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Author: Nicoleta Leontiades

The Passing of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act
Posted by On Friday, October 21, 2016

On Friday October 7, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, which guarantees specific rights to survivors of sexual assault. The driving force behind this Act was led by Rise, a civil rights nonprofit organization founded by Amanda Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor herself. Given her own struggles to prevent authorities from destroying her rape kit after a certain amount of time, Nguyen felt that something needed to be done to protect the rights of sexual assault victims.

Until now, many sexual assault survivors have experienced obstacles in their attempt to receive a rape kit examination, as well as frustration with the process that follows. The kit itself consists of a medical examination conducted by trained healthcare professionals to collect and preserve forensic evidence following a sexual assault. Survivors have been burdened with fees, as well as kits that were never examined due to lack of government funds. Some kits were destroyed without prior notification or permission, potentially causing the loss of information that could have resulted in some glimmer of justice.

According to a February 2016 interview with the Guardian, Nguyen was sexually assaulted in October 2014, went through a rape kit examination, and submitted the evidence to Massachusetts. Massachusetts law states that a survivor has 15 years to pursue legal action. However, Nguyen recounts that a pamphlet she received while at the hospital said that she would have to file an extension request if she wanted her test to be preserved for longer than six months, after which time it would be destroyed.

With just the aforementioned information in hand, Nguyen had to do some digging in order to figure out how to file such an extension. To this day, she repeats this process of requesting another extension every six months. Such experiences helped to inspire Nguyen to take action, for herself and for other survivors.

“The system essentially makes me live my life by date of rape,” said Nguyen.

As reported by Mother Jones, the recently passed measure focuses on the collection and preservation of rape kits, ensuring that survivors will not be charged for or be prevented from getting a rape kit examination, even if they have yet to decide whether or not to pursue legal action. Additionally, once the examination has been completed, the kits must be preserved until the applicable statute of limitations runs out, at no cost to the survivor.

Survivors will also be able to request that authorities notify them before destroying their rape kits, with an option of requesting that they continue to be preserved. The measure goes further in guaranteeing survivors the right to be notified of the examination results, including a DNA profiling match and toxicology report. Regardless of whether or not the survivor decides to pursue legal action, they must be informed of their rights.

Nguyen reached out to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to help bring her vision to fruition. “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,” said Shaheen in a statement regarding the Act.

In a statement to Buzzfeed news, Nguyen said: “At the heart of this is a deep belief of equality under the law and making sure that when survivors do choose to engage with the justice system that they are met with something that is fair.”

With advocates like Nguyen and Shaheen, we can hope that survivors are met with a justice system that works with them in the aftermath of a sexual assault, rather than having them feel as though it’s against them.

Along with these new rights for survivors, BuzzFeed news reports that the law also calls for “a working group run by the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of health and human services to develop and disseminate to local agencies the best practices for preservation of forensic evidence and treatment of survivors.”

“Half of the battle was getting these civil rights codified, the other half is making sure there is implementation on the ground and enforcement of these rights,” Nguyen told BuzzFeed News.

Nguyen said that she and Rise are going to continue working on reforms at the state level in an effort to improve how law enforcement handles sexual assaults.

I could accept injustice or rewrite the law,” Nguyen said. “I chose rewriting the law.”

For more information regarding the prevention of sexual harassment and misconduct, visit CampusClarity’s home page.

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Breaking Down the Barriers to Reporting
Posted by On Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Understanding why students are hesitant to report sexual assault is the first step to building better, more supportive responses.

College and university administrators are working hard to improve how they handle student sexual assaults by reworking their student handbooks, reconsidering their disciplinary procedures, and retraining their faculty and staff. Unfortunately, the impact of these efforts and improvements can go unnoticed. According to a BJS study, “more than 3 in 4 student victims of rape and sexual assault knew the offender.” These assaults often occur near the home of the victim/friend/relative/acquaintance, which means they can happen right on campus in the dorms, fraternity houses, or other areas. As such administrative safety measures should be present enough for the student population to be aware of and help them to feel safer on campus.

This article will explore some of the barriers to reporting, how some students view existing sexual violence prevention efforts, and ways administrators can bridge those gaps.

Students are Uncertain Whether Reporting Will Actually Help

In dealing with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted on her school’s campus, Hayley Himmelman, a Communication student at Northwestern University, felt that the issue of sexual violence has been getting buried at many institutions. To expose the problem, Himmelman produced a play called “Blue Lights,” based on a collection of interviews conducted with fellow NU students that portrays sexual violence, as well as what a healthy relationship looks like.

According to an online article published by the Daily Northwestern, “The play is centered on the University’s blue light phones placed on and off campus, which serve as quick ways to report crime and emergencies.” But the blue lights represent something else to Himmelman: a façade. “…the administration can point to [the blue lights] and say, ‘[t]hat’s, you know, how we protect our students from harm,’” said Himmelman, who believes that the lights give students a “false sense of security.”

The lights are installed. The system is in place. But to students who continue to experience sexual violence—whether at NU or other campuses—they are not enough. Even with these blue lights, or any of the other campus safety resources at their disposal on College and University campuses, many students choose silence over reporting. The reality for Hayley and for many other survivors is that assault can happen even while on campus. Make sure that students have victim support services and confidential counseling to go to for more information.

Alongside ensuring that students know where to go and what to do, it’s crucial that colleges make the reporting process well-known and foster a respectful, victim-centered, and secure environment on campus.

Here are some actions administrators can take on campus to create a safer and more supportive climate:

Increase the presence of campus security patrols on foot and in vehicles

  • Along with patrolling the more isolated areas on campus, it’s also a good idea to have campus security located in visible and high traffic areas, such as main entrances, and parking lots.
  • Having security patrol around campus acts both as deterrence for perpetrators, as well as sources who can witness and intervene in a potential assault or an assault in progress.
  • Have the campus security office be a well-known location so students can get help when needed.

Use emails and flyers to help reach out to the community and enhance communication between administration and the student body

  • Make these materials non-judgmental, easily accessible, detailed, and containing information such as steps to take before or after an assault and resources to reach out to.

Incorporate educational and prevention programs

  • “Sexual assault is a learned behavior,” states an article posted by the AAUW. “By fostering a campus culture of gender equity and respect through programming, “Sexual training, and awareness campaigns, faculty and staff can help prevent sexual assault. Faculty can also incorporate the issue of sexual assault into their curriculum whenever possible and whenever relevant to course content. Faculty and staff can also offer student workshops facilitated by trained faculty, staff, and students on campus.”

Students are Unaware of Available Resources on Campus

campus climate survey conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU) in September 2015 revealed that “[a]bout a quarter of the students generally believe they are knowledgeable about the resources available related to sexual assault and misconduct.” Over 150,000 students from 27 participating institutions took this survey, but 75% of them aren’t aware of their schools’ resources.

Even the best-developed program will be ineffective if 75% of the students on campus don’t know about it. Here are some things administrators can do on campus to make sure students know about campus resources:

Organize and participate in public awareness initiatives

  • Having administrators be present on campus shows students that the school cares about their knowledge and safety, which helps make the campus a more accepting place. Consider which existing campus organizations and resources the school can engage to help set up these initiatives.
  • Some educational and public awareness initiatives that spread information and support to students include It’s on UsWhite Ribbon Campaign, and Take Back the Night.

All colleges and universities should have a Title IX Coordinator

  • As someone who is responsible for overseeing all complaints of sexual misconduct and discrimination, as well as identifying and addressing patterns and problems on campus, this role is very important to aiding in student safety. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) published a post on this matter, stating that “The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released helpful tools to provide Title IX Coordinators with vital resources to help them do their jobs better. Faculty and staff can help by making sure that these materials get into the hands of as many coordinators as possible to help them make sure students have access to educational opportunities.”
  • The Title IX Coordinator’s information can be included on class syllabi, posted fliers, newsletters, and definitely should be easily found on the school website. An email address, office number, and phone extension are helpful contact options for students to consider when reaching out for help.

Underreported Sexual Assaults Misrepresent the Scope of the Problem

11.2% of all students have experienced a form of sexual assault while on campus, and not many report the incident afterward. Mistrust of the reporting process contributes to sexual violence being a drastically underreported crime. The AAU’s climate survey revealed that “[a] relatively small percentage (e.g., 28% or less) of even the most serious incidents are reported to an organization or agency (e.g., Title IX office; law enforcement).”

Incidentally, underreporting can lead to a common belief that sexual violence is made out to be a bigger issue than it really is. However, the data shows that reports of sexual assault on college campuses have been on the rise in the past few years. As of February 2016, the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education is investigating 208 cases of civil rights violations involving sexual assault reports at 167 colleges and universities. And as college students become more aware of sexual misconduct and how to recognize it—through training programs, news stories, and so on—the number of reports are likely to continue rising, as long as students feel comfortable about reporting and know about (and trust) their school’s available resources.

Properly addressing reports of sexual violence is crucial to fostering an environment that encourages reporting. The more incidents that go unreported, the less information administrators have about the true scope of the issue.

survey of about 650 university presidents showed that ‘[a]bout one-third (32 percent) of respondents agree or strongly agree that sexual assault is prevalent at American colleges and universities. But few presidents (6 percent) agree or strongly agree that sexual assault is prevalent at their institution.” With the recognition that sexual assault can happen at any campus, administrators are better able to address and be proactive about tackling the situation on their campus.

How Survivors Can Feel Safer Coming Forward

The Department of Education released resources to help improve campus climate, stating that “Research shows that students learn best when they are in environments in which they feel safe, supported, challenged, and accepted… By improving school climate, schools lay the foundation for improving daily school attendance and high achievement by all students.”

In order to reach that level of safety, students must feel comfortable with and confident in the resources provided by their school. Students should know there is someone to talk to and that their claim will be taken seriously. By reaching out to the student body—through training courses, well-marked signs, an easy to navigate website, posters/flyers, and the suggestions listed throughout this post—administrators can better equip students with the knowledge and confidence they need to report.

Though the overall goal is to reduce incidences of sexual misconduct, administrators must first be aware of the magnitude of the issue. A more aware and responsive administration can encourage students to report sexual violence—which informs how administration can resolve sexual violence on campus—and opens the door for further opportunities to support. Increased student reporting and effective administrative response can feed back on each other, creating a safer, more equitable campus.

Here are some additional options to consider:

  • Some college and university campuses have adopted the use of technology as a tool to enhance safety measures, “like video surveillance, swipe entry cards, emergency text message notification, and blue light emergency phone systems.” Consider which safety methods might be a good addition to a college campus.
  • Fix every broken or dim light on campus (including parking lots, pathways, halls, and lobbies). Students should be able to see where they are going and who is around them. This can provide benefits like students attending more night classes and reducing other crimes, like theft.
  • “Get out of the office, walk the campus, and listen to students, staff, and the community,” states a University Business article on creating a more secure campus, “People will feel safer if you are among them. Listening to them can also alleviate quite a bit of anxiety, which often comes out of the feeling that the school foes not care about them individually.”

Learn how to prepare students for the challenges and responsibilities of college life through online compliance training. For more information, visit CampusClarity’s home page.

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Selling Safety: The Rise of Sexual Assault Prevention Products
Posted by On Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Since the 1990s, studies have found that roughly 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual assault while in college. Recent results from campus climate surveys have bolstered these numbers. In the past several years, people have been trying to fight this epidemic through many strategies ranging from increased legislation to prevention training.

In addition, companies have recently begun offering other novel solutions. Some are manufacturing wearable gadgets that alert authorities and select emergency contacts when an attack is about to occur. A group of college students is developing a nail polish that changes colors when dipped into a drink that’s been laced with certain date-rape drugs. Entrepreneurs are producing an array of fashionable jewelry that emits a loud alarm when the user pushes a button.

Below, you will find a list of some of the sexual assault prevention products on the market and how they work, followed by an analysis, criticisms, and common misconceptions about sexual assault.

iBall Andi Uddaan: This is a cellular device with a built-in “SOS” button that sends an alert message and phone call to five emergency contacts chosen by the user, posts a Facebook status with a pre-written message asking for help and gives the user’s GPS location (only if connected to the Internet), and emits a loud siren sound to ward off potential attackers.

Athena: Manufactured by Roar for Good, this transformable accessory can be worn as necklace pendant or clip onto clothing, a belt, or purse. The Athena is a “coin-sized personal safety alarm” and comes with an app that allows the wearer to customize their preferences. The device has a button that can sound an alarm “louder than a freight train” while sending a text message with the user’s location to a list of emergency contacts chosen by the user. If the button is held for three seconds longer, the alarm stays silent, but messages are still sent as long as an Internet connection is established. A portion of the company’s proceeds goes to educational programs.

Safelet: A bracelet that sends out alerts with the wearer’s location to the police and emergency contacts (known as “Guardians”) selected by the wearer—this happens when two buttons are pressed simultaneously. Once activated, the device will also call the police and activate the wearer’s cellular microphone, transmitting the sounds coming from the microphone to the police. The wearer can add contacts and security preferences through the Safelet app. The Safelet device operates by using a “secure Bluetooth Low Energy connection.”

First Sign: A hair clip with “built-in gyroscope and accelerometer to detect head impacts indicative of physical assault.” When pressed, the clip turns on a microphone that calls the police while recording the incident. The First Sign clip also emits an audible message when pressed in order to “deter the attacker.” If pressed accidentally, the wearer can access the First Sign app on their phone within 15 seconds to deactivate the false alarm. The First Sign clip uses Bluetooth and an Internet connection must be established in order for the device to work.

Cuff: This is a smart device that can be inserted into the manufacturer’s line of jewelry/accessories (such as a sport band, metal necklaces and bracelets, leather bracelets, and key chains). The device uses a phone app that allows the wearer to set their emergency contacts, and when activated, the Cuff sends the user’s emergency contacts a message. The Cuff device can be paired with any of their jewelry line products to change the look. However, the wearer can’t be more than 20-30 feet from their phone for the device to fully work, and their phone must be connected to the Internet.

Undercover Colors: A nail polish line that detects date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, Ketamine, Ecstasy, and other “roofies” by changing colors when a finger is dipped into a drink to “discreetly” stir. This method can alert the wearer of a spiked drink before they consume it.

It might be reassuring to know that more than pepper spray, mace, rape whistles, and tasers can be used to protect victims before, during, and after an assault. However, the very idea that such a number of up-and-coming devices are necessary is concerning in itself. While the thought of having an aid in sexual assault prevention is undoubtedly a good one, the need for these items is telling of how much of an issue sexual assault has become.

Though prevention gadgets are steps in a good direction, they are not solutions to stopping the act that calls for their existence. And for all the good these products attempt to achieve, they come with a fair amount of criticism:

  • Products such as the aforementioned and others put the burden of rape prevention on the potential victim, not the perpetrators. It is the victims who are going out of their way to obtain and use these products—and while it is a safe, smart thing to ensure one’s safety, perhaps education, accountability, prosecution, and practicing consensual sexual activity should take the forefront.
  • These products may reinforce myths about what sexual assault looks like—for example, a woman who was drugged by a stranger in a bar or was attacked while walking alone at night. While these kind of attacks do happen, research suggests that the vast majority of sexual assaults at college are acquaintance assaults (this is also true for assaults that occur outside of college).
  • Marketing these products to women leaves out male victims. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey that polled college students living on or near campus, “twenty percent of women and 5 percent of men reported being sexually assaulted either by physical force or while incapacitated.” This survey and many others reveal that both men and women experience sexual assault.
  • These products are intended to be used before, during, or after a sexual assault has occurred—they do not guarantee that the act will be stopped, that the victim will be safe, or that the attacker will be caught.
  • While date-rape drugs such as roofies are sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault, most often, alcohol is the number one date rape drug.
  • Many of these devices also present some practical challenges: they assume the user already has a smartphone, and many of the devices require that a free mobile app be downloaded and connected to the product itself; for the fashion fashion/jewelry pieces, an accessory cover would be needed to better conceal the product; an Internet connection must also be established in order for the devices to correctly work.

Critics’ assertions that these devices misrepresent the nature of sexual assault and unfairly shift the burden to victims show that these devices cannot solve the problem without educational initiatives providing students the proper context.

Fortunately, many colleges, universities, and now high schools in select states require students to take sexual assault prevention programs or classes. With the well of information, definitions, statistics, and scenarios in these courses, the goal is to educate students about consent and sexual assault, leading to better decision-making and ultimately a safer environment.

These products can save lives, but they need to paired with the proper education and training. The goal is to prevent sexual assault, not just avoid it.

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