Daily Utah Chronicle file photo

 

The University of Utah makes changes to policies in order to help prevent sexual assault on campus, but also to help those who have been assaulted. The current policy is called “Rule 1-012: Discrimination Complaint Rule” and it came into effect in February of 2017. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is also going on during April. Here is a look at what has changed, what the Wellness Center and the Office of the Dean see as other changes that the university needs to make and which stigmas still exist on campus about sexual assault.

 

Wellness Center

The Wellness Center on campus runs a victim-survivor advocacy program. According to Ellie Goldberg, assistant director of advocacy for the Center for Student Wellness, “The purpose of the Victim-Survivor Advocacy program is to provide trauma-informed, empowering advocacy and support services to any student, faculty or staff member who has experienced any type of interpersonal violence. Some examples of IPV are sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, stalking, unwanted sexual touching and dating, domestic or family violence. We meet with our clients to assess how the IPV trauma they experienced is negatively impacting them in all areas of wellness, and then making a plan to mitigate those impacts. We support them as they navigate their healing and justice processes.”

When asked what Goldberg thinks about the current policies on campus, she said, “As campus community members, we are subject to federal and state laws in addition to university policy. I think that many of the current policies related to sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence are set and implemented with the best of intentions and for very good reasons. Many of the processes related to sexual misconduct policies are incredibly complex and difficult to understand and navigate. In some cases the policies and processes do not serve survivors of interpersonal violence, which can be very harmful as they try to grapple with what happened to them and move forward.”

For students seeking help, Goldberg said, “We believe survivors and we are here to support them in whatever way works best. We are a confidential and free service. We are warm, kind, accessible and empathetic. We use an educational and empowerment approach — meaning we will never tell our clients what to do. Rather, we will explore options and help clients make decisions about what will serve them best. From academics to safety to medical needs to help understanding legal or university processes, we are here to talk through any questions our clients have. We are holistic — meaning that we understand that being victimized affects individuals very differently. We are willing to take the time and space survivors need to think about their wellness and know what will help them feel supported. We also want to help our campus community know how they can support their friends and peers if they have experienced or are experiencing interpersonal violence. Please know that you can always call or email us with questions. We are a hub for information, so if we can’t help you, we will get you to someone or something that can.”

 

The Office of the Dean

Lori McDonald, associate vice president and dean of students, has also seen changes happening on campus. “I have seen more students seek support resources and make formal complaints about sexual assault over the years, but even more so, I have observed that our community talks more about these issues in terms of our campus and society as a whole. Talking about this complex issue is key to continued prevention efforts and to improving how we address it when it happens.”

McDonald said, “[I want] students to know that the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action or Title IX is where they can report all types of sexual harassment and discrimination and that when they do so, that it the information is kept as private as possible and they can decide how involved they wish to be in the adjudication. There are options that they can learn about before giving details and support resources are offered regardless of whether a formal complaint is filed.”

McDonald also said, “Sexual assault in any form can be traumatic, and individuals cope with these experiences in different ways — there is no ‘normal’ response. Despite the ‘MeToo’ movement and more awareness about this issue in society, there are still a number of barriers that create stigmas. We know from our campus climate survey that barriers to reporting include not thinking it was serious enough to report, fear of retaliation or negative social consequences, embarrassment and emotional difficulties and fear of not being believed.”

McDonald advocates for more education into consent. She said, “I think the most important issues for the prevention of sexual assault is the understanding of and respect for the concept of consent. Consent means affirmative, unambiguous and voluntary agreement and it is critical for communication about consent to take place between individuals before and during engaging in sexual contact.”

 

The Office of Equal Opportunity

When asked if the Office of Equal Opportunity saw room for improvement in current policies, Sherrie Hayashi said, “Clearly, there is always room for improvement as we learn from our own experiences as well as experiences from other institutions. One thing remains constant, however, and that is that we are committed to policies that are proactive in addressing and preventing sexual misconduct.“

Hayashi said, “Awareness about addressing issues of sexual misconduct has increased over the years, and preventive programs, such as bystander intervention trainings and opportunities for discussions about healthy relationships and consent have strengthened our community.”

Of the students who experienced some type of harassment, stalking interpersonal violence, domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual misconduct, 60% indicated that they did not think it was serious enough to report, according to the survey. Hayashi wants to change this stigma of not reporting by letting students know “resources and support can be offered to anyone, regardless of the location of the incident.”

 

Resources

If you are seeking resources about sexual assault you can visit wellness.utah.edu or call them at 801-581-7776.

For more information of the events going on during Sexual Assault Awareness month you can go to https://wellness.utah.edu/involvement/saam.php

To specifically reach a Victim-Survivor Advocate, email advocate@sa.utah.edu

You can also find out more about the policy about reporting sexual assault at https://regulations.utah.edu/general/rules/R1-012.php

You can set up a meeting with a counselor at https://counselingcenter.utah.edu/

You can reach the Office of Equal Opportunity at http://www.oeo.utah.edu/ or 801-581-8365

K.collett@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kate_lyn_noel

 

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