Project Safe and Power-Based Personal Violence

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Project Safe is a program on Vanderbilt University’s campus that provides help, support, and information for students, in regards to sexual assault. A few weeks ago, two of Projects Safe’s leading staff members: Cara Tuttle Bell and Wanda Swan came into class to further explain to us what they do at Project Safe, how they do it, and why they do it. Cara is the Director of Programs for Project Safe and Wanda is a Prevention Educator and Victim Specialist. The whole point of this program is to further spread information about power based personal violence (which includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking) to the Vanderbilt community and act as a safe space for students (who are experiencing any of these things or know someone experiencing them) to go to. Project Safe also supplies information about what defines consent, healthy relationships, and how to maintain a healthy sexuality—to Vanderbilt students. Project Safe works specifically with people who have been affected by some sort of power based personal violence and helps them through their experience by reaching out to other Vanderbilt resources. These resources include the Psychological and Counseling Center, Student Health, the Equal Employment, Affirmative Action and Disability Services Department, and the Vanderbilt University Police Department. Cara and Wanda work with these victims of power based personal violence and outside recourses to come together and create a safer place for students to feel comfortable in and more protected.

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In their class presentation, Cara and Wanda explained how they have recently written a twenty-three paged paper defining what sexual assault really is. The document is called the 2014-2015 Vanderbilt University Sexual Misconduct and Power-Based Personal Violence Policy. It outlines Vanderbilt University’s “principles of equal opportunity” and it “seeks to establish and maintain a safe and healthy environment for all members of the University community.” It provides information on steps that students should take for prevention, education, and training—all in relation to power based personal violence. The lengthy paper works to provide an elaborate definition of what power based sexual assault is and all of the aspects that go along with it. The document touches upon where to seek immediate assistance and ongoing assistance, all the different types of offenses (within power based personal violence), how to report an incident, how investigations (of sexual assault) work, and additional information for students, faculty members, and staff members.

While this document specifically touches upon multiple different aspects of sexual assault and is very descriptive—realistically… not many people are going to read it (especially students). I see this as a pretty big problem. Young people, specifically students, need an accessible definiteion of power based personal violence in order to fully understand what it is. While working on my final project, it became clear to me that very few students on Vanderbilt’s campus are actually aware of and could explain what power-based personal violence is—and what it involves (after reading survey responses and listening to interviews from students). Most students were either unaware of the rape culture Vanderbilt has, could not definite what rape culture or sexual assault is, they had no idea what any of the bystander programs are or do, and just in general—knew very little about the topic overall. Students have an unclear definition of sexual assault and many just do not even know what it is or what qualifies as sexual assault. Obviously somebody needs to inform Vanderbilt’s student body of the issues our campus is facing and about the issues themselves. Students need to be knowledgeable about sexual assault, power-based personal violence, and the resources available to them (such as Green Dot and other bystander programs). If we can somehow reach the younger generation in an accessible way (unlike a twenty three page long document) there could potentially be a lot of positive outcomes. If students actually understood what power based personal violence is and how to protect themselves and combat the issue, Vanderbilt’s community could grow to be a much safer place. Once students become truly education on the topic of sexual assault, only then can we see improvements in community life and perhaps a decrease in sexual assault on campus. It is very important students gain awareness on the matter in order to be able to keep themselves and their peers protected. Along with this, all victims of any form of power based personal violence should feel safe enough to come out and tell people what happened. No student should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed. Victims should be informed enough about power based personal violence and all of the bystander programs available around campus. That way, if a student is affected by sexual assault they know about the resources they can go to for any type of help they may need. Overall, Vanderbilt University needs to work towards finding a way to easily, but affectively, inform students on Vanderbilt’s campus in order to generate a safer and all around better campus environment. There may not be an easy solution, but it will be worthwhile (and save young people) in the end.

 

Do you think project safe does a good job of living out its mission statement? How do you think it could be more affective in helping Vanderbilt students? Do you think the Vanderbilt Community is aware of and uses Project Safe as a resource for those who have experienced sexual assault? How do you think we can help Vanderbilt students to better understand the definition of sexual assault and what it really entails?

 

 

 

A New Definition of Consent

It’s no secret that sexual assault and violence on college campuses has recently become very prevalent in media and the minds of students and faculty across college campuses, as well as in the minds of the government; multiple stories and different accounts of sexual assault and rape have been in the the news, forcing attention to be drawn to this issue and for it to be addressed. Recent studies in sexual assault on college campuses across the United States reveal that one in five women report being assaulted on college campuses, which is terrifying considering in the past, cases of this have never been properly reported or given attention. Students and victims of sexual assault have begun to cry out also, bringing attention to this issue. Some of their accounts can be read in newspapers or seen on the news, as the sexual assault that took place on our very own campus here was. Time magazine even devoted an entire issue due to this problem; in this issue, multiple politicians, activists, scholars, authors, lawyers and victims shared their voice and opinions on sexual assault on college campuses and how it should be taken care of.

Two of the articles in this issue that stood out to me the most include an article called “‘My Rapist Is Still on Campus’” written by Emma Sulkowicz, a victim of rape and junior from Columbia College, and an article written by Jonathan Kalin, a student activist who formed a movement for consent called “Consent Must Be Created, Not Given.” In Sulkowicz’s article, she tells of how she was raped the very first day of her sophomore year, and she is near the end of her college life yet her rapist is still free and on campus and will graduate with her. Not only did her rapist commit an act of sexual assault on her, but also on two other girls. Sulkowicz would wake up everyday afraid to leave her room for the fear of her rapist; in the future when she looks back on her experience at Columbia, it will be defined by this. it will be defined by how she received no help from the university when she asked for it and how she will have to life with this injustice for her entire life. When Sulkowicz did reach out to the school for help, administration and the campus justice system dismissed her case and the accounts of what had happened to her.

Situations similar to Sulkowicz’s happen way too often, and are the reason for all of the recent backlash that Universities are facing today; in fact, 55 universities are under investigation by the federal government for lacking in dealing with sexual assault cases on campus properly.  Many universities figure that they can brush these cases under the rug for fear of losing prestige and credibility. This may have worked in the past, however, rape on college campuses has become so prevalent, and on some campuses more so than others, that it can no longer be ignored. In recent years, rape culture has been perpetuated due to the media, sexist mentalities, and a sense of apathy from society. Relationships displayed in movies, TV shows, and music’s lyrics lend to the idea of rape and make power based violence seem acceptable in certain situations. Whether people or conscious of it or not, these images and messages are received by people and can contribute to their mentality and beliefs on sexual assault, swaying them to become more accepting, or even apathetic.

In Kalin’s article, he speaks of his movement to recreate the definition of consent and educating people about sexual violence in hopes of preventing it. He asserts that societal norms and the expectation of what college life should be like have created an environment where sexual assault is way too prevalent always featuring repeatedly shamed survivors of assault and perpetrators who plead the crime as one of “misunderstanding.” Although the government has recently stepped in in trying to help prevention, Kalin believes it will take a lot more than just this to change the culture associated with this; in order for it to change, the definition of consent must be considered and changed. Consent is not a silent practice as it appears in many movies and TV shows. It is something that must be verbalized and discussed to ensure that there are no misunderstandings and the participants are on the same page. If consent is an assumed silent thing, then there will obviously be multiple misunderstanding and can lend to the amount of sexual assault that occur on college campuses. Kalin also asserts that consent should not be made out to be a commodity, therefore people should no longer say that consent was “given” or “got,” but rather that is was created. If consent is created, then it should be backed by full understanding on both parties involved.

The recent strides made by the government and other activist organizations have helped the this cause immensely. College campuses have created outlets and resources to aid student victims and give them an outlet for support. Organizations such as Project Safe, Green Dot, and the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center all on Vanderbilt’s campus all strive to do this. Legislation has urged and pushed for bills to be written and rewritten to aid in preventing and solving the issue of sexual assault and violence on college campuses. Today, activists are still urging people to take notice of the issue at hand and hope to cease the perpetuation of rape culture on college campuses across the culture. In order for this to happen, college students need to be well informed and educated on the issue, knowing exactly what constitutes as sexual violence.

How could Vanderbilt do a better job of educating its students on sexual assault? Should informing students on sexual assault and violence be required by all universities? How effective do you really think the programs are on Vanderbilt’s campus at aiding in the prevention of sexual assault on campus?

What’s Sex Got To Do With…The Military?

According to servicewomen.org, despite 25 years of investigation under the Pentagon due to sexual assault cases in the military, military cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment continue to grow. One would think that an institution of our country that prides itself on justice and valor would be different, however, tens of thousands of unwanted sexual acts are committed yearly in the military, and only a fraction are reported. Those that are expected to be covered up and not talked about.

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These statistics are shocking for multiple reasons. One of the most is because these assaults occur in all realms of the military, including present Active Duty, the Reserves, the National Guard and in the military academies. More importantly, there is a culture of victim-blaming, lack of accountability, and lack of liable command in these situations and it has become prevalent. These statistics threaten the strength, readiness, and morale of the United States military system. It takes away validity from our nation and US national security.

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Recently, a New York Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand has been making a bipartisan push to change how the military deals with cases of sexual assault with the help of Col. Don Christensen, former chief prosecutor of the Air Force. They are hoping to bring recognition to the Military Justice Improvement Act, which aims to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether or not to prosecute sexual assault cases. The issue with this is that commanders are oftentimes friends with both the alleged victim and perpetrator, and they become the enablers in this situation.

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The current situation present in the military is no different than that of college campuses. Both contain a lack of accountability, however, at colleges, it is that of university administration in failing to handle cases properly. Also, in both institutions, the misconception that victims ask for it and are at fault in sexual assault cases is present, when in reality, victims are never to blame. Another similarity between the two is that there are similar programs present at Vanderbilt and within the military to combat sexual assault and educate people about it.

Why do you think that there is such a heavy push-back on sexual assault and measures of prevention are just now being brought up with both institutions?

The Missoula Spotlight

In her TIME Magazine article “The Sexual Assault Crisis On American Campuses,” Eliza Gray describes how the rape reports leading to the media labeling The University of Montana in Missoula a “rape capital” shouldn’t be considered unique to Montana. Instead, she argues, they should be understood as consistent with a terrifying national reality.

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What does sex got to do with… my final thoughts?

Personally, the day the class attended Vanderbilt’s Fine Arts Gallery in Cohen Memorial Hall to discuss Donna Ferrato’s “I am Unbeatable” was extremely influential. This day we opened up conversation about power based violence and how there is a need for awareness on the subject to prevent the violence from continually happening.  Statistics show that over 4 million women are victims of power based violence.

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What is Vanderbilt doing to help women avoid sexual assault

Women in today’s world are told, “Don’t get raped” on a daily basis.  Various products like color changing nail polish, pepper spray, and tear resistant anti-rape clothing are sold to women under the assumption that it is their responsibility to not get raped and these products will aid in that pursuit.  Unfortunately, most of these products are impractical, difficult to access, or very expensive.  Additionally, none of these products work unless you buy and constantly use them. If a woman is unable to purchase these items, or are incapable to use these products constantly, what shall a woman do? One available resource that can help women avoid being raped is, Self Defense Classes.

According to Eliza Gray in, “The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses,” college campuses are dangerous places for women.  She claims that 1 in 5 women become the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault during college.  Because of this terrifying statistic as well as federal investigations into Universities and Colleges across the nation, many schools are providing students with various training programs from bystander awareness to self-defense training courses.

In reply to Eliza Gray’s numbers, Vanderbilt University offers a free self-defense class to students and other women in the Nashville area. These classes are only offered to women on and off of campus.  Rape Aggression Defense Systems of Self-Defense (RAD) is a 12-hour long self-defense course designed to train women to avoid and escape from “abductive encounters.”  As stated in their manual, the primary reason for this emphasis is that “an initial abduction must occur prior to crimes of rape or forcible sodomy.” Their ultimate goal is “to develop and enhance the options of self-defense, so they may become viable considerations to the woman who is attacked.”

My partner Destiny attended the RAD programs and stated, “While RAD is a wonderful self-defense training program, it does not seem to be very relevant to the current dangers college women face.”  According to Gray, most sexual assaults are not perpetrated by strangers.  Instead, it is much more common for a woman to be assaulted by an acquaintance or a friend. Gray then goes on to focus on some of the dangers women encounter while drinking especially within the hook-up culture on college campuses.  Therefore, the RAD program, which heavily focuses on aspects of “stranger danger”, seems very out of touch with the reality college women face. If this program is for college women why don’t they suggest every possible situation that can happen on college campuses, especially college parties?

It happens to be that the instructors of this program believes that rape is usually perpetrated by strangers only. While avoiding dangerous situations is important, by teaching avoidance as primary method of protection, they are carelessly feeding into the false stereotypes about rape.  For example, “Avoid walking alone at night, Cross the street if there is a strange man, and do not be distracted by phone.”  This is useful information, but how should a woman protect herself if she’s getting assaulted in a fraternity party? How does she respond in a situation where a friend is taking too much sexual permission, when she has only been trained to injure her assailant and then run away and call the police?

After attending the class Destiny claimed that, “Even the small section which discusses “Date Rape” is extremely out of touch.”  The instructors advise women to “Ask for his phone number instead of giving yours out” and “Be cautious of sharing personal info via the internet and ‘the Facebook’”.  Also, they suggest that, as was required in the training sessions, women should always wear non-restrictive clothing and be sure to carry two pair of shoes so that, if necessary, they can comfortably protect themselves and run away from attackers.  The truth is, women are not going to always wear the “right” clothing for being attacked.  Likewise, it is out dated and stupid to assume that college women are going to drive themselves to dates, especially after reading hooking up According to Kathleen Bogle college students do not go on dates anymore.  Instead, they hook up at parties and at campus social events.

Vanderbilt RAD program would be much more effective if it focused on how to recognize when a situation with an acquaintance was transitioning from safe to dangerous.  While the physical techniques teach in this program will work on anyone, stranger or friend, it is very important to teach women how to identify a dangerous situation and to recognize that friends and acquaintances can and will hurt them.  Additional bystander training techniques such as those suggested by Eliza Gray could also be useful in this course, if the goal is to help reduce the incidence of sexual assault on and off campus.  Gray suggests teaching realistic strategies such as employing distraction techniques to stop a potential perpetrator. She goes on and explains that, “You can’t go up to a group of frat members and say, ‘Next time you see your buddy taking a drunk girl upstairs, you better say, Stop! No! Real men don’t take drunk girls upstairs!’ A more realistic strategy would be, ‘Hey, dude, your car’s getting towed.’” After the guy comes down to check, invite him to play beer pong as a distraction. A woman can also distract the potential perpetrator by spilling a drink on someone or initiating a group activity. Personally I believe that Vanderbilt’s RAD program is not helpful and this could lead to more women getting raped. So how can we make RAD a more useful program for women on Vanderbilt’s campus?

Here is a brief description of Vanderbilt RAD program.

 

Dating in college…

As you look around Vanderbilt‘s campus, there is a very strong hook-up culture, and dating is a rare sight to see.  This phenomenon described in “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus” by Kathleen A. Bogle.  To do her study she chose a random sample of college students and interviewed them in order to get their perspectives of what goes on on the college campus and why they may believe it is happening.

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