17 Apr 2015

One Reason Why It Is Hard for Colleges & Universities to Address Sexual Violence

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One Reason Why It Is Hard for Colleges & Universities to Address Sexual Violence

By Jill Pilgrim

After spending four days in educational sessions and hearing victim testimonials, I understand why it is so hard for colleges and universities to embrace their role in addressing dating violence and sexual violence impacting their students.  In order to address a problem, you have to look at it and embrace its reality.

From April 6 – 9, 2015, I attended the 2015 International Conference on Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Campus Responses, an End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) event held in New Orleans, La.  The agenda included sessions entitled: Neurobiology of Trauma; Foundations for Trauma-Informed Investigation and Prosecutions; Closing the Justice Gap: Responding Based on the Needs of the Victim, Not the Criminal Justice System; Exploring the Lived Experience of Sexual Violence: What it means for Your Investigations; Teen Dating Violence and Abuse in a Digital World; and Victim Centered Collaboration – The EVAWI Model, among many others.

In these sessions I learned about “disassociation” and why victims of trauma such as sexual assault are unlikely to provide a coherent linear account of the ordeal, immediately after it occurred.  I learned about the “trauma bubble” and that sleep helps traumatized victims remember better, and that the best way to question a sexual assault victim is to ask “please help me to understand whatever you are able to remember about your experience?” And not to ask, “tell me what happened next.”  I learned that in many states, a hospital cannot conduct an invasive forensic post-rape examination without the consent of the victim, some of whom may be unconscious upon admittance to an Emergency Room (ER).  I learned that unless one is a well-trained trauma nurse or doctor, it may be hard to initially align a rape victim’s narrative in the ER with naked-eye inspection of a victim’s body. Most of all, I learned that it is important to “start by believing” the narrative that a traumatized sexual assault victim is describing, to avoid re-traumatizing the victim or inadvertently “shutting down” a victim’s willingness to share relevant information.

The sponsoring organization for the conference is End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI), a nonprofit established by ex-police officers, with a goal of:

Building Community Goodwill by Establishing a Proactive Position to End Violence Against Women  

Through the EVAWI conference, education, technical assistance, best practices and information sharing are the means utilized to achieve “building community goodwill.”  As I sat and absorbed mountains of information and heard first-person accounts of abuse from victims, it dawned on me why few colleges and university Title IX coordinators and campus police were in attendance.  Sending these campus professionals to an EVAWI conference means acknowledging and looking at an ugly side of humanity few institutions of higher learning want to accept exist within their hollowed hallways and pathways.  Regrettably, sexual assault, dating violence and sexual harassment do exist on college campuses and within the community of students, graduate assistants, teaching assistants and professors.  It is for this reason that Title IX of the Education Law was enacted, and guidance on addressing campus sexual violence was issued by the Office of Civil Rights.  If they won’t do it themselves, the federal government is giving college and university administrators a strong push.

Colleges and universities should embrace the education, best practices and information available through organizations such as EVAWI, so that they can better protect their customers – students – from dating violence and sexual assault and related behaviors.

Precise Advisory Group is available to help colleges and universities bridge the gap between identifying a problem and creating effective solutions to better protect the campus community.

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