An important part of advocating for major social issues – like sexual violence on college campuses – is being respectful of those your work is aiming to help and not shutting them out.
Watch your language!
One of the most important parts about activism is to ensure that the group does not become so entrenched in academic social justice jargon that the message is inaccessible to those outside the Social and Behavioral Sciences department.
Be skilled in presenting your information in ways that help everyone know what you stand for and how you can provide help – be it outside resources or help reaching out to administration/law enforcement for further assistance.
Don’t forget people!
Another of the major issues in activism is when the activists (intentionally or not) focus on a certain subset of people and alienate a group from seeking out help.
Some of the biggest groups that are forgotten in sexual assault activism, both on and off college campuses, are the non-white survivors, the disabled/persons with disabilities, the men, and the LGBTQ+ survivors.
If at all possible, look to other organizations on campus for those groups and reach out to them about helping foster the best environment where those people would feel comfortable reaching out to your organization for help. LGBTQ+ organizations and ethnic student organizations could provide help with the terminology used and possible translations into other languages, the students with disabilities office could provide help with interpreters or more accessible campus venues during events.
Just be mindful that, not only do you have these separate groups to take into account, but you may have students who overlap into several groups that would benefit from your help.
Is the school on board?
Go over your school’s sexual assault/harassment policies with a fine-toothed comb!
If something seems like it might neglect someone – especially those mentioned in the previous bullet point – then that is something to bring up with campus administration. No student should feel as though their campus does not view their experiences as actual trauma.
Gather up as much information as possible about the campus’s official procedures for reporting sexual assault and what the investigation means for the survivor, as well as what the campus views as appropriate punishment. Provide this type of information to those who seek out your organization so that they may make a well-informed decision.
Educate the whole campus! Draw people in! Most colleges and universities have some form of Denim Days and/or Take Back The Night events on campus throughout the year, but there should be more events that bring students together.
A good option is to focus on prevention techniques for all genders – events that discuss healthy sexual contact, gaining consent before sexual activities, and ways to deal with suspected drugged food/drink. Make sure to remember that the language should be inclusive because women are not the only people that should be hearing this.
You can even make things more engaging with exercises on affirmative consent versus coerced consent or bystander intervention skits to keep the participating students involved.
Reach out to your campus officials and try to secure this as a continuing event, if possible – much like the Greek organizations do to educate pledges about hazing and campus policies about sororities and fraternities.
All of this might seem daunting but it’s always better to be inclusive and reach out to those who may feel isolated or like no one cares about them than to shut out the very people you hope to help with the language you are fighting so hard against.
Remember that, in terms of college policies, it may be hard to motivate your school (or the campuses in your community) to follow through and be more involved in upholding their Title IX policies or amending them to better suit diverse populations – but just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we sit and wait for them to decide when they feel like helping. We hold them accountable and fight for the safety of all students.
Sexual assaults on college campuses often mean playing by the rules of that institution in terms of the survivor’s care afterwards and the consequences for the alleged assailant.
For many colleges and universities, this means establishing a no-contact order, which is meant to keep the individual at a distance from their accuser while the investigation into the matter is settled and the school decides on an appropriate resolution. This seems to be a good idea – keeping the victim at a safe distance from their attacker to avoid physical altercations or mental/emotional manipulation.
But this method of handling the situation while the investigation is pending has many flaws that these institutions have not bothered to address. This ends up making these schools less safe and leads to the belief, by survivors and advocates alike, that colleges and universities are more preoccupied with any potential loss of incoming funds than with helping their students feel safe and respected on campus.
Some of the flaws included in this no-contact method of dealing with reports of sexual assault:
When the accused has no shame in violating this no-contact order and continues to intimidate the survivor around campus and there is no consequence to their actions from any administration.
When institutions feel that the no-contact order is enough of a punishment and the investigation lacks any real effort.
When institutions treat the survivors as guilty and do not consider any other issues that may lead to violation of the no-contact order – i.e. situations in which the survivor is in an abusive relationship with their assailant and is being manipulated into contact or fears that leaving their partner is too dangerous.
When the no-contact order feels more like a gag order to keep the survivors quiet and not tarnish any reputations with “nastiness”.
Schools need to have better ways of implementing these no-contact orders as well as providing alternatives for individuals in situations where it may be harder to avoid their assailant.
One way of doing that includes more specific no-contact orders, such as the one outlined by Tyler Kingkade of the Huffington Post, where the school went so far as to dictate that the accused could not be on campus outside of specified hours because of his constant violations of the no-contact order. These no-contact orders may seem overbearing to some, but it allows some survivors to feel more at peace and not fear constant retribution for speaking out.
Another is to provide better resources for the survivors to discuss their emotions, not to stifle them from discussing the “case” when it is so much more personal and traumatizing for them. This leads to the feeling that they are being blamed for what happened to them and the sense that the school just wants to make it all go away, not to give them any justice or sense of security.
One of the biggest things these institutions need to do for the survivors on their campuses is to find alternatives to the general “just leave each other alone” feeling that the current implementation of no-contact orders give to many. Ignoring each other won’t work if the alleged assailant decides to harass their victim for daring to report them and it won’t help the individual who cannot get away from their assailant for whatever emotional or physical reasons. There needs to be more done for the survivor, not just empty gestures that leave these people feeling even more victimized and hurt because they decided to reach out to the administration that was supposed to help them.
Currently colleges and universities don’t do anywhere near what they should be doing for the individuals on campus who report sexual assault. Some schools are starting to learn from their previous mistakes, but it is up to us – the students and the alumni and all the donors that make these institutions work – to tell them that “good enough” isn’t good enough.
As a rape survivor people think that once the act of rape has been done and years have passed you suddenly are cured. The real struggle begins as time passes and you experience what I like to call aftershocks of triggers. A trigger is anything that can make you feel a sense of panic, or terror taking you back to the same place as the rape. Personally, I have always had triggers to due the violent nature of my attack and the use of a trusting relationship. The feeling of being safe I have never felt in any city or honestly with any person after my assault.
It becomes a challenge wondering when to open up and trust individuals. Normally, before I leave my home I call, text or message a friend or family member just so they know where I am going and more importantly who I am with. This had been my routine even in my college years ago and I continue it to this day. However, before my assault I only used this system when walking or going out to unknown places and meeting strangers. I never thought about it with someone I knew and trusted especially in the well to do area of The Hamptons. Being held captive, raped, and tortured for hours by an individual that I trusted and considered a friend caused me to reevaluate how to keep safe in my life. I wished with my whole heart that I had a way to reach out for help it would have saved me and years of physical and mental pain. With the growth in technology many companies are trying to find ways to stop crime with some simply for money, and others truly to help people before it’s too late. One amazing company is the Companion app it’s truly a lifesaver. Normally I try not to personally endorse a product yet this one and their founders struck a deep chord with me. I actually had a recent incident where I used the app while traveling home from the train.
The app was started by 5 students from University of Michigan with the mission to increase safety on college campuses. Companion app is easy and free to use simply download the app from either the play or ios store to your phone. The app ensures that you don’t have to walk home alone allowing friends and family to keep track of your journey. The app tracks your journey if the individual does not make it or goes off course the app asks if you are ok, if no response is given within 15 seconds their contacts are notified. It also has the option to click I feel nervous whether walking or already at a location. Of Course if necessary there is an option to contact 911 with one click on the app. We are honored to partner with Companion app and look forward to their improvements with their app and making all college communities safe. For more information please check out their website http://www.companionapp.io/