Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sexual Assault on College Campuses and Title IX: Educate Yourself On the Facts!



Many fondly remember the time they left home for college. That sweet taste of freedom brewing. Sure, the mistakes were a necessary part of learning and the bad decision to party all night was just part of the vibrant experience. Kudos to the ones who passed on late night social endeavors for strong coffee and dedicated hard work. For some, it took the entirety of college and hefty debt to then realize what it was supposed to be about- education, personal progress, their future. But media culture tells a very different story of what it’s about because the flirty girl in a short skirt, binge drinking debauchery, and the coming of age misconceptions are the true selling points of entertainment. 

Media culture itself isn't all to blame for this campus vision; many parents and other influential adults, and most youth, buy into the idea that college is about that kind of experience. But does that portrayal genuinely set college-bound kids up for success? Unfortunately, this typical college story becomes one of many contributing factors to sexual assault on campuses nationwide. What if we flipped the script, creating a more intentional story of learning and boundaries along with their newly granted freedom?  What if hard-core studying, responsible drinking and consensual sex were the new vision?



In 2001, sexual assault was finally granted a dedicated month to raising awareness. And during this time of teal ribbon wearing or catchy hashtags on social media, it’s also about taking a proactive stance to everyone's right for safety. Sounds like an obvious solution, but awareness months exist because a problem still exists. However, there is good news amidst the complexity of sexual assault. Anyone has the power to make a difference and it starts with you. Here’s an example, with universities across the US dealing with sexual assault issues, campaigns and other awareness programs have recently brought this problem to the front line. Awareness of the issue has grown exponentially, and many are fighting back. Even though sexual assault remains a problem, with time and momentum awareness has the potential of turning into the fight that changed it all!

So, where do you start, you ask? You can take a look at something worth fighting for which is currently on the chopping block, Title IX.

Title IX, which is more widely known to be a law protecting equal rights in school athletics, requires every school receiving federal aid to take concrete steps to deal with campus sexual assault. Sounds like a great idea, right? But there is a long divided line between whether schools should be allowed to grant punitive action towards a perpetrator of sexual assault versus handing the problem over to law enforcement. Although there are a handful of other arguments that play into Title IX’s hotly debated status, this one plays on those who have never been a victim or know little about what it’s like to be sexually assaulted. Confidentiality and choice are two crucial components to this argument. 

It’s not that Title IX discourages victims from reporting, nor is it a replacement for reporting to law enforcement, but it allows the victim to come forward and obtain the support necessary to continue their education. Forcing a victim to report in order to receive support for the violation perpetrated against them places them in a box of certain restraints that may end in not reporting altogether. And, even worse, it could lead to yet another victim of sexual assault going without support, services or help of any kind.  There are a multitude of reasons why a victim doesn’t want to report: fear of skepticism, re-victimization, fear of retaliation, going through the ordeal to have it not end in an arrest, perception that law enforcement doesn't have a clear understanding of trauma, some states not recognizing men as the victim or women as the perpetrator, and/or the victim being part of the LGBTQ community. Until these reasons get addressed, forcing a victim to report isn't going to be the answer.

Law enforcement and college administration need to find the compromise.  The answer isn’t simple and both parties have a history of guilt in handling these cases incorrectly.  If you are in college, have a child in college, ever went to college, live near a college, care about college students or in general care about the well-being of others, educate yourself on the intricacies and debates that lie in Title IX.   

Think about what is best for a victim of sexual assault, and specifically what would create the best possible environment for a college student victimized by sexual assault to thrive on campus. 

You can start there.  And what’s next, you ask? The simple task of getting media culture on-board with the new vision of campus life.  Okay, so it’s not that simple.  But by individuals taking initiative to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, educate themselves on the incidence of sexual violence, speak-up about the trauma of sexual violence and openly voice that sexual assault should not and will not be tolerated or seen as a normal part of culture, then change will happen.  The more individuals, the greater the change, so get on board with putting an end to sexual assault!

Contributed by Christina Vaughn
Violence prevention advocate and volunteer at Tahoe SAFE Alliance

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Power of Bystanders to End Rape Culture



Sexual assault, rape culture, and bystander intervention are dominating news headlines, fueled by public outrage over several high-profile cases of sexual assault. This isn’t just a problem that is happening in large urban areas or on college campuses.  At Tahoe SAFE Alliance the number of sexual assault clients served has more than doubled over the last year.

In our ongoing efforts to keep individuals safe in their homes, communities, schools, and workplaces, this is a good time to consider the role of the general community in sexual assault prevention.  Traditionally, sexual assault prevention messaging has been around ‘Don’t rape, don’t get raped’ which isn’t particularly helpful as a prevention tool.  But what if conversations were around interrupting and intervening?  What if messaging were inclusive to where ‘Everyone has a role to play in keeping people safe’? 

Bystander Intervention is not new, but it has continued to be a progressive method that has proven to work.  Take the recent case of Stanford University student Brock Turner who assaulted a female student behind a dumpster.  He was caught by two passing graduate students who tackled and held him until police arrived.  Intervention worked.  Yet, despite the powerful potential of bystanders, there are complex, multifaceted reasons why people don’t intervene, according to Jackson Katz, an educator, author, and creator of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Model, one of the country’s first bystander intervention training programs.


How is it that presumptuously caring people can watch such attacks, yet do nothing to intervene?  According to Katz, one of those factors is the pressure of the “peer culture” – expectations among friends, partygoers, teammates, etc. He further explains that an assault within peer culture situations – where most assaults happen -- its not just about stopping a violent act, it requires going against stereotypes and social norms and confronting issues of gender and power dynamics.

While recurring headlines of sexual assaults are disheartening, studies show that bystander programs are changing perceptions and making a difference.  At Tahoe SAFE Alliance, we are having inclusive conversations around sexual assault prevention and the transformative power of Bystander Intervention with students in our community.  Last fall, the Teen Peace Project, a teen peer advocacy club at Truckee High School facilitated by Tahoe SAFE Alliance, created an outreach survey designed to assess how Truckee residents react to violence as a community.  The results were documented in a video that is part of a broader community mobilization effort. (See the video here.)

Bystander Intervention is a powerful tool that is helping to save lives in violent situations like sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.  If you decide to be a proactive bystander and help a person in need, there are some important steps to take.
1)  Assess the situation for safety of all parties involved.  Decide if the authorities need to be contacted.  Your personal safety should be the number one priority.
2)  Decide what action to take.  Do you want to personally intervene by doing or saying something directly to the offender, or do you want to do something indirectly such as making up an excuse to get someone out of an uncomfortable situation?  Think about your safety and options before intervening.

3)  Intervene – with reinforcements, if possible.  Your safety, and the influence you have, is increased when working with a group.

It takes a community in the effort of Stopping Abuse for EVERYONE.  Everyone has a role to play!

Dawn Harris
Fund Development Manager
Tahoe SAFE Alliance

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Child Abuse Affects Every Demographic



Child Abuse Affects Every Demographic - Children's Program Helps Build Community Resilience.


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, where we can bring awareness to the many families in our community that are working towards having healthy relationships. The struggles that every family faces vary by circumstance, and there is no big book on how to parent your child. 
Child abuse is such a heavy term, and many people don't know what it truly encompasses. It includes physical, emotional, and verbal abuse, and neglect. Most often, people are not intentionally trying to harm their children, but they may not know that hitting is physical abuse, or maybe they had never seen a healthy relationship with their parents or family and they are following what they learned.       

Tahoe SAFE Alliance staff, school staff, child care providers, law enforcement, health care providers, and many more people are mandated to report any stories or witnessing of child abuse to CPS. Once a report is made, we as reporters have no control over what happens next. Often, people are scared to disclose or to consider what might happen with involvement of CPS. I spend a lot of time explaining to families what a response from CPS might look like, and that their focus is on safety and that they can help the family with safety planning and parenting skills.
At Tahoe SAFE Alliance, our services are voluntary. When a family engages in services, an amazing community response happens. We all work together to help them understand healthy relationships and healthy family responses. Any time Tahoe SAFE Alliance is working with another agency, we get consent from the person to share their information and work collaboratively; it is entirely their decision. We provide education to a family or individual about healthy relationships, the effects of domestic violence on kids, and will have informal conversations about coping and parenting skills. 
We also provide individual therapy to children and survivors of domestic violence, legal and educational advocacy, and help coordinate and make referrals, and we offer many more services to survivors of domestic violence. Child abuse affects every demographic. What each of us can do is model healthy behaviors, ask for help if we feel we need it, and report any abuse we see or hear about.  All of it builds resilience in our kids and our community. 

Penny Morris
Children's Program Manager
Tahoe SAFE Alliance