Sexual Assault Awareness Month highlights prevention, education efforts at OSU

For Carrie Giese, preventing sexual assault is, and should be, a year-round activity. But every April, Oregon State University participates in Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a series of events that highlights all the work that goes on around campus throughout the year.

Carrie Giese is OSU's Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Giese, Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator, has been with the university for five years, and said that the university has a number of great programs working together to address aspects of sexual violence education and prevention throughout the time students are on campus.

“There’s a high risk factor for sexual violence to occur (during college) so we want to make sure we’re educating each student from the first day they’re here all the way to graduation,” Giese said.

Incoming freshmen receive information on sexual violence and consent during Connect Week. The program, called “It Starts Now,” features vignettes written and performed by other students, as well as discussion time facilitated by an administrator.

“We cover everything from the definitions of consent and stalking, IPV (intimate partner violence) and sexual assault, to resources available on campus,” she said. “We also talk about bystander education, and how students can work to create a campus culture that will prevent this from happening, rather than putting the responsibility on the shoulders of a survivor. It’s more of a community approach.”

During the event, members of the Oregon State Police also talk to the students about their approach to investigating sexual violence cases.

“Our vision for it is that students that have experienced a crime will see a friendly face, and hopefully that will reduce a barrier to students coming forward and reporting,” Giese said.

Cait O’Brien is project assistant with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Office. She said building community around prevention is crucial.

“Students, faculty, and staff are invested in making this campus community the best that it can be,” she said, “and that means taking a stand against sexual violence and offering the best support and resources possible for survivors.”

Peer educators are crucial to continuing that emphasis on education and prevention, and there is an increasing demand from students to receive training to become peer educators. Students trained as peer educators often make presentations to groups ranging from sports teams to fraternities and sororities, and continue spreading the message of prevention and community responsibility. There is currently a waiting list for the Spring Term Peer Educator course offered through the department of public health.

“I think that many students are more comfortable asking questions and seeking support from a fellow student,” O’Brien said.

All too often, Giese said, sexual assault prevention emphasizes what a person should do in order to avoid sexual assault, such as not walking in unlit areas or keeping an eye on your drink at a party.

“We know that there’s no fool-proof method of individual risk reduction. Every situation is different,” she said. “Plus I feel it puts undue pressure on the survivors of  sexual violence of, “Oh, perhaps I didn’t do something right.”

Instead the program emphasizes community prevention, including things as simple as the buddy system. Sexual assault usually occurs when the victim is isolated from friends, so students are encouraged to stay with friends when they go out to parties or bars. There is also an emphasis on education around alcohol consumption. Alcohol is the number one drug used to perpetrate an assault.

In the past few years, the number of reports of forcible sexual offenses (ranging from rape to forcible fondling) at Oregon State have increased, from two incidents reported in 2006 to eight in 2007, and 16 in 2008. However, Giese said she doesn’t believe that number reflects an actual increase in the number of assaults, but instead is indicative that more victims are comfortable speaking up about sexual violence.

“The public perception is that the increase is a negative, but people in the field know that’s a positive,” Giese said. “We believe the frequency isn’t increasing, but that students are more comfortable and are more aware of what their resources are for reporting, so they’re coming into the system more.”

Giese said numbers also fluctuate for many external reasons. For example, if the victim in a sexual assault case recants their accusation during a trial, and that gains media attention, victims may be more hesitant to come forward for fear that they will be accused of making false reports.

“How that person who is bringing the allegation forward is treated will have a direct effect on how people feel comfortable coming forward or not, and that is so far beyond our control,” Giese said. “So we really focus on what we can do at OSU to reduce those barriers to increase that reporting.”

Linda Anderson is coordinator of Sexual Assault Support Services on campus, and said there are guidelines that staff and faculty can follow if a survivor discloses any experience of sexual violence to them.

“Believe the survivor, listen without judgment, support and offer compassion, empower the survivor to make his or her own choices for healing, and refer the person to resources for ongoing support, crisis, intervention and reporting,” Anderson said.

Staff and faculty with questions on how to support a survivor can contact Sexual Assault Support Services at 541-737-7604 for help.

Giese said OSU works hard to provide the resources to address sexual violence on campus.

“As a university we’re working really hard to proactively address this issue, and we’re not waiting to have a knee-jerk reaction to a situation,” she said. “We have an institutional vision for how we’re addressing sexual violence prevention.”

For a full schedule of events go to http://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu/saam. Events include a keynote address April 6, at noon in the Memorial Union Journey Room by Brooke Oliver, and the annual Take Back the Night Event, April 4 at 6:30 p.m. in the Memorial Union Quad.

Center Against Rape & Domestic Violence (CARDV): 541-754-0110. Provides 24-7 confidential crisis response, hospital and legal advocacy, hotline support and support groups.

Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS)
: 541-737-7604, Snell Hall fourth floor. Provides confidential support, crisis intervention and/or counseling for any OSU students who has experienced unwanted sexual contact or relationship violence.

Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity:
541-737-3556. Kerr Admin, fifth floor. Accepts formal and information complaints of sexual harassment. Also provides prevention training.

Student Health Services: 541-737-9355.  Plageman Building. Provides services to address both short-term and long-term medical concerns; Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) exams are also offered. SAFE exams are also offered at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

Oregon State Police: 541-737-7000. Responds to immediate safety concerns and to violations of Oregon law, including sexual and intimate partner violence, which may lead to criminal proceedings.

To submit an anonymous report of sexual violence and for additional information about sexual violence, go to http://oregonstate.edu/sexualassault/

~ Theresa Hogue

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