. When a 20 year old man takes advantage of an inexperienced 18 year old woman in order to have sex with her against her will, Camille, this is not a case of mixed consent, or “oafish hookup melodrama.” It is rape. Rape is not just committed by psychotic strangers. It is committed by acquaintances and friends and lovers. It is not about the animalistic male sexuality that responds uncontrollably to provocatively dressed co-eds. Rape is about power and control and is has become an epidemic on our nation’s campuses.

There is no hierarchy. We do not put predators at the top of the list and sexual assault on college campuses at the bottom. Violence is violence is violence.

We used to segment violence—stranger rape vs date rape. But rape is rape. And violence is violence. Paglia writes as if those women who were sexually assaulted against their will by another student should just shake it off—feel lucky that they weren’t the victim of a real crime. That they have no right to complain because somehow their attacks are less than.

Lilly Jay at the launch of White House Initiative

Lilly Jay at the launch of White House Initiative “It’s On Us.” Photo by Nicole Radivilov | Contributing Photo Editor, GW Hatchet.

So explain that to young women like Lilly Jay, who was raped as a freshman at Amherst and spoke last week at the White House about her struggle to “reclaim college.” Understand what actually happens here—imagine, being raped or assaulted and having to sit in class or walk the hallways with your assailant. Could you concentrate on your studies? Imagine being all to certain that any attempt to report the attack will go nowhere—or worse, that you’ll have to confront your attacker face to face only to have him exonerated because maybe you were drinking. Or were wearing a crop top. Or didn’t say no that final time.

So, you stay quiet. Or transfer. The physical and psychological pain forever scarring.

Just today, the University of Oregon, a school not even named on the list of 55 colleges under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education about their handling of sexual assaults, released the results of a survey that 10 percent of the students surveyed were raped and 90 percent of the students assaulted, never spoke of the violence.

And Paglia thinks colleges should “stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives.” Camille, it is the colleges’ responsibility to protect our students, even if that means from each other. More than responsibility, it is law. Our universities are charged with creating safe environments. The danger is not in violating civil liberties, the danger is when colleges are not honest about the number of complaints they do get; when they aren’t in compliance with the Clery Act or Title IX; when they protect star athletes; and leave women walking home alone and afraid.

Obama’s New Sexual Assault on Campus Initiative is Needed

By Dana Fleitman, JWI

People just don’t think about it.

As a society, we are not asked to think critically about sex and consent.

Sure, we’ve heard that “no means no” (unless it’s really a coy yes, of course). And we’d all basically agree that rape is wrong (violent stranger rape, anyways, anything else might be ambiguous). As we grow up, the media and our peers send us the message that sex is the absolute pinnacle of the human experience (especially for men), but our sexuality education focuses on sex as a cause of disease and shame (especially for women). Parents usually don’t say much of anything. We know some people think sex should wait until marriage, other people are for it in just about any circumstance, and rape is bad.

That’s about it. That’s what we got.

Is it any wonder, then, that when young people step onto their college campuses, they have no idea how to navigate sex and consent, or what sexual assault even really is?

I’m the author and a trainer for Safe Smart Dating, an original program addressing sexual assault and dating abuse in Greek life on college campuses. The program is co-ed, peer-led and was created in a unique partnership between JWI, Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) and Sigma Delta Tau (SDT). Through the pilots and the feedback I’ve received, there is no doubt in my mind that college students desperately need (and even want!) guidance, non-judgmental information and structured time to actually talk about sex, consent and relationships.

Most people do not connect their own sexual behaviors to the spectrum of sexual assault. As a society, we tend to think about sexual assault as violent rape of a stranger, maybe somewhere seedy like a back alley, and it’s easy to think “well, I’d never do something like that!” and make our own sexual behaviors seem incredibly distant from something as horrible as rape. It is eye opening when young people learn that – while violent rape and stranger rape do exist – sexual assault is any sexual activity that takes place without the explicit consent of the recipient, and that most sexual assault is perpetrated by an intimate partner and/or someone the victim knows and trusts. Having sex with someone who is passed out or very drunk, refusing to wear a condom, and assuming everything’s fine because no one has yelled “no!” are all forms of sexual assault.

One major focus of the program is shifting the framework from “no means no” to “yes means yes,” guiding students to seek enthusiasm from a partner rather than begrudging consent. Whether it is with one person after marriage or with a different partner every night, sex should be consensual, pleasurable, something both parties feel they had control over and wanted. By the time the question becomes “okay, but was it really sexual assault?” there is already a problem; everyone should be looking for an enthusiastic partner who wants to have sex in the first place.

The student participants tell me that this framework is very different, very new – and very helpful. One girl literally took a picture of a slide showing ways non-consent can look to share, and told me, “It really clicked. The ‘yes means yes.’”

In the post-session surveys, students were asked to write in what they learned that was new. Men’s responses included: “I learned that it is best to explicitly ask for consent. ‘Blurred lines’ are not okay,” “Sexual abuse does not just include rape but any unwanted interaction,” and “I learned how consent is more than just not hearing no.”

Female student responses included: “Not being able to say no doesn’t mean a ‘yes,’ so one has to ask for a positive answer before continuing,” “I learned sexual assault is more than just rape,” and “I learned that sexual assault is not played up in any way, shape, or form. It is real.”

This was new information, learned for the first time through this program.

Safe Smart Dating is a valuable first step and conversation-starter, but so much needs to be done on college campuses to address the structural, cultural and individual contributors to this epidemic as well as create effective systems for reporting, supporting survivors and punishing perpetrators. Today, the Obama Administration took a bold step and launched the Not Alone initiative, a truly groundbreaking project from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault that makes preventing and addressing sexual assault on campuses a national priority.

With the shocking numbers of sexual assaults on college campuses – one in five undergraduate women will experience attempted or completed sexual assault before she graduates – it’s about time. 

People just need to start thinking about it. And talking. And acting.

Dana Fleitman is JWI’s manager of prevention and training programs.

Read JWI’s statement on the administration’s new sexual assault on campus initiative.

Solutions to Sexual Assault in Schools

by Marni Kostman

Recent data shows nearly 4,000 reported incidents of sexual battery and over 800 rapes and attempted rapes occurring in our nation’s public high schools. By high school graduation, more than one in ten girls will have been physically forced to have sex; when these young women get to college, the number rises to 20%. Women and girls, however, are not alone in this phenomenon as 6% of undergraduate men report similar sexual victimization. Sexual violence often negatively impacts education, job performance, future earnings, physical and psychological health, and sometimes serves as a catalyst for unhealthy relationship patterns in the future. These negative consequences impact the individual victims and their loved ones, as well as our society’s entire pool of human resources.
On April 4, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a “Dear Colleague” letter responding to the dire situation of campus sexual violence. The letter details for the first time how the education system should handle sexual violence as part of the Title IX requirements of gender equity in schools. It recognizes that sexual violence interferes with student achievement academically and personally, and holds that under Title IX – a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education – discrimination includes sexual violence. The letter gave formal guidelines for schools, such as disseminating a notice of nondiscrimination, designating at least one employee to coordinate Title IX compliance and responsibilities, and adopting grievance procedures for prompt and fair resolution of complaints.

While these formal steps are important, it is my opinion that more informal prevention measures are the most crucial to a safe educational environment and effective response to sexual violence.
Formal guidelines and efficient response procedures are needed and encouraged by the VP leadership, the departments of education and justice, and organizations working on sexual violence; but we need to see schools investing in prevention education, social norms changes, and engaging men. The “Dear Colleague” letter suggests a holistic framework responding to sexual violence, including comprehensive victim services and counseling, academic support and escort services, and employee training on how to deal with allegations of sexual violence. At the same time, there are no suggestions for preventing sexual violence. The training for staff is on how to respond to incidents that have already occurred, and suggested educational resources only address the aftermath of a violent incident. While all of this is useful, it doesn’t help to end the culture of violence in schools that leads to the high statistics mentioned above.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month; I propose that schools start educating students about how to prevent sexual violence now, and carry on this programming throughout the year. In his speech at the University of New Hampshire, Vice President Biden called on students to prevent sexual violence:

“These are your friends, these are your classmates, the people you study with. You need to watch out for each other. You are the first – and best – line of defense…The more and more you bring attention to the issue, the less and less the behavior goes unnoticed, unreported and unpunished, and the more and more attitudes begin to change.”

We can start to change attitudes by raising awareness about the frequency and the consequences of sexual violence among teens. Schools can hold workshops on the dangers of sexual violence, the importance of healthy relationships, and the value of equality regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Youth should be fully involved in these workshops, which should be interactive and provide them with real tools to prevent or handle sexual violence before it escalates. They should also learn the importance of looking out for their peers.
Furthermore, schools must promote policies that don’t blame the victim. Students may not want to look out for themselves or each other if they fear that the school will allow retaliation from classmates, will not provide confidentiality, will force them to press charges, or will retaliate itself with disciplinary proceedings in cases where drugs or alcohol are involved. It is important, here, to have staff who are sensitive to students and perhaps to have a student leader or youth committee to turn to in dealing with sexual assault if institutional problems arise.
Getting youth involved is key in preventing sexual violence; the ways to engage them are infinite. High schools could hold contests during homecoming or spirit week to raise money for a sexual assault crisis line. Sports coaches and club supervisors could talk to their athletes/members about  respecting their partners and obtaining consent, as well as looking out for their peers inside and outside of school. Relatable youth speakers and peer advocates can speak in a health class or a student health fair. Men can be set up with mentors or engaged in programs that teach non-violent masculinity, and also raise awareness that men may be victims too. Self-defense can be taught in gym class. Teachers should recognize that students may drink or do drugs on the weekend and – while this should be prevented in other ways – the same students need to be taught about how to minimize harm and prevent date rape. Most importantly, we should turn to the students themselves for ideas on how to prevent sexual assault: solutions that speak to them and are relevant to their community.