The Alliance is Relaunching: A blog post from Emily Miles, Alliance ED
As many of you know, after a brief period of shutdown this summer, the Alliance hired me as Executive Director in late October, with a charge to work with the broader gender-based violence community to restart operations in a way that is both culturally competent and fiscally responsible. The last two and a half months have been a whirlwind, and I am so grateful to the many who have offered their support and critical feedback as we work to rebuild and reform the Alliance.
Sexual assault and sexual violence impact all communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. Every survivor deserves access to differentiated services grounded in the unique needs of their community and a system that supports them in a manner that is both trauma-informed and culturally competent. In working to restart Alliance operations, we seek to use this time to reflect on how our work can be strengthened to better support the full diversity of survivor experiences, to develop stronger programming and organizational practices reflective of those needs, and to further invest in sexual violence prevention efforts. To accomplish this, we have taken several actions:
Community Listening Tour- The Alliance recently launched a community listening tour designed to gather critical feedback that will inform the development of future Alliance program and policy work. Data collected through interviews, focus groups, and an online survey will be used to develop a set of short and long-term recommendations for Alliance next steps that will be released in late Spring 2022.
New Leadership- The Alliance is proud to welcome our new Board of Directors, comprised of leaders in the areas of gender-based violence and nonprofit management. We will continue adding to this Board, specifically seeking out those with expertise, lived experience, and deep connections to the diverse communities throughout New York City.
While we are excited about the Alliance’s next steps, we must also acknowledge and own the harm the shutdown had on former staff, partner organizations, and the survivors that we served. A key element to our future work will be repairing those relationships and rebuilding trust that was broken. We have much work ahead of us, but I know that staying grounded in the needs of partner organizations and the survivors we ultimately serve will point us in the direction of a brighter future.
I look forward to our work over the upcoming months as the Alliance moves to fully restart and better define its mission and vision, and in partnering with many of you to do so. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions, questions, or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me.
Alliance Comment on the Department of Educations Review of Title IX
Document Citation 86 FR 27429
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault respectfully submits this comment as testimony to
inform the Department of Education’s review of regulations, guidance, and other agency actions under
Title IX, and to respectfully request changes to the rule entitled “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.”
Over the last five years, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has taken every opportunity to participate in the national discourse surrounding Title IX. Notably, our fervent opposition to the Department’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is published in the Federal Register. With our participation in the Department of Education’s current review of regulations, guidance, and other agency actions under Title IX, we are requesting immediate action on the portions of the current rule that directly impact our membership and the New York City communities we strive to serve.
• Ensure Protections for Transgender Students
In recent years we have watched a stark increase in violence against transgender and non-binary students and significant attacks on their civil rights. As we know, sex-based discrimination is an intersectional issue and must account for a range of identities and experiences. We urge the DOE to both reinstate and codify into regulations, consistent with years of case law, that Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and that Title IX protects transgender students from discrimination. We also urge the DOE to look critically at the ways in which Title IX protections intersect with Title VII and Title II protections for all students and offer institutions guidance on best practices to ensure that the protections transgender and non-binary students are intersectional in both approach and implementation. To further the effort in protecting transgender and non-binary students’ civil right to an education free from discrimination, we also urge the DOE to eliminate the options for schools to be exempted from Title IX compliance based on religious tenets. Since 1979, religious exemption to Title IX has been an option for schools throughout the country and has been weaponized in ways that discriminate and deny rights to pregnant students, nonbinary students, transgender students, and LGBTQ+ students. In addition to the religious exemption, we have witnessed an increase in attempts to pass anti-transgender legislation throughout the nation. We ask that the DOE interprets Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination consistently with current Supreme Court precedent. In Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination protects employees from discrimination based on their gender identity. Further, we ask that the DOE interprets Title IX consistently with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals case Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County. In Grimm and Adams, both the Fourth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit ruled that Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination gives public school students the right to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Persuasively, in Adams, the Eleventh Circuit relied on the Bostock ruling.
• Divest from Campus Safety Policing Model and Invest in Community Safety Model Approaches to
Sexual Violence Prevention and Response
While we are thrilled to see the DOE consider multiple procedural options for students who have
experienced sexual violence, we believe more guidance should be provided regarding schools’ responsibilities for informal resolutions such as mediation. Mediation can often reinforce or replicate power imbalances that are harmful to the victim/reporting individual. While we have experienced multiple benefits of NYS Education Law 129B, Enough is Enough, however; one of its pitfalls is the bolstering of campus safety department budgets. We can confidently say that increased presence and interaction with law enforcement during a vulnerable and traumatizing incident such as sexual violence does not make all students feel safer. Additionally, there is little to no evidence to suggest that campus safety officer presence prevents sexual violence from occurring on campus. In NYC, many campuses and universities have outsourced campus safety positions to local police. Anecdotally, the students that we strive to serve have shared both a distrust and fear for their personal safety when engaging with campus public safety, consistent with the national discourse surrounding the inherent systemic racism and discrimination present in law enforcement nationwide. In a recent NYC Student Policy Town Hall held by the Alliance in April 2021 for NYC schools, 0% of students who attended said that they felt safer with campus safety officers and/or NYPD present in schools regarding sexual violence. Many of our members have experienced the benefits of restorative and transformative justice models in response to instances of sexual violence. Because of our members’ positive experiences with these models, we would like to advocate that the DOE provides resources and guidance around trauma-informed best practices to institutions regarding informal resolution, rooted in the Indigenous practices of restorative and transformative justice.
• Discipline versus Criminality
As we as nation reimagine policing in America, we urge the DOE to re-envision the ways in which the
federal government protects students from sex discrimination without further exposing them to harm.
Over the last two decades, we have witnessed politicians at the local, state, and federal level use the experiences of survivors to bolster policing budgets and increase the standards of criminality throughout the reporting process and the retraumatization it causes. We request that the DOE sets new precedent in their efforts to combat sexual violence and sex-based discrimination and reduce retraumatization of survivors at every point in the Title IX process.
More specifically, we believe the DOE should remove the requirement for live cross examination during
Title IX hearings. Requiring live cross-examination during hearings for Title IX cases, and not other student disciplinary proceedings, mimics the criminal justice system more than a campus conduct system. Campus conduct systems exist separately from the criminal justice system and have different goals. The Clery Act, as amended by VAWA, requires institutions to notify victims (1) of their right to contact law enforcement and (2) the right not to notify law enforcement, thus making legislative intent clear. Many students, particularly those from historically marginalized communities, with emphasis on Black and Brown students and undocumented students, feel unsafe interacting with the criminal justice system and reporting to the police. This does not diminish their right to access an education free from violence and engage with the Title IX process.
In closing, on behalf the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault and those we strive to serve, we strongly encourage the current DOE to ensure that the diverse needs and experiences of students enrolled at city schools are considered in the review to the current regulations. We also welcome any opportunity to provide additional input and information toward this effort. Thank you for your time.
Tracia Banuelos and Sam Skaller, Co-Chairs of the Title IX Committee
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
Dear Survivor Love Letters
The Alliance would like to send a huge thank you to all of you who attended our Student Volunteer Program’s Campus SAAM Week last week! To express our gratitude our student volunteers would like to share the following “Dear Survivor Love Letters” they wrote throughout their week of programming.
Be sure to check out our full webpage to learn more about our Campus program!
REPOST: RALIANCE Grantee Spotlight on Developing Youth Leaders In NYC with Alliance Director of Prevention & Policy Rachel Geller
“The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has been a leader in sexual violence prevention programs since 2007, and RALIANCE is proud to count them among our grantees. Their challenge is massive: preventing sexual violence and the harm it causes in one of the world’s largest and most diverse cities.
“Each New York City borough, neighborhood, and city block is unique, which means there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to preventing sexual violence – we have to be continually adaptable and responsive,” said Rachel Geller, the Alliance’s Director of Prevention & Policy.
We sat down with Geller to discuss the organization’s mission and its RALIANCE-supported effort to boost its youth leadership program.
RALIANCE: Can you describe the Alliance’s efforts to prevent sexual violence, harassment, and abuse?
Geller: Our prevention and community mobilization programs aim to develop sustainable community-based interventions to prevent sexual violence. This includes building the capacity of individuals, organizations, and institutions to analyze the impact of sexual violence and providing them with the skills to develop interventions that best fit the needs of their community. Our current sexual violence prevention efforts focus on youth leadership and prevention in the nightlife industry and on college campuses.
RALIANCE: A new RALIANCE grant will help fund your youth leadership program. How does the program work?
Geller: Project Dream, Own, Tell (DOT), our youth leadership program, is a grassroots program that combines community-responsive prevention education with robust neighborhood and social media-based organizing efforts for young adults from under-resourced communities. The program was designed in response to gaps in traditional adolescent sexual and dating violence prevention programs, often known to be homogenous and non-inclusive. Project DOT has been structured to build a discourse that’s nuanced and responsive to the community. In practice this means incorporating the unique narratives, rich histories, and strong communal values of youth of diverse backgrounds.
RALIANCE’s grant will help the Alliance further develop our prevention efforts to meet youth where they are by sustainably expanding the reach of Project DOT and thus amplifying the impact of our sexual assault prevention work. We plan to partner with two or more organizations serving youth from racial and ethnic minorities or the LGBTQI community. We’ll collaborate with the organizations to pinpoint where we can adapt the leadership curriculum to specifically serve these communities.
RALIANCE: How will you measure Project DOT’s success, and how do you hope the program will contribute to the Alliance’s future?
Geller: We’ll think holistically about Project DOT’s impact and the process of adaptation, assessing whether it reached the target communities, the satisfaction of our partner organizations and participants, and how well the curriculum resonated.
An evaluation will also assess whether the program increased youth knowledge of healthy relationships within their cultural context and whether that knowledge translated into changed attitudes, greater community youth and adult engagement, changes in social norms, and reduction in the rates of youth dating violence and sexual violence in the target populations. If we determine the program’s effective, we hope to further expand its reach by tailoring the curriculum for additional organizations and communities.
RALIANCE provides consulting, assessment, and employee development services to help build more equitable workplace cultures and create environments free from sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. We stand ready to support your organization’s goals – contact us today at email@example.com to get started.”
Thank you to RALIANCE for spotlighting the work of the Alliance’s Prevention department and allowing us to repost this blog article! View the original post here and be sure to check out more about RALIANCE when you’re there!
Visit the Alliance Prevention page to learn even more about Project DOT and the rest of our Prevention programming.
What You Can Do to Prevent Sexual Violence
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and represents an important moment for us to reflect on how sexual violence touches our lives, and what we can do to prevent harm in our communities.
Sexual violence is an urgent public health crisis in our world and can have serious consequences on a survivor’s physical and emotional health. Approximately 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives.
At the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, we prevent sexual violence and reduce the harm it causes through advocacy, education, and supportive services. We are dedicated to advancing the dignity and fundamental human rights of survivors and strive to challenge victim-blaming and other rape culture myths that enable sexual violence to continue.
Sexual violence may seem like an issue that is too large to overcome, but each of you can harness your power and be a spark of change in your communities. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we share five ways to end rape culture and sexual violence.
1. Listen, believe, and support survivors. Do you know someone who has faced sexual violence? Has a loved one shared a painful experience with you? At the Alliance, we envision a culture where survivors are heard. If it feels safe, share your support, empathy, and compassion with the survivor in your life. You can be a valuable ally for survivors.
2. Think critically. When hearing about sexual violence in the media, think critically about how sexuality, gender roles, and individuals are portrayed. What message is being sent? Is the survivor being blamed? Is how a survivor dressed or how much they drank being focused on? Take the opportunity to reflect on how rape cultural norms impact our perception of survivors.
3. Start conversations with young people. We value youth as powerful and valuable change makers. You can teach healthy, safe dating and intimate relationship skills to adolescents and promote healthy sexuality. Engage the young people in your life to consider what it means to embody respect, communicate, and set healthy boundaries for their bodies. Ask someone if it’s okay before receiving a hug or giving a high five!
4. Raise your voice. Share with your community the dangers of rape culture. Speak up against language or behaviors that promote sexual violence.
5. Get involved! You can support initiatives to end sexual violence. Get involved with your community-based organizations and share your dedication to preventing violence. Volunteer your time, donate, and lobby legislators to create laws that advance gender equality and help eradicate sexual violence. You can make an impact.
Contributed by: Rachel LaPointe and Charlotte Kaysen, Policy and Legal Interns for the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault.
We invite you to connect with the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault on social media!
Why SAFE Trainings May Be the Most Vital Training You Ever Take
For all medical professionals, the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner training (better known as SAFE training) is one of the most important tools to learning how to provide trauma-informed, compassionate medical care to all patients. While over the past year we’ve written on the NYCAASA blog about the vital role of sexual assault advocates in emergency rooms and what the process of receiving a sexual assault forensic exam entails, this month we’re learning more about the Alliance’s SAFE training programs from the two woman who know it best: Course Director for the Alliance Karen Carroll and Manager of SAFETI Programs at the Alliance, Monica Castro.
“Every single doctor or nurse who has taken care of a patient has taken care of a survivor,” shares long-time Course Director Karen Carroll. “They may not know it but if they’ve taken care of 10 patients in a day, chances are they’ve taken care of two or three survivors. If they’re not trained [in trauma-informed, survivor-centered care] they’re not thinking, let me ask a few more questions like ‘Do you feel safe at home?’ or ‘Have you ever been forced to do something you didn’t want to do?’ Questions that can allow, if left open ended, patients to disclose trauma that they’re currently living with. If they don’t ask, they might never know and they’ll lose the opportunity to provide resources.”
Offered multiple times a year by the Alliance, the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner training, officially titled “The Assessment and Evaluation of Adult/Adolescent Survivors of Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence (Intro Level),” is a comprehensive 40 hour course that trains medical professions on how to provide competent, compassionate care to sexual assault survivors and how to use the most advanced technology associated with DNA and other forensic evidence collection and preservation. While primarily for medical professionals interested in becoming certified to conduct sexual assault forensic exams for survivors if desired in the emergency room, this training also teaches participants about the biology of trauma, how to write up an objective chart, and how to use trauma-informed language when working with all types of patients — skills that are deeply valuable for service providers across all specialties.
“You have to be survivor and patient centered when you’re doing this exam because you’re meeting someone in one of the toughest days of their lives,” says Manager of SAFETI Programs at the Alliance Monica Castro who teaches many of the Alliance’s courses. “You have to be aware of the different reactions a survivor might be exhibiting and feelings they might be coming into the space with. You have to be aware of your own biases. You have to be aware of the different resources that are available to the survivor. All of this in order to give the survivor the best experience and not retraumatize them because that’s the last thing you want to do. This course equips you with all the different information you need to know about.”
The SAFE trainings are now being held virtually due to the pandemic, which has allowed the Alliance to hold an increased number of trainings throughout the year — which include courses on both adult and adolescent care and a further specialization in pediatric care. While the SAFE trainings are specifically geared for medical professionals, the Alliance does offer other trauma-informed trainings for social workers, community-based organizations, colleges and universities, and more. To learn more about our upcoming trainings, or to request a training for your organization, please visit our Training Institute.
During the SAFE training, participants are required to attend four “in classroom” days of lectures and instruction, along with take-home assignments and tests. The first day is instructed by Carroll herself who has held the title of Course Director since 2008. Certified as a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) in the late 90s in New York, Carroll has been at the helm of creating a SAFE course that’s comprehensive and collaborative. In her time as Course Director, Carroll has taught over 5,000 students, and for each training, still teaches the entire first day herself. As part of her curriculum, Carroll walks her students step-by-step through the process of conducting a forensic exam, collecting forensic evidence, unbiasedly documenting a forensic exam chart, and tips on language or techniques that can put survivors more at ease. Things such as, “Putting on six pairs of gloves, one on top of the other, so as you complete a step of the exam you pull off a layer and keep going because you don’t want the survivor to be in the stirrups for a long period of time,” Carroll explains. “Using two speculums for the exam, one you show and present to the patient to touch and manipulate before they lie down, and one you’ll use for the exam.”
Across the four days of classroom instruction, participants learn about/from:
- How to conduct a forensic exam
- How to document and collect forensic evidence
- How to conduct a compassionate pelvic exam as taught by dedicated teaching associates
- Resources available to survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence
- Lessons on how the brain processes and reacts to trauma
- How to write an unbiased patient chart
- Lessons on trauma-informed language and how to ask questions that empower, rather than potentially blame, the survivor
- Presentations from the NYPD describing the process of reporting to the police and pursuing criminal charges
- Presentations from the District Attorney’s Office on what it takes to build and present a case surrounding sexual violence or intimate partner violence in court
- Mock trials teaching medical professionals how to testify in a courtroom. Participants will learn how to talk about their credentials, walk a jury through their charts and the evidence collected from a forensic exam, and how to give an expert opinion if asked by the judge
“The first thing that a victim needs to know is that they’re believed,” Carroll says, “If they get the feeling the doctor believes them or the nurse believes them, then that’s going to make them more likely to do other things that will enhance their healing process. [Through this course] you gain better insight into human behaviors and your own personal biases which hopefully you can learn to control once you understand them. I think that’s what trauma-informed care is about, to do no further harm. You can’t take away the harm that occurred but you can try not to add to it because we know being in an emergency room can also be traumatic.”
Upon completion of this training, participants are certified as Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners with the New York State Department of Health and will then be able to begin conducting SAFE exams. The role of SAFEs is to believe and support the survivors seeking their help while ensuring survivor-centered care, and hopefully through this trauma-informed experience, survivors will continue to seek healing resources that best serve them moving forward. This training is recommended for all medical service providers in order to begin integrating trauma-informed care into their daily patient interactions.
If you’re interested in signing up for the next SAFE training or learning about more available courses, visit the NYCAASA’s Training Institute for more information.
Written by Carly Lanning (She/Her)
Currently based in Brooklyn with my two cats Hemingway and Fitzgerald and about 115 unread books on my shelves, I have spent my career passionately trying to use my pen to make the world a more informed, better place. During the day, I lead a marketing department dedicated to all things books, leveraging my long-time experience with digital storytelling to create interactive campaigns that feel authentic and representative of diverse reading audiences. Outside of the 9-5, I continue to work as a freelance journalist focused on culture reporting and features writing, and have been published in Psychology Today, NBC, Thrillist, Ms. Magazine, The Daily Dot and more.
While the majority of my writing tends to dig into topics surrounding YouTube culture, mental health, media representation, human interest, and feminism, I hold an additional editorial expertise in trauma-informed storytelling and content creation for violence prevention organizations — such as New York Alliance Against Sexual Assault. At the heart of it all, I’m deeply committed to using storytelling to help others feel heard, to feel empowered, and to heal.
Social Workers Can Shape COVID-19s Legacy By Prioritizing New Yorkers Experiencing Homelessness
This article on homelessness was written by Catharine Sciolla, one of the Alliance’s MSW Interns, and is geared towards social workers but contains valuable information for every reader. The article focuses on homelessness, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we know, so often homelessness and sexual and gender-based violence overlap in devastating ways. It is a necessity that we understand this issue and how it’s currently affecting New Yorkers. Also, we know that rates of domestic and intimate partner violence have increased dramatically during the pandemic, forcing some survivors into homelessness just to maintain their basic safety, weighing concerns between social distancing and distance from their abusers. Take a look at the article below for a great first step on how we can center and prioritize our most vulnerable neighbors.
While homelessness has a long history in New York, today, in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unlike anything we have ever seen. The scale and persistence of the issue, as well as the consequences and trauma faced by those experiencing homelessness, is unparalleled by any time in American history. More New Yorkers are staying in shelters than ever before and for longer periods of time; It is of the utmost importance that those experiencing homelessness receive priority care, compassion, and assistance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Experiencing homelessness is a trauma that is inextricably interwoven into countless other traumas including, but not limited to, mass incarceration; sexual violence; substance use disorder; mental illness; homophobia and transphobia; and white supremacy and systemic racism. Homelessness is on the rise in New York City, and with the recent economic volatility due to the pandemic, there is an uncertainty looming over sheltered individuals, unsheltered individuals, and individuals on the brink of homelessness. As social workers, it is our responsibility to prioritize the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society in order to empower and protect everyone. We must start with individuals experiencing homelessness.
Culhane et al. (2013) paint a picture of modern homelessness: “Homelessness in its contemporary form has been an issue since the early 1980s when, cast against a backdrop of a recession, the U.S. public became aware of a ‘new’ homeless population comprised mainly of young and minority adults” (p. 228). Data from the 2018 New York City Youth Count tells us that the vast majority of youth experiencing homelessness identify as Black or Hispanic, with only a small portion of counted youth identifying as white. Furthermore, parenting youth represent approximately one third of all youth counted in the city’s shelter systems, with children of parenting youth accounting for closer to 40% of the total youth count (City of New York, n.d.; City of New York, 2019). In this time of economic volatility and financial uncertainty, we must consider the future impact of COVID-19 on New Yorkers currently, formerly, or on the brink of experiencing homelessness.
In September 2020, 57,252 people slept in New York City’s shelter system each night and, in January of 2019, over 63,800 people slept in shelter each night (Coalition for the Homeless [CFTH], n.d.). These numbers can be broken down into families and single adults, with the vast majority of those in shelter consisting of families. For instance, in September, approximately 19,891 of the individuals sleeping in shelter were single adults. Meanwhile, adults in families added roughly 18,616 individuals, while children sleeping in New York City’s shelter system amounted to approximately 18,745 (CFTH, 2020). Families with children fleeing from situations of domestic violence account for approximately 30% of families living in New York City shelters, demonstrating that sexual violence and homelessness are connected in devastating ways. In fact, domestic violence is the number one reason that families with children – a survivor and their children – experience homelessness. (Routhier, 2016). As of December 2020, the average length of stay for a family living in the city’s shelter system was 512 days, an all time high, while the average length of time for a single adult to reside in shelter was 431 days (CFTH, 2020; New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations, 2021).
While these numbers are staggering, they do not account for the entire year, nor do they account for unique individuals. When looking at unique persons entering the New York City shelter system, that number more than doubles, amounting to 132,660 for 2019. The 2020 point-in-time count estimated that there were roughly 3,857 individuals living unsheltered throughout the five boroughs, which was a 7% increase from the previous year’s count (City of New York, n.d.). It must be mentioned that this is an estimate, and there is no absolute data for the number of individuals who sleep unsheltered throughout New York City each night. Individuals experiencing street homelessness may add thousands to the total number of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness (CFTH, 2021).
Homelessness, much like the COVID-19 pandemic, does not impact all New Yorkers equally. Looking at the data, it is clear that homelessness disproportionately impacts marginalized and vulnerable communities. Black and brown individuals account for 86% of single adults experiencing homelessness, while white individuals account for only 10%, and roughly 96% of families experiencing homelessness are families of color (Routhier, 2020). Routhier (2020) further elaborates on this racial disparity when stating that “homelessness is unequivocally an issue of racial justice. The disparity between the rates of homelessness among people of color and White New Yorkers is enormous. In reality, homelessness is rare among White New Yorkers” (p. 22). Racist housing policies, employment opportunities, income disparities, mass incarceration, and the disproportionate amount of poverty in communities of color are only some of the reasons for the racial disparities in homelessness. Among those experiencing homelessness, those with marginalized identities such as individuals with disabilities, individuals with severe mental health conditions, individuals with chronic health conditions, trauma survivors, and formerly incarcerated individuals, are overrepresented and experience higher rates of homelessness as well. Sheltered and unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness are significantly more at risk for contracting COVID-19 and, due to the correlation between homelessness and chronic health conditions and disabilities, individuals who contract the virus are at risk for severe complications and consequences (Lima et al., 2020). Shelly Nortz, of Coalition for the Homeless, when delivering a moving testimony advocating for homeless New Yorkers in May of 2020, pleaded for action and emphasized how COVID-19 and homelessness potentially conjoin in disastrous ways: “the lack of access to safe private spaces for homeless people has exacerbated transmission, hospitalization, and deaths among this vulnerable group of individuals and families, with those living in congregate shelters finding themselves to be at particularly high risk” (Nortz, 2020, para. 3). With living conditions in which social distancing is nearly impossible; restricted access to mental health care and proper medical care; and lack of adequate cleaning supplies, New Yorkers experiencing homelessness are not given the opportunity to take preventative action against COVID-19.
The National Association of Social Workers [NASW] code of ethics calls upon social workers to “help people in need,” “address social problems,” “challenge social injustice,” and “respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person” (NASW, n.d.). It is our duty as social work professionals and, further, as humans, to prioritize the health and needs of marginalized members of our communities. I call upon my fellow social workers to center New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and to uplift and amplify their demands throughout COVID-19 and beyond. The inability for all individuals experiencing homelessness to access safe rooms in order to follow guidelines and protocol set forth by the city and the nation’s leading experts on COVID-19 is unforgivable. It demonstrates the ways in which racism, white supremacy, privilege, and power have infiltrated the issues facing homeless families and individuals as they are confronted with the choice of risking contracting COVID-19 in overcrowded shelters or facing nights outdoors to achieve social distancing guidelines. For the vast majority of individuals experiencing homelessness with at least one disability, the consequences of these choices could be fatal.
The pandemic has affected each of us. In order to recover as a city and as a community, we must come together and understand that one person’s suffering is all of our suffering. Social workers, it is our responsibility to be at the front of this movement, reminding people of the values we serve daily.
This piece was first published by The Columbia Social Work Review here.
City of New York. (2019). New York City youth count 2018. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cidi/downloads/pdfs/NYC-Youth-Count-Findings-2018.pdf
City of New York. (n.d.). New York City HOPE 2020 results. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dhs/downloads/pdf/hope-2020-results.pdf
Coalition for the Homeless. (2021, February). Basic facts about homelessness: New York City. Retrieved February 27, 2021, from https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/basic-facts-about-homelessness-new-york-city/
Coalition for the Homeless. (2020). New York City homeless municipal shelter population, 1983-present. https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NYCHomelessShelterPopulation-Worksheet1983-Present.pdf
Coalition for the Homeless. (n.d). Facts about homelessness. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/facts-about-homelessness/
Culhane, D.P., Metraux, S., Byrne, T., Stino, M. and Bainbridge, J. (2013), The age structure of contemporary homelessness: Evidence and implications for public policy. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13(1), 228-244. https://doi.org/10.1111/asap.12004
Lima, N. N., Souza, R. I., Feitosa, P. W., Moreira, J. L., Silva, C. G., & Neto, M. L. (2020). People experiencing homelessness: Their potential exposure to COVID-19. Psychiatry Research, 288(112945), 1-2. https://doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2020.112945
National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.) Read the Code of Ethics. https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English
New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations. (2021, January). Mayor’s management report: Preliminary fiscal 2021. City of New York. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/pmmr2021/2021_pmmr.pdf
Nortz, S. (2020, May 18). Testimony on the disparate impact of COVID-19 on homeless people in New York City before the NYS Legislature prepared by Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy Coalition for the Homeless. Coalition for the Homeless. https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/COVID 19TestimonyMay182020.pdf
Routhier, G. (2020). State of the homeless 2020: Governor and mayor to blame as New York enters fifth decade of homelessness crisis. Coalition for the Homeless. https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/StateofTheHomeless2020.pdf
The Essential Role of the Survivor Advocate
While reporting a few months ago on sexual assault forensic exams, it became abundantly clear the vital role of the survivor advocate during a survivor’s time in the emergency room. “Everyday superheroes,” the nurse I interviewed called them with appreciation, “a life raft on one of the hardest days of someone’s life.”
A survivor advocate is a trained volunteer who provides practical and emotional support, crisis counseling, and helps a survivor navigate medical, legal, and other systems they come into contact with during their time in the emergency room. These advocates work in on-call shifts, often living within a certain distance of their local hospital in order to be able to show up within 30 minutes and accompany the survivor throughout their entire time in the ER. Just as every survivor’s experience and response to trauma will look different, so too will every advocate’s interaction with a survivor based on what they choose to pursue while in the emergency room.
“It’s so important to have that support at any point in a survivor’s healing, but specifically when you’re in the emergency department after a traumatic event has occurred,” shares Gwenn Gideon, a licensed social worker and Program Coordinator of New York- Presbyterian Hospital’s Victim Intervention Program. “It’s overwhelming. Survivors are dealing with so many different factors and systems coming in and out, and so having one person [an advocate] be that constant for you and be able — in a trauma-informed, empathetic way — walk you through what your options are and meeting you where you’re at, it can have a lasting impact on your healing journey.”
When a survivor discloses in the emergency room that they’ve been assaulted, they’re offered the services of a survivor advocate to come and be with them during their time there. If they say yes to this, an advocate will arrive shortly after and will provide a multitude of services including:
- Answering questions about all the resources available to the survivor during their time in the emergency room. These resources include services such as receiving medication to prevent or treat any communicable diseases or infections, as well as prevent pregnancy, medically treating any injuries, collecting evidence for a forensic evidence kit, or reporting their assault to law enforcement.
- Bringing the survivor food, water, clothing, or blankets.
- Being present and providing comfort, in whatever form that the survivor asks for, during a survivor’s sexual assault forensic exam.
- Acting as a liaison between the medical staff, law enforcement, and the survivor. This can include things such as asking for breaks when the survivor becomes overwhelmed during an interview or asking for further explanation if the survivor seems confused by the next step of the forensic exam.
- Provide information on further resources the survivor can explore after leaving the emergency room.
- Talk with the survivor about whatever topics provide them comfort in that moment. For some survivors this might be talking about their assault and unpacking some of their initial emotions around it, and for some that might mean talking about the weather or reality television!
- Helping the survivor with paperwork and providing resources to get home safely.
Throughout all of these services, an advocate’s mission is to make a survivor’s time in the emergency room as navigable as possible, and to reaffirm in this first interaction that a survivor is heard, is believed, and is cared for. Every part of the advocate and survivor’s relationship is based on consent, validation, and trauma-informed care and communication because as studies have shown, the reaction and support a survivor receives the first time they disclose their assault can have a lasting impact on whether or not they continue to seek help.
As Francesca Guerriero, a therapist and Program Manager of the North Brooklyn Coalition, explains, “When a survivor has been admitted to the emergency room, we don’t know what their life looks like outside of the emergency department. We don’t know what their social supports are so an advocate might be the one person the survivor can talk to or has by their side when this happens. I think having someone who is trauma informed, who isn’t going to question the survivor, is incredibly healing, and really influences the survivor’s path to recovery.”
In accordance with New York State law, all New York City advocates must undergo a 40-hour training which walks advocates through how to support the practical and emotional needs of survivors during their time in the emergency department. In this role, an advocate’s relationship with the survivor begins and ends in the emergency room, and no personal information is shared in order to maintain the survivor’s confidentiality. In New York City, some advocate programs and trainings are run by the hospital themselves — like New York – Presbyterian, while others are contracted out to local rape crisis centers — like the North Brooklyn Coalition who work with Woodhull Hospital.
If you are interested in becoming an advocate, all programs require you to be at least 18 years of age, and within a certain distance of a hospital in order to respond to calls within 30 minutes. After choosing a program to apply to, applicants will submit an application and undergo an interview before finding out if they’ve been accepted into a program’s training course. These trainings take place once or a handful of times during the year depending on the organization’s structure and capacity. As the advocate continues to volunteer, they’re given support through group and individual check-ins, and further training sessions in order to support their needs as caregivers.
“It’s a very different type of volunteer experience. You’re meeting and working with people who have just experienced intense trauma, and are going through their healing processes. That is an overwhelming and powerful thing, and a lot of time people are drawn to this type of work from their own personal experiences — whether it’s happened to themselves or someone they know,” Gideon says. “What I always say when interviewing people who want to become advocates, ‘Be aware of where you’re at in your own healing process and make sure that this is a time that’s right for you. Make sure you’re within your own healing process and practicing self-care so that you can be fully present with a survivor.”
How to Decompress When Being Triggered By the News Cycle
Over the last four years, the news cycle has become something nearly impossible to turn away from, and yet, impossible at times to keep watching. We’re all more plugged in than ever. As viewers, we are constantly tuning in to learn more about the latest natural disaster, pandemic update, political abuse, or act of racial violence because it affects all of us — and sometimes, the anxiety of not being informed can feel even more intense. But for many of us, staying up to date comes at a price and can physically, emotionally, or mentally trigger memories of our own traumas while watching the news unfold.
In 2020, the American Psychological Association wrote about the United States being in the midst of a mental health crisis. In their studies they discovered that 2 in 3 adults shared that they had experienced a significant increase in stress over the past year and it had begun to take a negative physical and emotional toll. This toll has manifested in many ways across the United States including increased rates of depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and for trauma survivors, the reemergence of PTSD symptoms.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event — either witnessed or personally experienced. This condition is common amongst survivors of sexual violence, and while symptoms can lessen over time with the help of therapy and other healing resources, a survivor may still be triggered by things such as:
- Uncomfortable topics
- Unwanted memories
- Events or holidays
- Another person’s words or actions
- Spaces or environments
- One’s own actions
- The news and media
While it is important to stay informed, it’s more important to do so in a way that serves your own healing and to recognize when too much news consumption, or even a single news story, can feel triggering of past traumatic experiences. While being triggered will feel different for everyone, common symptoms include:
- Pounding heart
- Difficulty breathing
- A feeling of panic or doom
- Tight chest
- Upset stomach
- Anger or frustration flares
- Shakiness or dizziness
- Claustrophobic or overheated feeling
- Clenched jaw
- Feeling of being out of control
While symptoms may look different from person to person (and sometimes episode to episode), the more information we are able to collect about what triggers us, the more accurately we can begin building a self-care plan that works best for us. This self-care plan should include coping mechanisms for immediate relief when being triggered, and self-care habits we can implement in our day to day life. While this plan is something we can craft on our own, please consider also reaching out to a mental health professional, like an Alliance Sexual Violence Counselor, should your symptoms or frequency of triggered episodes increase. Their advice can provide you with coping skills tailored specifically to your needs, experiences, and the resources at your disposal.
It’s important to note that every self-care plan will look different from person to person, but the universal and most important thing for everyone is a safe environment. If you are being triggered, take yourself into a safe space. If this isn’t possible, it’s important to call for help or to remove yourself from the situation. Visit our Survivor Resources page for hotlines and access to our chat feature. Once you’ve found your feeling of safety, there are a plethora of immediate actions you can take to grant yourself back a feeling of control including:
- Taking a deep breath in, and exhaling that breath out. Repeat as needed.
- Meditating or doing a guided meditation
- Drinking a glass of water
- Taking a shower
- Washing your face
- Unplugging from the news and social media
- Clearing one’s calendar for the day to provide yourself time to rest and decompress
- Going on a walk or spending time outside
- Moving your body in a way that brings you peace (e.g. stretching, yoga)
- Turning on a special playlist
- Reaching out and talking to a loved one
- Reciting a mantra. For example: “I am safe. I am loved. I am enough.”
- Cuddling a pet or a loved one
- Putting on comfortable clothing
- Decluttering or tidying a space
- Watering your plants
- Doing an activity with your hands (e.g. crafting, baking, planting)
- Giving yourself permission to take the space and do the things your body needs
Like a wave, this episode of being triggered will pass. Take care of yourself, and if it’s helpful, share the boundaries you’re setting up around your triggers with loved ones as well. You never have to explain or apologize for needing to leave a situation or set a boundary because you’re being triggered; your priority is taking care of yourself. So continue seeking out the people, places, and routines that make you feel safe, and whenever you need, don’t hesitate to push the big red off button on the news cycle.
*Written and contributed by Alliance Volunteer Journalist, Carly Lanning.*
Comment to the Civilian Complaint Review Board: Changes to Chapter 18-A § 440
On behalf of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, its Executive Director and the Board of Directors, and the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, its Executive Director and the Board of Directors, I am here to express our support for changes to Chapter 18-A § 440 of the New York City Charter, expanding the CCRB’s authority to encompass police sexual misconduct.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (the Alliance) is dedicated to advocating for all survivors and victims of sexual violence in the NYC metropolitan area and across the state. The Alliance’s mission is to prevent sexual violence and reduce the harm it causes through education, research and advocacy. The Alliance was founded by rape crisis centers in NYC to advocate for the needs of survivors and the programs that serve them. Through public education, cutting-edge programming, advocacy for survivors and the pursuit of legal and policy changes, the Alliance continues to expand as a hub for resources and information about sexual violence.
The New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA) is dedicated to advocating for survivors and victims of sexual violence across New York State. NYSCASA’s mission is to end all forms of sexual violence and exploitation, and to address the impacts of sexual assault. NYSCASA has 83 member programs across the state of New York who offer support services to survivors of sexual violence.
We are grateful for the Board’s commitment to investigating police sexual violence, a pervasive abuse of authority that requires oversight and accountability.
As both research and experience tells us, officers too often (consciously or unconsciously) leverage their authority to sexually harass, coerce and abuse the most vulnerable members of our community. Women of color, young people, individuals with criminal records, sex workers, homeless people, people who use substances, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ and gender non-confirming people, indigenous people, and victims of domestic violence are disproportionately sexually victimized by law enforcement (1).
(1) Stinson, Phillip; Liederbach, John; Brewer, Steven; Mathna, Brooke. Police Sexual Misconduct. A National Study of Arrested Officers. (2015). https://www.bwjp.org/assets/documents/pdfs/webinars/dhhs-police-sexual-misconduct- a-national-scale-study.pdf
As you know, sexual violence is an abuse of power, and far too many of our clients have had the unfortunate, first-hand experience of abuse of power at the hands of the NYPD. Research bears out our anecdotal experience. In one instance, a teenage survivor of police sexual violence reported that nine NYPD officers ascended upon her hospital room, and discouraged her from completing a rape kit and pressing charges (2). A 2010 study by the Cato Institute found that sexual misconduct by law enforcement is the second most common citizen complaints after excessive force nation-wide (3). And in 2015, a national survey found that, on average, a police officer is reported for sexual misconduct at least every five days (4). A 2003 survey of young adults in NYC found that 2 in 5 young women reported sexual harassment by law enforcement, and half of those victimized were young women of color (5). Survivors of police sexual misconduct deserve accountability, and it is our duty to advocate on their behalf.
Without independent oversight, police perpetrators often evade accountability. Internal reporting systems that represent law enforcement value internal, political and reputational protection and close cases above safeguarding the fundamental human rights of survivors. A 2018 report on discipline in the NYPD showed that only one percent of officers pleaded guilty or were convicted of disciplinary charges related to sexual misconduct (6). This is a cyclical problem that without attention, continues to escalate. A 2012 study found that 41% of officers eventually convicted were repeat offenders, with between 2 and 21 prior allegations (7). As a result of the current system’s failure to protect survivors, many survivors do not report sexual misconduct by law enforcement due intimidation, threats, and fear of retaliation. In order for NYPD officers to serve and protect New York City residents, independent oversight is essential.
Voters have also expressed strong support for the expansion of CCRB’s jurisdiction (8). Currently, the NYPD does not publicly disclose information on sexual misconduct complaints. Accordingly, the CCRB’s ability to document complaints is paramount to identifying patterns, and crafting data-driven policies, vetting processes, trainings, and interventions to prevent and redress the issue effectively and ensure that survivors’ voices are heard. An independent review process can help create more agency for survivors whose power and voice have been stripped by the nature of this crime, and help build a bridge to supportive services.
(2) Nolan Brown, Elizabeth. Teen Suing Two Cops for Rape Gets Hospital Visit From Nine Others on Force. (2017). https://reason.com/2017/11/27/nine-nypd-cops-visited-teen-in-hospital/
(3) The Cato Institute. 2010 National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) Police Misconduct Statistical Report. (2010). https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/77th2013/Exhibits/Assembly/JUD/AJUD338L.pdf
(4) Spina, Matthew. When a Protector Becomes a Predator. (2015). https://s3.amazonaws.com/bncore/projects/abusing-the-law/index.html
(5) Fine, M., Freudenberg, N., Payne, Y., Perkins, T., Smith, K. and Wanzer, K., Anything Can Happen With Police Around: Urban Youth Evaluate Strategies of Surveillance in Public Places. Journal of Social Issues, 59: 141-158. (2003). https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-4560.t01-1-00009
(6) NY Gov. Discipline in the NYPD. 2018. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/pdf/analysis_and_planning/discipline/discipline-in-the-nypd-2018.pdf
(7) Fine, M., Freudenberg, N., Payne, Y., Perkins, T., Smith, K. and Wanzer, K., Anything Can Happen With Police
Around: Urban Youth Evaluate Strategies of Surveillance in Public Places. Journal of Social Issues, 59: 141-158.
(8) McCormack, Simon. Three Takeaways From This Year’s Election. (9 November 2019). https://www.nyclu.org/en/news/three-takeaways-years-elections
As the Board has attested, police acts of sexual violence undermine the public trust in law enforcement’s ability to keep New Yorkers safe. The inherent bias and conflict of interest present in the internal reporting system undermines survivors’ ability to pursue justice and healing, disproportionately impacting people of color and the underserved. In order to strengthen trust between civilians and law enforcement, sexual misconduct by law enforcement must be addressed in an impartial and thorough manner. Establishing an independent review process could deter police sexual misconduct, uphold police integrity and accountability, and ensure safeguards are put in place to protect our community.
As the CCRB moves towards taking on this responsibility, we further recommend that the Council consider the following needs:
Effectively addressing cases of sexual violence requires training that allows investigators to center the unique needs of survivors through an inclusive, anti-oppressive and trauma-informed framework. The CCRB can turn to communal expertise in these areas to prepare staff who will be taking on cases of sexual misconduct. The Alliance has had the privilege of providing trauma- informed training to CCRB over the past year, has hired an executive director with expertise in intersectionality and SV, and we have seen that CCRB staff are eager to gain adequate training to approach these difficult and nuanced cases with care.
The CCRB must consider the nuances of the many factors that can prevent survivors from reporting police sexual misconduct. To dismantle these barriers, CCRB investigators must ensure that the reporting process is clear, conspicuous, and accessible to the public. This must also include access to translators familiar with trauma-informed care. Furthermore, the CCRB must formulate internal and external procedures to protect the privacy of survivors, while upholding the due process rights of those accused. Investigations must be executed in a timely manner, with a thorough communication system that keeps complainants informed throughout.
Survivors of police sexual misconduct require unique resources. Any investigative process must ensure that they are afforded thorough safety and healing protections and resources. It is vital that survivors are connected to resources such as hospital services, mental health counseling, and supportive advocacy groups. To achieve this end, the CCRB could implement a coordinated response among these providers. Additionally, the CCRB could provide information and referrals to survivors. These endeavors would serve to address the holistic needs of survivors, minimize re-traumatization and re-victimization, and advance public welfare.
Under rule §1-01 (Definitions, under Sexual Humiliation), we suggest the removal of the word “gratuitously” from the definition, in order to avoid making complainants reach an arbitrary standard of humiliation. Any and all shaming or degradation by police in relation to sexual misconduct is unjustifiable and an affront to human rights, and must be duly investigated.
With regards to §1-01 (Definitions, under Mediation) and categories 17 and 18 of 38-A RCNY § 1-33(e), mediation is often not appropriate in cases of sexual harassment and assault because of the inherent power imbalance and often a feel intimidated or coerced into an agreement. This causes additional harm, when the purpose is to address the harm already exacted. Even if the alleged victim, victim, and complainant consents to this process initially they may feel reluctant to complete it.
In that vein, we request that alleged victims, victims and complainants be given the opportunity to rescind their agreement to move forward with mediation before, during or after the mediation process. In cases such as these, alleged victims, victims and complainants should be allowed to have their cases reconsidered or reopened (§ 1-34 Cases Closed without a Full Investigation).
As organizations dedicated to advancing civil and human rights, eliminating violence, and advocating for survivors, the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault overwhelmingly support the new policies and procedures related to changes to Chapter 18-A § 440 of the New York City Charter and the expansion of its authority, jurisdiction, composition, duties, and power to encompass sexual misconduct by police officers. Allowing an entity to investigate claims of sexual misconduct outside of NYPD or another entity where a conflict of interest presents itself is a major step in the right direction. In addition to investigating claims of sexual misconduct, all law enforcement agencies, including NYPD should have a sexual harassment and misconduct policy pertaining to their interactions with the public that is strictly enforced. Appendix B of the U.S Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) report, Gender, Sexuality, and 21st Century Policing: Protecting the Rights of the LGBTQ+ Community includes a sample policy developed by Andrea J. Ritchie, and the Policing Subgroup of the LGBT/HIV Federal Criminal Justice Policy Working Group (9).
Campus Corner: Q&A with Authors of Groundbreaking Book, Sexual Citizens
Book Description and Information
In Sexual Citizens: Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus, Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan provide an innovative, compassionate, and surprisingly optimistic analysis of why campus sexual assaults happen and – critically – what can be done to prevent them. The book, featured on NPR’s list of best books of 2020, draws on their research with Columbia and Barnard undergraduates. In Sexual Citizens Hirsch and Khan take a public health approach to sexual assault; rather than focus on the character or pathologies of assaulters, they look at how our communities are organized and why that organization can lead to sexual assault. The book is written for a general audience—it is appropriate for advanced high school students and their families—but also speaks to prevention professionals, with a practical, intersectional analysis of campus power relations, and a conceptual language relevant far beyond higher education settings. In their holistic analysis of campus sexual assault’s social roots, they present a compelling argument for why prevention work needs to go beyond consent education. They argue for doing more to help young people (or all people) reflect on why they are having sex (in the authors’ terms, their ‘sexual projects’), and to acknowledge both their own and others’ rights to sexual self-determination. In addition to speaking at dozens of campuses since the book’s publication last January, Hirsch and Khan have shared findings with the Wisconsin and Maryland Coalitions Against Sexual Assault, and recorded a two-part podcast with Prevent Connect. Hirsch and Khan are eager to share their work with other area stakeholders, and are foregoing honoraria for visits that include pre-ordered copies of the paperback, which comes out January 26th. Interested in learning more or seeing examples of their events? The Sexual Citizens website features links to recordings their community discussions, including podcasts and video interviews. You can also write to them directly: ShamusKhan@princeton.edu and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q&A with the Authors, Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan
1) Why is it critical to talk about SV prevention in the way Sexual Citizens does right now because of the changes with Title IX?
We wrote Sexual Citizens to transform the national conversation about sexual assault – specifically, to help people think about sexual violence as a public health problem. When we began the research that Sexual Citizens draws on, Title IX-related advocacy and policy changes under the Obama administration had drawn a lot of attention to improving adjudication (which we certainly think is vital), and to campus sexual assault in general. Those conversations were so important, and yet recognizing that only a tiny proportion of assaults are reported and adjudicated underlines that this is not a problem that we can punish our way out of. The idea that campuses are ‘hunting grounds’ implies an idea of assaulters as people who are deliberately setting out to harm others. That may be true in some instances, but there’s been too little attention to the ways that differences in social power and prestige, control over space, sexual ignorance, and shame – all things that we could address through policy – make assault a predictable element of residential campus life.
Now, as we all endure the pandemic, there’s much more awareness of public health, including the understanding that just telling people to act better – whether it’s to wear a mask, or to ask for consent – doesn’t necessarily change behavior. Of course, trying to shape individual behavior is one element of successful public health work, but our ‘A game’ in public health has always been environmental-level interventions. Think, for example, about how the New York City water system brings clean water from the Catskills to millions of faucets across the metro area. You turn on the tap, you drink water, you don’t get giardia. What would a “clean water” approach to sexual assault look like? How could we reengineer campus life so that sexual assaults were less likely to happen? In Sexual Citizens, our analysis of how sexual assault is socially produced, of sexual violence as a harmful and predictable consequence of modifiable elements in the campus and in the community, leads to a surprisingly optimistic conclusion: we can do so much better at prevention. Whereas a lot of the conversation about campus assault starts from a position of fear, we write from empathy and hope – empathy for the powerful stories that so many Columbia and Barnard students shared with us, and hope that by tracing out specific parts of K-12 education, family life, and campus social structures that produce vulnerability, we can help build communities in which everyone can thrive.
2) Can you point to a specific policy change that you’d recommend, based on your research in Sexual Citizens?
Sure, that’s easy – comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically-accurate sexuality education! One of the papers from the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT), the very large project within which the research for Sexual Citizens was nested, showed that women students who’d had pre-college sex ed that included ‘refusal skills training’ (helping them learn to say no to sex they didn’t want to have), were *half* as likely to be raped in college. That’s a big effect size! In fact, that was the target effectiveness for the Covid vaccine. And other work maps out why it makes sense to think about sex ed as a strategy to prevent perpetration; obviously, teaching people not to assault should be our main focus. So we already have a vaccine for sexual assault, and yet many states (including New York) don’t mandate or support school-based sex ed for all young people. And as we’re seeing with the vaccine rollout, if you don’t build equity into a system, the default state is inequity; with sex ed, there are particularly troubling disparities for rural youth and queer youth. But this is a year of opportunity, with a statewide coalition gearing up in New York to press for CSE. It won’t prevent all assaults, but unquestionably the most important next step for campus sexual assault prevention is to do more to prepare students for the transition to becoming sexually active, before they get to campus, so that when they do have sex they can do so without hurting other people.
3) Can you say more about how you did the research for Sexual Citizens, and why that approach was so innovative?
Sexual Citizens pulls back the curtain on what it is like to be a student at an elite residential campus – of course, it’s about sexual assault, but it situates students’ experiences with assault in relation to sex, socializing, and inequality on campus. The deep dive into daily life reflects how we did the research, with a team that was immersed in campus life. 151 students told us their stories – with some having experienced so many assaults that they returned for a second or even a third interview – and those stories are contextualized with descriptions of hanging around in dorms, cafeterias, and religious spaces; attending parties, and participating in extracurriculars. So much has been learned from surveys – which have shown, again and again, that rates of sexual violence in higher ed are unacceptably high – but the kind of research we did, in which students’ voices and experiences shine through, gives readers a sense of the diversity of experiences that are too often lumped together under the label of sexual assault. Readers also learn about the range of ways in which students experience assaults and how assaulters (whose voices are rarely heard in this conversation) understand (or fail to understand) what they have done. And, crucially, the book illustrates in vivid detail all of the things, both on campus and off, that could be changed as part of comprehensive sexual assault prevention.
From the Alliance
The paperback edition of Sexual Citizens: Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus launches today Tuesday, January 26th! Visit the Sexual Citizens website for more information on how to order this important text. The Alliance sincerely thanks authors Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan for answering our questions about their research and subsequent book as it continues to inform our work on college campuses. We encourage all of our readers to check out this incisive text on power and sexual violence on campus.
What to Know About Sexual Assault Forensic Exams
The Alliance is excited to begin a new series of monthly articles with the generous contribution of our journalism volunteer, Carly Lanning. A cat mom of two living in Brooklyn, Carly Lanning works as a Books Editorial Lead by day, and a writer by night, blending her passions for survivor advocacy and the written word throughout all of her work.
You can find more of Carly’s work here:
While education around sexual assault and consent continues to gain momentum nationwide with the greater intent of addressing the nearly 433,000 rapes and sexual assaults that happen each year in the United States, sexual assault forensic exams and rape kits continue to be an area of mystery for many individuals. What exactly is a sexual assault forensic exam, and how powerful is it as a tool for a survivor’s recovery?
While the national average in the United States estimates that 1 in 7 women and 1 in 71 men will experience rape at some time during their lifetime — with statistics increasing for communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community — over 60 percent of assaults and rapes go unreported. In New York City, this means 50,000 individuals in the city may experience rape each year, with the majority of these assaults being at the hands of a person the survivor knows. This low reporting number can be due to a variety of factors including a lack of knowledge around what medical and legal services are available to survivors, the effect of society’s larger victim blaming mentalities, fear of retribution from the perpetrator or mutual acquaintances, past harmful experiences with medical personnel or law enforcement, or the desire to not sit through the invasive and often triggering process of engaging the judicial system.
Every survivor is entitled to make their own decisions surrounding their healing process, including if they want to receive a sexual assault forensic exam and have evidence collected. This exam and evidence collection can be one of a survivor’s most powerful tools in regaining control over the situation especially if they decide to take their perpetrator to court, and if you’re in the process of making that decision for yourself, here are some key things to know.
What is a sexual assault forensic exam?
A sexual assault forensic exam is a comprehensive exam done by trained sexual assault medical professionals in an emergency room that provides a survivor medical treatment for injuries, the collection of evidence of the assault, medication for STIs, HIV, and pregnancy prevention, and further resources for therapy and police intervention. A survivor has the option of engaging in as many or as few of these options as possible and can come in to receive STI, HIV, and pregnancy prevention medication or treatment for injuries without having a forensic exam completed. Should a survivor decide to have a forensic exam completed, the survivor will be offered the resource of having a sexual assault evidence kit — more commonly known as a “rape kit” — collected during which they can consent to all or some of the steps.
This kit collects physical evidence of the assault through swabs and photographs. In addition to DNA collection, if it was a drug facilitated sexual assault then blood and urine samples are also taken. Survivors are not required to report their assaults to law enforcement during or after their exam, though they will be provided with police referrals should they later decide to take these next steps. Unless it is a case of child abuse or neglect, minors’ confidentiality is maintained. A survivor’s kit will be kept for 20 years allowing the survivor the opportunity to report at any point during this time.
While the life of a collected kit doesn’t expire for two decades, there is a short window in which forensic exams can be collected.
Where should I go for a sexual assault forensic exam?
While all hospitals are required to provide free sexual assault forensic exams, there are 18 hospitals in NYC that are designated SAFE Centers of Excellence. These hospitals have trauma-informed forensic examiners available 24/7 along with on-call volunteer advocates to provide support, a private room, and access to a separate shower dedicated to forensic exams.
How long after being assaulted can a forensic exam be completed?
The window to receive a sexual assault forensic exam is up to 96 hours following the assault. But the window to receive certain STI, STD, HIV, and pregnancy prevention medications is only up to 36 hours after an assault for the medication to be as effective as possible. The sooner medical attention can be provided and evidence collected, the better preserved it will be.
What should you do before arriving at a sexual assault forensic exam?
If possible, a survivor should avoid the following before their sexual assault forensic exam so that evidence can be preserved: drinking, showering, changing clothes, using the bathroom, or combing one’s hair. If you have done any of these things, that’s okay! Evidence can still be collected so don’t let this deter you from seeking an exam and be sure to share this information with the nurse practitioner to include in your file.
Though clothes will be provided at the hospital, bringing an extra set of clothes of your own clothes to the hospital might provide a level of comfort as the clothes worn during the assault will be bagged for evidence during the forensic kit collection (although a survivor may refuse to provide their clothes and personal effects if they don’t feel comfortable doing so). Survivors are allowed to bring a loved one into the exam with them, but should a survivor arrive alone, they will be offered the assistance of a trained advocate who will walk through and advocate for their needs during their entire time in the emergency room.
What does the exam and kit collection entail?
After checking into the emergency room (more information for NYC found here), the survivor will then be taken into a private room in which they’ll receive a head-to-toe exam from a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) or a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFEs). This medical exam will include questions about physical injuries, current medications, pre-existing health conditions, recent consensual sexual activity — in order to distinguish this from any evidence of the assault — a survivor’s recollection of the assault, and if consented to, an internal exam of the mouth, vagina, and anus. (Invasive exams of the vagina are not done in minors.) The nurse will walk the survivor through all the options that are available to them including reporting, evidence collection, medications, and follow-up resources, and will give the survivor the choice if they want to engage in all, none, or some of these.
As described by long-time Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and Professor of Nursing Amy Smith, this exam is about giving a survivor back control of their body following an assault in which they were robbed of their consent — though she notes how retriggering the collection of evidence can often be.
“Because [collecting evidence for the sexual assault forensic kit] can be so triggering, I always address that prior to anything,” Smith shares. “Even though we get consent from the patient to do the steps they choose, I verbally re-consent them with every step. A really good way to give patients back their autonomy is to give them choices. I find it easier and more comfortable for the patient if I re-consent and explain each step. ‘Step one, this is to be able to collect DNA the perpetrator may have left in your mouth. I use a swab. It’s not going to be painful and it takes 30 seconds. Is it okay if I do this step?’ And the survivor can make that choice. I do that with every step.”
Should a survivor decide to have evidence collected, they’ll receive a 15-step sexual assault forensic kit in which they have the right to engage in or decline any step. These steps include collecting biological evidence of the assault with swabs of the inside of the mouth, vagina, or anus, urine and blood samples, photographs of physical injuries, the combing of body hair to detach evidence, and the collection of physical items such as clothing.
The exam can take up to a few hours if a survivor decides to pursue all the resources offered. During the exam, the survivor will be offered the services of a trained sexual assault forensic advocate who will arrive in the emergency room to provide support and advocate for their needs during their exam. The advocate will also provide post-exam resources such as law enforcement referrals, mental health resources, and financial assistance for the survivor to get home from the hospital.
Do you have to report your assault to law enforcement as a part of this exam?
Mandatory reporting is only required of minors (under the age of 18) who disclose details of their assault during a sexual assault forensic exam or when seeking other medical assistance if it falls under child abuse or child neglect. Survivors over the age of 18 are not required to report their assault at any point during the medical exam or their sexual assault forensic kit collection, though referrals to law enforcement will be provided. However, if a sharp instrument or a gun was used a police report does need to be made. The sexual assault may be left out of the report if the survivor so chooses but the threat on life has to be reported by the hospital team. A survivor’s forensic kit will be kept for 20 years by the emergency department in which it was collected as the survivor now has up to 20 years to report their assault to law enforcement. By having their evidence collected within that 96-hour window, a survivor will at least have this tool at their disposal if down the line, after having more time to heal from their assault, they decide to pursue criminal charges.
How much does the exam cost?
Under the Violence Against Women Act, all sexual assault forensic exams are free to all survivors of all genders. Should a survivor receive a bill, they should contact the provider who administered the exam for help. It is important to note, however, that any medical procedures that are not directly related to a forensic exam can be billed.
What are the benefits of receiving a forensic sexual assault exam?
While the statute of reporting has increased to 20 years, the window of evidence collection is a narrow window of 96 hours in order to capture the most evidence of a survivor’s assault. While the exam can most immediately address any physical injuries a survivor has received during the assault, what it more largely provides is a comprehensive set of resources the survivor now has at their disposal to begin their healing journey. Whether a survivor decides to report their assault or not, having their forensic evidence kit available allows them more of an opportunity to later pursue charges should this be the right option for them.
By: Carly Lanning
Historical Poem Honoring Survivors of DV/IPV
Remember My Name
Alliance Statement on the Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett
Honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
At this week’s meeting, Alliance staff members collectively reflected on the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the age of 87. Unsurprisingly for a figure like RBG, we quickly moved into honoring and celebrating her life and her work. We want our readers to know that we both mourn and celebrate with you and the millions of other Americans who have been inspired by Justice Ginsburg.
The following articles, poems, quotes, and videos were selected by our staff:
“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This fun kid’s book is a great way to share the importance of RBG’s life and work with your little ones.
“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Great Equalizer — The New Yorker
“Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda.”
Alliance Statement on Proposed Title IX Changes
January 30, 2019
Kenneth L. Marcus
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW Washington DC, 20202
Re: ED Docket No. ED-2018-OCR-0064, RIN 1870-AA14, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.
Dear Mr. Marcus,
We write to oppose the regulations that have been proposed by the Department of Education that would be implemented for Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972 (Title IX). We arespecifically responding to the Department of Education’s (the Department) Notice of ProposedRulemaking (NPRM) as published in the Federal Register on November 29, 2018. Members of our agency have written their portions of this comment from their specific areas of expertise below. Please note the citations and studies referenced in the endnotes at the end of the document.
Part I: Legal Definitions and Standards by Mary Haviland, Esq.
My name is Mary Haviland and I am the Executive Director of the New York City AllianceAgainst Sexual Assault. I have been working in the field of violence based on one’s gender for thepast 40 years. I began as a paralegal in Legal Services Matrimonial Unit in 1978 and for the past 23 years have directed organizations which have had the mission of decreasing the incidence of both Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. I have a law degree from the New York University School of Law and am admitted to practice law in the state of New York.
For the last seven years, I have been directing the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (The Alliance). For these seven years, this organization has been deeply involved in the issue of sexual violence in the campus setting. We have been an expert technical assistance provider to the rape crisis programs in New York State during my tenure here. As such, we have provided training and capacity building to rape crisis centers that are providing their expertise to NYS colleges and universities (there are 55 rape crisis programs and 330 colleges and universities in New York State). In 2011, approximately 25% of rape crisis centers state-wide were working with a campus on their response to campus sexual assault. Now, after passage of our amendments to the NYS Education Law Article 129 B, 100% of the rape crisis programs in this state are working with at least one campus in their county. They have established 252 partnerships with campuses in the state and in the last two years have reach over 175,000 people on campuses in their awareness efforts.1 The Alliance alone has provided 65 trainings to 1,194 students, administrators, public safety and faculty to a dozen institutions of higher education in 2018.
In addition, the Alliance worked with stakeholders on the drafting and bipartisan passage of our 2015 amendments to the Education Law.
1 New York State Education Law, Article 129-B
This law, amendments to the NYS Education Law, Article 129-B, set out requirements for colleges and universities, public and private, with regards to their response to domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault.2 Broadly, this law contains provisions which set out;
o a policy for alcohol and/or drug use amnesty;
o a bill of rights for reporting students which promises a fair and impartial process for reporting, the right to make a decision whether to proceed with a report to the institution and local law enforcement, and an appeals process among other provisions; differentiation between confidential and responsible parties on campus;
o the right to be protected by the institution from retaliation;
o access to a sexual assault forensic exam and local services;
o interim safety protections and accommodations such as no contact orders and changes in academic, housing, employment and transportation arrangements;
o Due process provisions for the responding student such as immediate review of interim suspension if ordered, notice of allegations, opportunity to review and offer evidence, an advisor of choice, access to a full and fair record of the proceeding, advance written notice of all meetings, written notice of rules alleged to have been violated, the presumption of innocence and the opportunity of appeal. As importantly, any right provided to the reporting individual must be similarly provided to a responding student.
The law also has broad requirement regarding education of in-coming students, student leaders and others regarding domestic, dating and sexual violence as well as stalking. It requires a climate survey every two years and the publication of those surveys in aggregate non-identifiable data. Finally, it provides for prevention education and a campaign that complies with the Violence Against Women Act.
The Alliance worked with the Governor’s Office, student leaders, representatives from the NewYork Civil Liberties Union and multiple state legislative representative from both the Republican and Democratic parties on drafts and passage of the legislation. These experiences place me in an excellent position to evaluate the Department’s proposed regulations.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault is opposing multiple provisions of the proposed regulations. We believe that taken in their entirety, the propose regulations will fail to protect students who experience gender-based violence on campus, will chill the reporting of incidents of violence and harassment, and will fail to reduce the incidence of this violence in the future. As such, we do not believe that these regulations further the purposes of Title IX to address discriminatory behavior and activity that results in the creation of a hostile environment among institutions of higher education. For these reasons, we oppose the adoption of these regulations in their entirety.
A major over-arching concern with the proposed regulations are that they are silent on domestic and dating violence as well as stalking. The only mention of these forms of violence are with reference to the scope of the Clery Act. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2007, 21% of college students report having experienced dating violence by a current partner and 13% of college women report they have been stalked. These types of violence affect a significant proportion of the college population and the proposed rules’ failure to address these forms of gender-based violence represents a serious oversight resulting in only partial protection from gender-based violence for this country’s students.
2 Statistics obtained from the New York State Department of Health
Secondly, the definition of sexual harassment used by the proposed regulations is too narrow to protect many students from actions that can create a hostile and abusive environment in the higher education context. The Supreme Court held in Davis v. Monroe County in 1999 that “unwelcome sexual advances” can create a “hostile” and “abus[ive]” environment “in violation of Title IX.” 3The Department issued guidance in 2001, 2010, 2011, and 2014 defining sexual harassment as“unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” 4 Yet the proposed regulations adopt a much more restrictive definition of sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, AND [emphasis added] objectively offensive that it denies a person access to [the institution of higher education’s] education program or activity” or sexual assault as defined in 34CFR 668.46(a), implementing provision of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act). The Clery Act definition includes rape(defined as both vaginal and anal penetration, with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of a victim including the rape of both males and females), fondling (“the touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her age or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental incapacity”) and incest (“sexualintercourse between persons who are related to each other within the degrees wherein marriage isprohibited by law”).5
Though the Clery definition encompasses many forms of sexual assaults, it does not include behavior often exhibited in the sexual harassment context. These display as aggressive propositioning, lewd gestures, verbal gender-based comments, etc. These types of behavior are deeply disturbing, emotionally damaging and contribute significantly to the creation of a hostile environment that would interfere with a student’s ability to avail themselves of educationalactivities. Yet the proposed regulations, by adopting the formulation of three requirements; severe, pervasive AND objectively offensive, renders single acts of this behavior probably ineligible for regulation by an institution of higher education under Title IX. It may also render perceived lessor forms of repeated harassment ineligible for action. This approach is likely to chill reporting on the part of students because they will deem their experiences as not serious enough.
Consider, for example, a student being repeatedly harassed by their professor. The harassment maynot be considered “severe” and is not explicitly “quid pro quo”; additionally the student may needthat particular class credit in order to graduate or maintain their financial aid so is determined not to drop the class. In this example – as the harassment would be considered “pervasive” but perhaps not “severe” or “effectively denied a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity” – the student would not be able to report to their institution or receive support. Their access to educational opportunities is however, significantly affected – the protection of which is the very purpose of the Title IX statute.
Furthermore, the proposed regulations adopt a higher standard of knowledge to trigger a response by an institution of higher education than the earlier guidance. The 2001 Guidance requires schools to address student-on-student harassment if any employee “knew, or in the exercise of reasonable
4 U.S. Department of Educ., Office for Civil Rights, Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance: Harassment of Students by School Employees, Other Students, or Third Parties (2001) available at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.html 5 U.S. Department of Educ., Office of Postsecondary Education, The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting(2016) available at: http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/campus.html
care should have known” about the harassment. In the context of employee-on-student harassment, the Guidance requires schools to address harassment “whether or not the [school] has ‘notice’ of the harassment.” 6 Under the 2001 Guidance, schools that do not “take immediate and effective corrective action” would violate Title IX. These standards have guided OCR’s enforcementactivities for almost 20 years. They implement Title IX’s nondiscrimination mandate by requiring schools to quickly and effectively respond to serious instances of harassment and fulfilling OCR’spurpose of ensuring equal access to education and enforcing students’ civil rights.
The proposed regulations create a very concrete barrier to reporting gender-based discriminatory behavior. They require that the institution of higher education possess “actual knowledge” ofsexual harassment which it defines as a report to a Title IX coordinator or an official “who has the authority to institute corrective measures” on behalf of the institution. This ratchet up of the standard for knowledge will require a campus to identify the qualified staff and educate the campus community sufficiently for students to make the proper choice. This will prove to be a difficult task. In addition, many college/university staff who are typically the recipients of disclosures are likely not to be qualified. These might include faculty, resident advisors, coaches, or student advisors. Nor is there a provision for the confidential reporting of an event of sexual harassment depriving a student of the opportunity to discuss the act of reporting with a trusted campus employee.
Many students know and trust their professors, advisors, coaches, etc. much more than they do the administration. Consider recent high profile cases such as at Michigan State University. Under theDepartment of Education’s proposed regulations, Michigan State University would have had no responsibility to stop Larry Nassar from sexually abusing students, because the student victims reported to their couches and athletic trainers instead of the Title IX Coordinator.
Furthermore, instead of requiring that institutions of higher education “take immediate and effective corrective action”, these institutions will only be required to react in a manner that is not “deliberately indifferent” or is “clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances”. The proposed regulations reach this conclusion by using a standard for addressing sexual harassment which was used by the Supreme Court in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School Dist, a Title IX lawsuit seeking monetary damages. This standard of “deliberate indifference” to an incident of sexual harassment that is so “severe and pervasive” as to deprive a student of educationopportunities was recognized by the Court as applying to private suits seeking monetary damages, not to administrative proceedings.7 This combined with the requirement that the notice of sexual harassment must be made to an employee in the institution of higher education “who has the authority to institute corrective measures on behalf of the institution” creates new, unprecedented obstacles to the reporting of sexual violence.
Rape and sexual assault cases are one of the most underreported crime in the United States. According to a 2006-2010 study by the Bureau of Justice, 65% of rape or sexual assault cases are not reported to the police.
7 Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 290 (1998) (detailing standard for employee-on-student harassment); Davis v. Monroe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 650 (1999) (detailing standard for student-on-student harassment)
8 On college campuses, the level of reporting is judged to be even lower. In the last two years, there have been report after report of past incidents of sexual violence that were not reported by people in every sector of the economy such as the entertainment industry, in corporate America, among elected officials and in numerous workplaces across the country. Public sentiment has supported the #metoo messages that decry blaming the victim and demand an end to obstacles to reporting. In this context, these standards are irresponsible to the needs of survivors of sexual assault. These combined standards go in the opposite direction of current public policy; they erect barriers to reporting and allow the maximum latitude for institutions of higher education NOT to respond to gender-based discrimination that is taking place on their campus.
Defining sexual harassment as severe, pervasive AND objectively offensive, requiring “actual knowledge” and imposing the most permissive standard by which colleges/universities must respond to sexual violence is poor policy because it creates a legal regime that conflicts with other civil rights statutes. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassing conduct on the basis of race, color, or national origin that is “sufficiently serious to limit or deny a student’sability to participate in or benefit from the educational program”. 9 And neither “actual knowledge” or “deliberate indifference” is required to violate Title VI. To single out sexual violence for higher standards and less enforcement is morally and legally reprehensive. Likewise, for Title VII claims, employees, including student employees, will be held to a different standard from those reporting a sexual harassment claim under Title IX under these proposed regulations. Campuses will have to figure out if students were acting in the scope of their employment when they engaged in (or experienced) sexual harassment before figuring out which standard applies. If the behavior crossed the timelines between ‘punching in and out’, how would campuses proceed – the more inclusive definition? This would cause confusion, would be potentially costly to campuses, and would lead to inequitable processes. In sum, these proposed regulations are not I alignment with other federal discrimination and civil rights statutes.
Finally, the proposed regulations contemplate departing from the Department’s longstanding practice of requiring that schools use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in Title IX cases to decide whether sexual harassment occurred. Proposed rule § 106.45(b)(4)(i) establishes a systemwhere schools could elect to use the more demanding “clear and convincing evidence” standard insexual harassment cases, while allowing all other student misconduct cases to be governed by the preponderance of the evidence standard, even if they carry the same maximum penalties. TheDepartment’s decision to allow schools to impose a more burdensome standard in sexual assaultcases than in any other student misconduct case appears to rely on the unspoken stereotype and assumption that survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report false claims of sexual assault than students who report physical assault, plagiarism, or other school disciplinary violations. There is no basis for that belief. In fact, men and boys are far more likely to be victims of sexual assault than to be falsely accused of sexual assault.
8 Lynn Langton, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Marcus Berzofsky, Dr. P.H., Christopher Krebs, Ph.D., Hope Smiley- McDonald, Ph.D., Victimization not Reported to the Police, 2006-2010, RTI International, August 9, 2012 NCJ 238536 http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4962
The preponderance standard is used by courts in all civil rights cases.10 It is the only standard ofproof that treats both sides equally and is consistent with Title IX’s requirement that grievance procedures be “equitable.” By allowing schools to use a “clear and convincing evidence” standard,the proposed rule would tilt investigations in favor of respondents and against complainants. The Department argues that Title IX investigations may need a more demanding standard because ofthe “heightened stigma” and the “significant, permanent, and far-reaching” consequences forrespondents if they are found responsible for sexual harassment. But the Department ignores thereality that Title IX complainants face “heightened stigma” for reporting sexual harassment as compared to other types of misconduct, and that complainants suffer “significant, permanent, andfar-reaching” consequences to their education if their school fails to meaningfully address theharassment, particularly as 34% of college survivors drop out of college.11 Both students have an equal interest in obtaining an education. Catering only to the impacts on respondents in designing a grievance process to address harassment is inequitable.
Moreover, Title IX experts support the preponderance standard, which is used to address harassment complaints at over 80% of colleges.12 The NCHERM Group has promulgated materialsthat require schools to use the preponderance standard, because “[w]e believe higher education can acquit fairness without higher standards of proof.” 13 The Association of Title IX Administrators(ATIXA)’s position is that “any standard higher than preponderance advantages those accused of sexual violence (mostly men) over those alleging sexual violence (mostly women). It makes it harder for women to prove they have been harmed by men. The whole point of Title IX is to create a level playing field for men and women in education, and the preponderance standard does exactly that. No other evidentiary standard is equitable.”14 NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators inHigher Education recommends the preponderance standard: “Allowing campuses to single outsexual assault incidents as requiring a higher burden of proof than other campus adjudication processes make it – by definition – harder for one party in a complaint than the other to reach the standard of proof. Rather than leveling the field for survivors and respondents, setting a standard higher than preponderance of the evidence tilts proceedings to unfairly benefit respondents.”15 The Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA) agrees that schools should “[u]se the preponderance of evidence (more likely than not) standard to resolve all allegations of sexual
10 Katharine Baker et al., Title IX & the Preponderance of the Evidence: A White Paper (July 18, 2017), available at http://www.feministlawprofessors.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Title-IX-Preponderance-White-Paper-signed-7.18.17-2.pdf (signed by 90 law professors).
11 Cecilia Mengo & Beverly M. Black, Violence Victimization on a College Campus: Impact on GPA and School Dropout, 18(2) J.C. STUDENT RETENTION: RES., THEORY & PRAC. 234, 244 (2015), available at https://doi.org/10.1177/1521025115584750.
12 Heather M. Karjane, et al., Campus Sexual Assault: How America’s Institutions of Higher Education Respond 120 (Oct. 2002),available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/196676.pdf.
13 The NCHERM Group, Due Process and the Sex Police 2, 17-18 (Apr. 2017), available at https://www.ncherm.org/wp- content/uploads/2017/04/TNG-Whitepaper-Final-Electronic-Version.pdf.
14 Association of Title IX Administrators, ATIXA Position Statement: Why Colleges Are in the Business of Addressing Sexual Violence 4 (Feb. 17, 2017), available at https://atixa.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017February-Final-ATIXA-Position-Statement-on-Colleges-Addressing-Sexual-Violence.pdf.
15 NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, NASPA Priorities for Title IX: Sexual Violence Prevention & Response 1-2 [hereinafter NASPA Title IX Priorities], available at https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/NASPA_Priorities_re_Title_IX_Sexual_Assault_FINAL.pdf.
misconduct”16 because “it is the only standard that reflects the integrity of equitable student conduct processes which treat all students with respect and fundamental fairness.”17
In sum, the exclusion of intimate partner violence, dating violence and stalking from the proposed regulations taken together with the narrower definition of sexual violence and the legal standards adopted by the proposed regulations create a legal regime that:
o severely decreases the ability of students to report acts of gender-based discrimination;
o permits non-responsiveness to these complaints short of “deliberate indifference”
o creates inequities across civil rights statutes, and
o allows for the possibility of an unequal playing field between reporting and responding students by allowing, and in some cases, requiring a higher standard of evidence in adjudication proceedings.
This results in a set of proposed regulations that conflict with the very purpose of the 1972 Title IX statute and therefore cannot be supported by the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.
Part II: Geographic Scope and Study Abroad by Heejin Yoon, LMSW
My name is Heejin Yoon and I am the Senior Coordinator of Campus Sexual Assault Programming here at the Alliance. I am a licensed social worker, having obtained my graduate degree from Columbia University in social work and my baccalaureate degree from the George Washington University in Criminal Justice. At the Alliance, I work almost exclusively with colleges and universities in New York City, delivering educational content to students, faculty, and staff across the city. I witness first-hand the unique challenges that college administrators face when working to adequately and appropriately address issues of gender-based violence on their campuses.
In New York State, we also have Education Law Article 129-B, otherwise known as “Enough is Enough.” Enough is Enough is an education law specifically designed to ensure that private and public campuses are doing the most they can to address gender-based violence. In fact, my work at the Alliance is almost entirely funded through the Enough is Enough legislation. I provide regular programming and education to eleven schools across New York City. I work with students of all backgrounds, administrators, staff members and faculty, Title IX Investigators and Title IXCoordinators, staff of Women’s Resource Centers and Counseling/Wellness Centers, HigherEducation Opportunity Program staff, the International Student offices and many more. Part of my responsibilities include conducting annual needs assessments of each of my partners every year. In these meetings, often with Title IX Coordinators, I hear the specific challenges and trends they are seeing. They tell me which types of cases are the most prevalent and how the school responds to them. Based on these experiences, I have some very specific concerns about proposed rules §§ 106.30 and 106.45(b)(3) which would require schools to ignore harassment that occurs outside of a school activity, even when it creates a hostile educational environment.
This is a major concern because the vast majority of the colleges and universities in New York City host a student body that is majority commuter-based. Of my eleven partner campuses, 100% of them have a predominantly commuter-based student body. This means that incidents of sexual
16 Association for Student Conduct Administration, ASCA 2014 White Paper: Student Conduct Administration & Title IX: Gold Standard Practices for Resolution of Allegations of Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses 2 (2014) [hereinafter ASCA 2014 White Paper], available at https://www.theasca.org/Files/Publications/ASCA%202014%20White%20Paper.pdf.
17 Chris Loschiavo & Jennifer L. Waller, The Preponderance of Evidence Standard: Use In Higher Education Campus Conduct Processes, ASSOCIATION FOR STUDENT CONDUCT ADMIN, available at https://www.theasca.org/files/The%20Preponderance%20of%20Evidence%20Standard.pdf.
violence and gender-based violence are most likely to occur ‘off campus,’ and therefore outside of a school-sponsored program or event. The trauma faced by commuter students is no less or different from trauma faced by residential students. The enactment of this rule would block commuter-based students from being able to pursue support from their schools. Furthermore, the majority of my Title IX contacts report that many of the cases they hear about from commuter students are related to a combined incident of intimate partner violence and sexual violence.
If colleges are required to ignore complaints about incidents occurring off-campus, then this means the school cannot provide accommodations to help keep the campus and its other students safe. Consider this: a commuter student is experiencing stalking and receiving threats of violence from a current or ex-partner who is not enrolled in their college. These threats and stalking behaviors are taking place off campus and through online platforms. They make the victimized student feel anxious and fearful to commute from home to school, never knowing where the perpetrator might be at any given time. The individual who is behaving in a threatening way knows where this student goes to school and may even know the victim’s personal academic schedule. Under these proposed regulations, the college is not permitted to respond to this situation—meaning this threatening individual could potentially sneak on and off campus to intimidate the victim or wait for them just off-campus or by the victim’s train station/bus stop to continue their abusive tactics.
Or consider that this student being victimized happens to attend the same college or university and their perpetrator. Incidents are likely not occurring on campus, but the victimized student is forced to see their perpetrator on a regular basis at school. Since incidents of threatening behaviors or violence behaviors are the most likely to occur at home or another location off-campus, the victimized student will not be in a safe environment. If this student is not able to pursue options on campus because the behavior is occurring off-campus, this student is significantly more likely to suffer mental and emotional health consequences. Under the proposed regulations, a school must not respond to a student who is actively and currently being threatened in one way, form, or fashion if all of it happens outside of educational activities sponsored off campus. This effectively blocks the victimized student from being able to pursue their education in a safe environment, free from illegal discrimination.
Additionally, when considering middle and high schools (K-12 institutions), the majority of young students are not boarding, so commute to and from their school every day. If a student was to be assaulted or harassed by another student on their way to school in the morning – even though this happened off-campus, it would absolutely affect their ability to learn. This proposed change is incredibly harmful for middle and high school students, and discounts the reality of the impact that‘off-campus’ violence and harassment can have on educational opportunities.
This proposed rule also excludes harassment and violence being conducted through digital and online platforms when committed off campus. According to the New York City organization, Day One, about 50% of people between the ages of 14-24 have experienced digitally abusive behavior.18Furthermore, with approximately 86%19 of all college students nationwide using smartphone on a regular basis, it would be no shock whatsoever to learn that many NYC-based college students are also experiencing harassment or abuse through digital means.
18 Day One. (2019). Statistics. https://www.dayoneny.org/statistics/
19 Pearson (2015). Student Mobile Device Survey 2015: National Report, college students. https://www.pearsoned.com/wp- content/uploads/2015-Pearson-Student-Mobile-Device-Survey-College.pdf
How are students supposed to pursue any type of recourse or supportive measures if they are barred from options at their college because the harassment cannot be proven to have occurred on campus? Does this give a college or university blanket approval to ignore online-based harassment and abuse? How would a student go about trying to prove or disprove the incident occurred while on campus? What if a student receives a rape threat from a fellow student while in class, but does not see the message until they are at an off-campus coffee shop half an hour later?
The proposed rules fail to address the overall safety of the student receiving threats or being subjected to abuse off campus. It is more than likely that the student who is being victimized will stop attending classes, stop attending club meetings, stop attending athletic events or team practices when they feel they can never be safe on campus because their perpetrator is also on campus. As such, the proposed regulations negate the purpose of Title IX, which is to keep students in school and shut down any incidents of discrimination on the basis of sex.
According to a 2010 Brookings Institute report on New York City, there were approximately 593,663 college students in New York City in 2000.20 Since 2000, the population of NYC has grown from approximately 8 million inhabitants21 to over 8.6 million in 2017.22 If the student-to- city population ratio stays the same from 2000, then we can estimate that roughly 638,000 residents of New York City are also enrolled in a college or university. That is more than half a million students, the majority of whom are commuter-based. These proposed regulations would effectively bar an enormous percentage of college students in New York City from pursuing options and support on their college campuses when they face incidents of gender-based violence. These rules will disproportionately effect cities with largely commuter-based campuses and will have a negative impact on all commuter-based schools nationwide.
Commuter students should not be barred from pursuing recourse for violence or harassment they have faced simply because they do not live on campus. Additionally, many of the students most affected by this change may be lower-income students. The increasingly higher costs of education mean more students are having to live at home and commute to campus for classes. Any regulations to Title IX should seek to make educational opportunities more equitable, rather than negatively impact already vulnerable and under-resourced communities.
Another point of great confusion created by these proposed regulations concerns study abroad. Many students go on study abroad programs through their college or university. In fact, in the 2015-16 academic year, approximately 325,339 US students studied abroad for academic credit 23and that number rose to approximately 332,727 students the following academic year.24 The proposed regulations state that only incidents of sexual violence occurring during a school- sponsored program or activity may be addressed. Study Abroad is one such activity, and yet, is most certainly happening off-campus. What of the student who experiences a sexual assault while on a school-sponsored trip, but not during the academic lessons? If a student studies abroad in New Zealand and enrolls at a partner university, then experiences a sexual assault, what can this student
20 Brookings Institute. (2000). Living Cities: The national community development Initiative. New York In focus. https://web.archive.org/web/20061121164151/http://www.brookings.edu/es/urban/livingcities/newyork2.pdf
21 NYC Planning (2000). Decennial Census-Census 2000. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/data-maps/nyc-population/census- summary-2000.page
22 NYC Planning (2017). Current and Projected Populations. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/data-maps/nyc- population/current-future-populations.page
23 USA Study Abroad. (2017). Study Abroad Data. https://studyabroad.state.gov/value-study-abroad/study-abroad-data
24 National Association of Foreign Student Advisers. (2018). Trends in US Study Abroad. https://www.nafsa.org/Policy_and_Advocacy/Policy_Resources/Policy_Trends_and_Data/Trends_in_U_S__Study_Abroad/
do to seek services and support? Will their host university be responsible to respond? Will their home university in the United States be required to ignore this complaint? Will the student be forced to leave their study abroad program early and if so, does this mean the student forfeits the credits they were supposed to get while there? How does this effect matriculation, financial aid,and the student’s overall GPA?
Currently, a reporting student’s home school has been able to support a student who must leave thecountry they are studying abroad in immediately through Title IX. Students can leave their program early if they feel that is necessary and receive accommodations to ensure that their GPA, Financial Aid, and matriculation are not further jeopardized. Title IX has also been able to communicate with the host school to address concerns about the safety of the student body and campus when necessary. These new proposed regulations would erase all of these accommodations and supports and leave a victimized student with no avenues towards justice or support that may have detrimental effects on their access to educational programming and activities during and following their time studying abroad.
Part III: The Narrow Definition, Cross-Examination and How Trauma Can Affect Survivors by Paige Bik, LMSW
I am writing on behalf of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault where I am employed as the Intervention Program Manager. My name is Paige Bik and I am a licensed social worker in both New York and Massachusetts. For the past ten years I have worked with children, adolescents, and adult victims of crime, specifically sexual assault and domestic violence. I have seen firsthand how incredibly difficult and traumatic it is for a survivor of sexual assault to not only endure sexual crimes, but to go through the process of disclosing their assaults to others. I have witnessed how difficult it is for survivors to heal from sexual crimes. It is my strong beliefthat Title IX’s proposed regulations will make it more difficult for survivors to come forward. This allows abusers to continue to harass and assault others with impunity, thereby decreasing public safety.
From the perspective of a trauma specialist, the proposed change to the definition of sexualharassment from “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” to “unwelcome conduct on the basis ofsex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equalaccess to the recipient’s education program or activity” is particularly concerning. This changes the definition of sexual harassment from concise and clear to convoluted and confusing. Because the proposed definition of sexual harassment is extremely narrow, survivors will be less likely to come forward. Many survivors might not necessarily know whether their experiences are deemed“severe” or “pervasive” enough to qualify and will avoid being scrutinized in a proceeding thatthey may feel will turn out to be meaningless or demeaning.
Many, many students will hesitate to seek out further help because they will not know if their casewill be taken seriously or if their institution will “count it” as an incident worth looking into. A victim’s avoidance of Title IX may put survivors in jeopardy of being abused again and will also allow abusers to continue abusing without repercussions. Another troubling aspect of thisdefinition change is the added portion that the harassment needs to be “so severe that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education”. This addition is extremely troublingbecause it fails to take into consideration the fact that individuals respond to trauma in different ways. Consider the survivor who is in shock and who presents as stoic when reporting their assault.
Could this student’s complaint be dismissed because it doesn’t seem to be “so severe that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education”? In my time serving survivors of sexual and domestic violence, I can testify to the many different ways by which survivors will behave after incidents of trauma. Many survivors present as calm. Survivors should not be penalized because of the manner in which they present themselves when reporting an incident of sexual violence. Instead, the perpetrator’s actions should be scrutinized regardless of how a survivor reacts to the harassment or abuse.
Another disturbing aspect to the proposed regulations is the requirement of live cross- examinationduring hearings. I have worked with victims in many criminal cases that required “proof beyond areasonable doubt”. These victims were almost always required to testify and were therefore subjectto cross examination. I witnessed the trauma, shame, and embarrassment that survivors felt when they recounted intimate sexual details in courtrooms full of strangers and when they disclosed those details in front of their abuser during trial testimony. To imagine a student having to outline these types of details in front of fellow students, professors, and other school administrators they will have to interact with is horrifying.
Title IX hearings are civil matters where the standard of proof is lower than that of the criminal legal system and this is how it should remain. Under the current regulations, survivors have been able to avoid giving live testimony and enduring cross examination. Colleges could have an investigator meet with the survivor and accused separately to make a determination. In contrast,the Department’s proposed regulations require that colleges have a live hearing where a survivor can be cross examined by an “advisor of choice”, picked by the respondent student.
The term “advisor of choice” is not clearly defined and potentially could be someone without anyexperience interviewing survivors of trauma. Even more troubling is the scenario in which the survivor is cross examined by someone they know. Consider, for example, a professor that teachesa class the reporting student has to take in the future to graduate, being the responding student’sadvisor of choice. The “advisor” could be allowed to dig into the survivor’s past sexual history and potentially even berate and victim blame the survivor sitting through cross-examination with the protections provided in the court process. In this example, regardless of the outcome the reporting student may feel traumatized from the experience of cross-examination and afraid to take that class with the professor in the future. This would directly impact their access to educational opportunities.
Another concerning scenario is a responding or reporting student’s parent cross-examining the other party. All of this would be done without the protections provided in a normative criminallegal setting, meaning the survivor’s advisor would not be able to object or shut downinappropriate and irrelevant questions. The cost that would be required to adequately train advisors of choice in order to ensure that cross-examination is indeed used as a “legal engine” for the “discovery of truth” has not been considered or addressed in these regulations.25
Cross examinations are retraumatizing for survivors and can be filled with gender stereotypes and victim blaming assumptions (Zydervelt, 2016).26 This proposed regulation could turn college campuses into inefficient, substandard mini courtrooms. In civil matters, cross examinations are
25 California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 158 (1970) (quoting John H. Wigmore, 5 Evidence § 1367, at 29 (3d ed., Little, Brown & Co. 1940)
26 Zydervelt, S. Zajac, R. Kaladelfos, A and Westera, N. (2016). Lawyers’ Strategies for Cross Examining Rape Complainants; HaveWe Moved Beyond the 1950’s? British Journal of Criminology, 57(3), 551-569.
extreme and unnecessary. Forcing a survivor to face their abuser, coupled with them having toundergo a cross examination by an “advisor” inexperienced in performing trauma-informed interviews, makes the likelihood of a survivor reporting sexual harassment or abuse decrease.
Part IV: Cross-Examination in K-12 Settings, by Christina Ortiz, MPH
My name is Christina Ortiz and I am writing in addition to my colleague’s notes on cross- examination to outline why cross-examination should also be avoided at the K-12 levels. I have over decade of experience working with youth and young adults, specifically in underserved and minority communities. Currently, I am the Senior Prevention Coordinator at the Alliance and a major part of my job is working with youth and young adults, ages 14-21, delivering educational workshops around teen dating abuse and sexual violence. Our conversations often focus on the lack of resources, education, and support from not only local communities but local and federal government.
Sexual harassment should never be the end of anyone’s education. Yet these proposed rules wouldmake schools more dangerous for all students. In particular:
Proposed Rules (§ 106.45(b)(3)(vi)-(vii)): In K-12 schools, the school must ask both parties questions, either by (i) conducting a “live hearing”; or (ii) having the students “submit written questions” for the other side to answer. But in higher education, the school must conduct a “live hearing,” and parties and witnesses must be available for cross-examination by the other party’s “advisor of choice.” If requested, parties must be allowed to sit in “separate rooms” connected by “technology.” If a student “does not submit to cross-examination,” the school “must not rely on any statement of that [student] in reaching a determination.
The proposed rule would allow the option of a live hearing for K-12 schools and be mandatory for college, with no restrictions on who would be allowed to cross-examine the survivor(s) andwitnesses (i.e. “advisor of choice”). This “advisor of choice” could range from an angry parent, toan aggressive attorney. Imagine being 14 years old and having the parent of your harasser, angrily questioning you about your assault, your sexual history, and your life. It is frightening and traumatizing. In fact, this is why the 2011 guidance strongly discouraged schools from allowing parties to personally cross-examine each other in sexual violence cases. To avoid perpetuating a hostile environment, schools were urged to ask each side to submit questions to a third party, who would then cross-examine the other side on their behalves.
While the proposed regulations do cite the rape shield laws – Federal Rule of Evidence 412 – which “intend to safeguard complainants against invasion of privacy, potential embarrassment, and stereotyping” they also lay out two exceptions to these critical protections. The proposedregulations state that “such exceptions promote truth-seeking”, however they are more likely toencourage harassment of victims and inappropriate and traumatizing questions.
Children represent a vulnerable set of victims and witnesses, given their formative emotional development and their limited understanding of civil and legal procedures. Concerns have been raised that subjecting children to cross-examination by the defendant or other aggressive “advisor of choice” can force the children not only to re-live the trauma but also to experience continued negative emotions associated with the experience, such as anger, fear, humiliation, and powerlessness.
27 Other fears include being hurt by the defendant, embarrassment about crying or not being able to answer questions and a fear of going to jail. The more frightened a child is, the less they are able to answer questions about an already terrifying or humiliating event.28 This in fact would negatively impact the truth-seeking aspect of an investigation.
Experts have argued that defendants can use cross-examination to threaten children into silence and to humiliate victims while potentially re-living the power and satisfaction originally felt during the victimization. In a study of long-term consequences, 176 children were interviewed 12 years after testifying and sitting through cross-examination. Children who testified when they were younger had more severe externalizing symptoms. Testifying repeatedly was associated with worse mental health outcomes and testifying about severe abuse had higher levels of trauma-related problems.29
In 2018, a projected 12.3 million college and university students will be under age 25.30 This proposed rule mandates cross examination in higher education however there is no distinction between a 17-year old high school student or a 17-year old college student. In one study, in-depth interviews with 130, 8-17-year old children appearing as sexual abuse victims in Australia revealed that two of the most distressing parts of the legal process were seeing the defendant and sitting through cross-examination.31
Again, it is important to highlight that with live cross-examinations, accused students and their biased advisor can raise pointed questions designed to embarrass or traumatize the survivor, such as questions about mental health, substance abuse or irrelevant details of the events alleged. Victims may be more likely to drop their case if they know that they will be directly cross- examined by their harasser or another aggressive party. If they choose to drop the case, they will likely continue to face a hostile and intimidating environment that inhibits their capacity to learn at school. In choosing not to drop the case, then the only way they can remedy their current hostile environment is by subjecting themselves to further hostility.
This proposed rule does not offer any safe choices for survivors wanting to gain justice and maintain their education. And ultimately, when a reporting student decides to drop a case because they find the live cross-examination too intimidating and embarrassing, it ultimately makes the campus or school more unsafe for everyone by allowing the perpetrating individual continue behaving in abusive ways.
Part V: Additional Barriers to Survivors and Lack of Supportive Measures by Ashleigh Andersen, LMSW
My name is Ashleigh Andersen and I have five years of experience working directly with victims and survivors of gender-based violence, specifically those impacted by sexual and intimate partner violence. I am a licensed social worker, having obtained my graduate degree from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. Currently, I am the Intervention Coordinator at the Alliance where I provide direct services including counseling and advocacy to survivors of sexual violence, many of whom are high school and college students.
27 Hobbs, S.D. & Goodman, G.S. Int. Journal on Child Malt. (2018) 1: 77. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42448-018-0005-z
28 Pantell, R. H. (2017). The Child Witness in the Courtroom.
29 Quas, J. A., & Sumaroka, M. (2011). Consequences of Legal Involvement on Child Victims of Maltreatment. 323-350. doi:10.1002/9781119998495.ch16
30 Digest of Education Statistics, 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_303.40.asp
31 Eastwood, C., & Patton, W. (2002). The experiences of child complainants of sexual abuse in the criminal justice system. Retrieved from Criminology Research Council – Australian Institute of Criminology website: http://www.criminologyresearchcouncil.gov.au/reports/eastwood.pdf.
Sexual violence impacts survivors’ lives in significant ways and without proper supports and protections, can have devastating effects. Many of the proposed regulations are concerning from the perspective of a direct service provider, in particular:
1. Proposed Rules 106.44(e)(4) and 106.45(b)(1) section (v) would add additional barriers to survivors with unclear definitions of supportive measures and the opportunity for a delayed timeframe both of which would only negatively impact the complainant.
As a direct service provider, I see firsthand the many barriers survivors face when trying to get the help and support they need. Some of these major barriers as stated in the Journal of American College Health lists shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear of not being believed, being outed in terms of sexual orientation or gender identity, and retaliation.32 Creating unclear and uncertain supportive measures will be an additional barrier that can lead to an increased number of students not reporting an incident of sexual violence to their school.
Dr. Christopher Wilson, Psy.D, defines trauma as “extreme fear, terror, or horror plus the real or perceived lack of control”.33 Experiencing any form of sexual violence can be extremely traumatic and barriers put in place that prohibit or deter survivors from seeking the support or help they need, can exacerbate this trauma. Many survivors of sexual violence develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some common symptoms of PTSD include the re-living of the traumatic event in the forms of flashbacks or nightmares, the development of avoidant behavior, such as staying away from activities or places where the perpetrator might be, and hyperarousal that leads the survivor to be overly alert and/or having difficulty concentrating.34 In my experience, the majority of survivors express feeling most, if not all, of these symptoms following an incident of sexual violence. For student survivors, this can be seen in avoiding certain classes or not being able to complete an assignment on time.
The proposed regulations define supportive measures as “non-disciplinary, non- punitive individualized services offered as appropriate, as reasonably available, and without fee or charge, to the complainant or the respondent before or after the filing of a formal complaint or where no formal complaint has been filed.” What is most important to note when it comes to the supportive measures is that the proposed regulation place greater significance on non-punitive measures rather than the potentially very real physical harm or danger that the complainant, and other members of the student body, could be facing. The concern of the school and Title IX should first and foremost be the safety of its students rather than prioritizing cost or non-punitive measures.
Furthermore, another concerning issue that creates a barrier to survivors is the proposed change in the regulations that would allow the delay of an investigation due to concurrent law enforcement activity. Again, it must be reiterated that the purpose of Title IX is to keep students in school and
32 Barriers to Reporting Sexual Assault for Women and Men: Perspectives of College Students (2006) Journal of American College Health vol. 55, NO3. http://www.middlebury.edu/media/view/240971/authentic/sable_article.pdf
33 Certified FETI (2018) Introduction to the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview: Neurobiology of Trauma
34 CDC Injury Prevention: Coping with a Traumatic Event https://www.cdc.gov/masstrauma/factsheets/public/coping.pdf
provide avenues for all students to pursue their educational pursuits in a safe environment. From my professional experience working directly with survivors who have engaged with the criminal justice system, I know that a full investigation can take anywhere from several months to a year. If a Title IX investigation is delayed on the basis of a criminal investigation, there a strong likelihood that a survivor could graduate before their Title IX investigation is able to conclude. This would defeat the purpose of a Title IX statute.
What about the student who is assaulted their sophomore year of college? Perhaps this student is assaulted by another classmate in the same year and decides to report both to Title IX and to formal law enforcement entities. This student is likely seeking accommodations and supports from the school and legal recourse through the criminal justice system. If there is enough informationand evidence for this student’s case to go to trial, it could take years before the case is concluded.Under the proposed rules, this student’s report to Title IX would have to be ignored, meaning thatthis student could spend the rest of his time on campus fearing that he will run into his perpetrator on campus, in classrooms, or in residential and shared spaces. The safety of this student and their access to education free from harassment and harm is effectively negated when the school decides to wait for the conclusion of a criminal trial.
During this time, the perpetrator of this student could be terrorizing the student who reported orcould be perpetrating against other students on campus. Because of a perpetrator’s continuedpresence on campus, I have seen how many student survivors find it increasingly difficult to participate in school, coursework, and school-related activities while also having to muster the mental and physical energy for a prolonged investigation.
The very purpose of an additional system and process under the civil Title IX statute alongside the criminal justice system is to offer remedies and resources that a law enforcement investigation and process cannot provide. The two types of investigations are deliberately separate and should therefore be perused concurrently rather than consecutively.
Part VI: Access to evidence and religious exemption by Anastasia Gorodilova
My name is Anastasia (Nastia) Gorodilova and I have been working in the field of campus sexual assault and Title IX for 6 years, currently working as the Senior Coordinator of Systems and Training at the Alliance. In this role, I coordinate a statewide Training and Technical Assistance program, supporting rape crisis programs and community-based organizations in their work with local colleges and universities. I work directly with over 50 programs across New York State, building their capacity to understand campus sexual misconduct policies as well as state and federal laws, including Title IX, the New York State Education Law 129-B ‘Enough is Enough’,the Jeanne Clery Act, and the Violence Against Women Act. Additionally, I train these programs on inclusive primary prevention, as well as informed direct services and advocacy for student victims. This role allows me to have a deep understanding of the needs and realities of students across New York State, as well as the processes of the colleges and universities that they attend.
I am writing on behalf of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault to express our significant concerns with two more of the changes made in the proposed regulations: the changes to the religious exemption and the new right to access all evidence obtained.
Access to all evidence obtained
The proposed regulations lay out the right of both parties to access all evidence obtained, even if the school does not use it to determine responsibility:
“Provide both parties an equal opportunity to inspect and review evidence obtained as partof the investigation that is directly related to the allegations raised in a formal complaint, including evidence upon which the recipient does not intend to rely in reaching a determination regarding responsibility, so that each party can meaningfully respond to theevidence prior to the conclusion of the investigation.”
While we uphold the importance of due processes for all parties involved, this change will again have the result of intimidating witnesses and reporting parties. It will also likely result in increased discretion in the evidence that is offered to the investigators – either leaving out critical pieces of evidence, or redacting what is provided to the school. This would significantly undermine the investigation and the truth-seeking process. Furthermore this change will be significantly burdensome on institutions of higher education.
We have no concern with the right of parties to submit evidence, and to review relevant evidencein the institution’s possession, as well as the right to review an investigative report if there is one. This is all considered best practice, and in line with due process protections and New York law.New York’s Education Law 129-B does however offer some critical protections, specifically, access to information regarding prior sexual history and mental health history is prohibited.35 Thisis intended to protect both responding and reporting students’ privacies, and to limit opportunitiesfor retaliation and intimidation.
In the proposed regulations however, no protections whatsoever are offered. If both parties haveaccess to all evidence obtained that is considered “related to the allegations raised”, this couldinclude lengthy communication chains (such as text and email threads), diary and journal entries, hospital and medical records, and more. The results of our research have shown that Cialis is available in the form of yellow pills, which include 20 mg of the active component Tadalafil. When ingested, the active component improves blood circulation, including in the pelvic organs, dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow to the cavernous bodies of the penis.
Consider, for example, a reporting student who was raped by a former intimate partner. Perhaps that victim became pregnant from this assault, and decided to have an abortion. Medical records, a diary entry, and records of text conversations between a friend detailing this experience would beconsidered evidence “related to the allegations.” But this is incredibly private and vulnerable information for an abuser to possess. What if the reporting student’s family is very religious, for example, and the responding student knows this? The threat of intentionally and vindictivelysharing this sensitive information with the victim’s family would be enough to discouragereporting.
The reporting student is now faced with an impossible decision. Should they submit this critical evidence to their institution as part of the Title IX investigation, knowing that the responding student will have access to it? Or should they exclude this important information in order to protect themselves, their safety, and their privacy?
Fear of intimidation and retaliation following a report of sexual violence is common and significant. The reporting student in this example, could reasonably fear that responding student might access this evidence and then use this information (about the abortion for example) to intimidate or retaliate against them for reporting. The accused perpetrator could threaten to tell thevictim’s religious family about the abortion – perhaps leading to family disowning or reduced financial support.
Fear of this type of threat is enough to discourage a reporting student from being forthcoming during the investigative process. Or indeed, discourage any participation in a Title IX process at all.
35 New York State Education Law, Article 129-B, S. 6444., Response To Reports, 5.C.
As such, the victim of sexual assault (sex discrimination) would have their equal right to education curtailed, and the trauma of seeing the reporting student at school every day may lead to the victim having to leave. A 2015 study by Cecilia Mengo and Beverly M. Black shows that 34.1% of students who have experience sexual assault drop out of college.36 This is unacceptable and must be addressed. The regulations should not be contributing to raising this percentage even higher, yet this change likely will.
If a student (reporting or responding) is nervous about sharing certain evidence, they will either have to hire an experienced lawyer to redact the evidence, or simply choose to exclude it. Hiring a lawyer costs money, resources that many low-income students may not have access to, and will also delay the investigation for the institution. This also further creates an inequitable process if one party has the resources for a lawyer to redact the evidence, while the other does not.
This proposed change of allowing both parties to access all related evidence will harm the integrity of the investigative process.
It will also reduce reporting, as students will reasonably fear threats of retaliation and be intimidated from participating fully in the process, or even participating at all. Studies show that campus sexual assault is already vastly under-reported: already, only 12% of college survivors37 and 2% of girls ages 14-1838 report sexual assault to their schools or the police. Any regulations to Title IX should seek to mitigate existing under-reporting of sexual assault, rather than increase it.
Changes to the religious exemption
The proposed rules would allow schools to claim “religious” exemptions for violating Title IX with nowarning to students or prior notification to the Department: rule summary (§ 106.12(b)). This change will take agency away from students in making an informed decision about what type of institution they choose to attend, and will likely increase discrimination against numerous protected classes.
Current rules do allow religious institutions to claim exemptions on religious grounds by submitting a letter notifying the Department of Education. Institutions were required to specifically identify which Title IX provisions conflicted with their religious beliefs. Studies have shown that in the past, claims for affirmation of this exception were relatively rare. A 2016 Kansas Law Review paper by Kif Augustine-Adams found that in the 40 years since Title IX had become law, only 285 religious exemptions requests had been received, and all had been approved.39
While still allowing religious exemptions, this process provided a critical accountability and transparency process, which has now been rescinded. The proposed regulations remove this requirement and would allow institutions to claim this exemption without notice or warning to the Department of Education or to their students. Essentially, schools will be able to claim that theyare justifiably ‘opting out’ of any Title IX requirements whenever they choose. This could even be after a complaint of discrimination has been filed against the institution to the Department of Education.
36 Mengo, Cecilia & Black, Beverly. (2015). Violence Victimization on a College Campus: Impact on GPA and School Dropout. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice. 18. 10.1177/1521025115584750.
37 Poll: One in 5 women say they have been sexually assaulted in college, WASHINGTON POST (June 12, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/local/sexual-assault-poll.
38 Let Her Learn: Sexual Harassment and Violence, supra note Error! Bookmark not defined. at 1.39 Augustine-Adams, K. (2016). Religious Exemptions to Title IX. Kansas Law Review, 65, 327-414.
This essentially permits institutions to discriminate against numerous protected classes, and then come up with a justification for their discriminatory actions and behavior after the fact – freeing the institution from any responsibility or liability. This is another change in the proposed regulations that would make institutions of education much less safe for the students who attend them.
The students that would be vulnerable to institutional sex discrimination are not just victims of sexual violence and harassment. This change also permits discrimination against all women and girls, LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) students, pregnant or parenting students (especially those that are unmarried), and students who attempt to access contraception options such as birth control or choose (or attempt to) have an abortion. These are all students who should be protected by Title IX – the civil rights statute that seeks to protect access to education from sex discrimination.
This is also in direct conflict with the Department of Education’s current40 and proposed41 rules requiring that each covered educational institution “notify” all applicants, students, employees, and unions “that it does not discriminate on the basis of sex.” By eliminating the letter of request, the Department of Education is making it impossible for students and their families to make informed choices about their schools. Students would not be able to know in advance whether or not their school could or would claim the right to discriminate against them without any liability. By requiring a school to tell students that it does not discriminate while simultaneously allowing it to opt out of anti-discrimination provisions whenever it chooses, the Department is creating a system that enables schools to actively mislead students.
Consider for example, a student who identifies as gay, starting college and quickly finding themselves harassed and discriminated against by a professor on the basis of sex. This quickly begins affecting thestudent’s ability to participate in their educational program – and thus should be a Title IX issue. Let’s say even that the harassment based on sex is “severe” and “pervasive” and has caused the distressed studentto drop out of that class – marking it “objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” The student should go to their Title IX Coordinator and report as instructed by their understanding of their Title IX rights.
What happens if the Title IX Coordinator refuses to do anything? In order to purse some response and require the school to stand up to their declared policy of non-discrimination, the student might move forward to report their institution to the Department of Education for a Title IX violation. At this point, having never advertised this expectation beforehand, and not having disclosed its status anywhere – the institution could claim religious exemption to Title IX.
In this example, the student has been pushed out of educational opportunities, and perhaps even the institution altogether due to sex discrimination – and the school is not liable whatsoever. This goes against the very purpose of the Title IX statute.
LGBTQ individuals already face greater harm and vulnerability to sex discrimination, including but not limited to sexual violence and hate violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a 2010 study, it was found that 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner (compared to 35% of heterosexual women.)
40 34 C.F.R. § 106.9(a).
41 Proposed rule §106.8(b)(1).
42 The same study found that 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.
Transgender students are at particular risk for a number of reasons. Firstly, transgender individuals are already at a much higher risk of violence and sexual violence. According to a 2017 study by the Association of American Universities, nearly 1 in 4 transgender, genderqueer, gender non- conforming, or questioning students experience sexual violence during their four years of undergraduate education.43 Additionally, a 2011 study found that 78% of transgender or gender non-conforming youth are sexually harassed during grades K-12.44 These numbers show that transgender individuals are very vulnerable to harm from sex discrimination even in educational spaces. This is exactly what the 1972 Title IX statute seeks to protect.
This change does not only affect LGBTQ individuals however. Consider, for example a student who becomes pregnant during college or even high school. This may have been unexpected, and they are now seeking support about what options they have. They may ask a trusted professor or teacher for support, and this professor chooses to shame and blame them, and asks them to leave their class, or perhaps intentionally fails them on a test. In this case, if the student reported this sex discrimination, and the school then claimed that they have a right to discriminate against the student based on claiming a post-hoc religious exemption, the student would have no recourse.
Similarly, remember that Title IX seeks to protect equity in all aspects of education – including for example, athletics and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. A female student could be asked to leave a biology class because of their gender and have no recourse if the school then claimed religious exemption; or a girls soccer team could be disbanded in order to provide more funding for the boys soccer team – and again, this institution (despite obviously violating Title IX) could claim religious exemption and continue to blatantly discriminate.
This proposed change to the religious exemption process will make individuals already vulnerable to sex discrimination in educational spaces and beyond, even more vulnerable and will reduce institutional accountability to their students. By changing the process of requesting religious exemptions in these regulations, the Department of Education is making all students less safe and preventing individuals from making informed decisions about where they choose to pursue an education. The protected classes that Title IX seeks to protect from sex discrimination will be more harmed by this change and students will be pushed out of school, denying them of their right to educational opportunities.
The Department’s proposed rules import inappropriate legal standards into agency enforcement,rely on sexist stereotypes about victims of sexual harassment and assault, and impose procedural requirements that force schools to tilt their Title IX investigation processes in favor of namedaccusers to the detriment of survivors. Instead of effectuating Title IX’s prohibition on sex
42 Walters, M.L., Chen J., & Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
43 Cantor et. Al. (2017). Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, Prepared by Westat, https://www.aau.edu/sites/default/files/AAU-Files/Key-Issues/Campus-Safety/AAU-Campus-Climate-Survey-FINAL- 10-20-17.pdf
44 Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the National Gender Discrimination Survey. Retrieved from The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: http://www.thetaskforce.org/ downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf
discrimination in schools, these rules serve only to protect schools from liability when they fail to address complaints of sexual harassment and assault. The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault calls on the Department of Education to immediately withdraw this NPRM and instead focus its energies on vigorously enforcing the Title IX requirements that the Department has relied on for decades, to ensure that schools promptly and effectively respond to sexual harassment.
For all of the reasons listed above, the Department of Education should immediately withdraw its current proposal and dedicate its efforts to advancing policies that ensure equal access to education for all students, including students who experience sexual harassment and violence.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the NPRM. Please do not hesitate to contact Mary Haviland at email@example.com to provide further information.
Mary Haviland, Esq, Executive Director
Anastasia Gorodilova, Senior Coordinator of Systems and TrainingHeejin Yoon, LMSW, Senior Campus Sexual Assault CoordinatorPaige Bik, LMSW, Intervention Program Manager
Christina Ortiz, MPH, Senior Prevention Coordinator
Ashleigh Andersen, LMSW, Intervention Coordinator
For The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault 212.229.0345
32 Broadway, Suite 1101, New York, NY, 10004
Submit Your Title IX Comment Here
On November 29, 2018 the Department of Education published their proposed regulations to Title IX. Title IX is a civil rights statute that protects students and employees from sex discrimination in institutions of education. The proposed rule is harmful to all students and survivors, and should not be put into effect.
There is currently a 60 day public NOTICE AND COMMENT period open till January 28, 2019, during which time the public – (including students, colleges and universities, school districts, advocates, individuals, organizations, etc.) can submit comments detailing concerns. It is critical that we mobilize around these proposed regulations.
USE THIS LINK to easily submit a comment to the Department of Education about the proposed regulations. For more information about the concerning rules and the impact they will have, please contact Nastia Gorodilova at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many resources and guides that we can share to support this critical effort.
The Department of Education will have to read each comment – but please note: any comments that are similar will be counted as ONE, regardless of how many are received. This does not just mean ‘copy and pasted’ language. Any comments that share similar concerns without specific reasons, citations, studies, statistics, past cases, or experiences may be counted together. So please contact email@example.com to be sent resources that you can use as ideas and reference; and ensure to include some citations to justify your concerns. Please also share this information with campuses and students.
Alliance Statement on Title IX Notice and Comment Period
On Thursday morning of November 29, 2018, the Department of Education published its proposed regulations on the handling of sexual violence in schools, known as Title IX. The proposed rule limits the kinds of violent and harassing behaviors that schools will be required to respond to and will make the adjudication process a much more confrontational and intimidating experience. The Alliance believes that these regulations turn back the clock on the progress being made to decrease the incidence of sexual violence on campuses and violate every student’s civil right to an education free from sex discrimination.
November 29th marks the beginning a 60-day window during which the public can comment on the proposed rules. This is a critical opportunity. We call upon students, schools, higher education officials, organizations, lawyers, and individuals to use this public comment period to respond to these problematic regulations so that they do not go into effect.
These regulations will decrease reports of sexual misconduct on campuses and will have the effect of frightening reporting students into either less formal proceedings that are not regulated by Title IX or dropping their claims. The rule also sets a narrower definition of sexual assault and harassment that must be reached before schools respond to students seeking help. Especially alarming in cities like New York, the proposed regulations further limit school responsibility by excluding incidents of sexual violence that happen off-campus – so student residences and recreational spaces may no longer be protected.
Of particular concern to survivors is the unprecedented mandate for a live hearing that includes required cross-examination of each party by an advisor of each party’s choice. Under these proposed rules, a survivor can be subjected to cross examination by the responding student’s lawyer, friend, or parent.
The explicit purpose of the Title IX statute is to protect students from sex discrimination in the education setting. We stand with students in their right to this. We call upon the public to exercise your democratic right to comment during this period, which ends January 28th. Look out for more information and resources from the Alliance about how you can make your voice heard.
Project DOT: In Conversation With Christina Ortiz
Project DOT (Dream. Own. Tell.) is a sexual assault prevention program for kids and teens that aims to engage youth in discussions about healthy relationships, consent, and the importance of being an active bystander to end sexual violence.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has worked in partnership with community-based organizations to ensure children and teens from underserved communities have a safe space to talk about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. Through workshops and community mobilization activities, youth mentors instill positive messages about sexuality, gender roles, self-esteem, etc. as a way of counteracting the culture of violence exposed to in our daily lives.
As part of our social media campaign for the South East and East Asian group, we sat down with Christina Ortiz, our new Senior Prevention Coordinator, to get an inside look at how Project DOT served the South East and East Asian community.
SVFREE: What made you join the Alliance?
ORTIZ: I joined the Alliance because sexual violence is a human rights, social justice, public health, and criminal justice issue. By providing education and having honest conversations, we can create a culture of respect, safety, and equality.
SVFREE: Can you explain your position and what it looks like on a daily basis?
ORTIZ: My title is Senior Prevention Coordinator. That means I manage the Alliance’s community-based prevention services including Project DOT. I also am the Regional Coordinator (RC) as The Alliance is one of the six New York State Department of Health designated Regional Centers For Sexual Violence Prevention. As RC, I collaborate with our partner agencies (CVTC, Mt. Sinai Beth Israel, Bellevue, and Bronx DA) to provide prevention services throughout NYC communities. My day-to-day varies, but in general it includes responding to program/workshops requests, presenting sexual violence prevention workshops like Bystander Intervention, working on our partner collaborative prevention programs like OutSmartNYC, enhancing our DOT curriculum, preparing for and facilitating Project DOT workshops, and of course, the non-fun aspects of work, reports.
SVFREE: What’s the most gratifying take away from your job?
ORTIZ: The most gratifying take away is being able to provide education and support and motivate change to diverse and underserved communities.
SVFREE: In your words, how would you describe Project DOT?
ORTIZ: Project DOT is a program that provides a safe, educational and empowering space for minority and underserved communities to learn about and work to end sexual violence. Project DOT shows them the role they play as leaders in their self-identified communities. It uses community-level prevention techniques including a youth-created social media campaign and community mobilization projects to engage their peers in the conversation about social norms, healthy relationships, and consent.
SVFREE: What were your first impressions upon completing the first two weeks?
ORTIZ: My first impression was that youth have more insight than adults give them credit for and the range of personal experiences of youth.
SVFREE: How was the experience of completing your first round?
ORTIZ: Completing my first round of Project DOT was enlightening. It will be interesting to hear examples of how peers and adults in these youths’ lives contribute to their knowledge, beliefs, and perceptions about relationships. I learned what material works perfectly, what needs to be tweaked for the population, and how important the community mobilization activities are. We do an activity called community mapping, where they identify what communities they belong to. We later use this to figure out how they will gear the community mobilization to their communities. It also allows them to implement what they’ve learned in Project DOT and see what impact they can make within their communities as change-leaders.
SVFREE: In terms of Project DOT, what do the prevention and community mobilization activities look like with youth?
ORTIZ: Typically, the community mobilization activities involve the youth designing and launching an activity to engage peers, parents, caregivers, and other adults from their respective communities in dialogues about teen sexual violence prevention. This could include hosting a community event, a teach-in, or recruiting friends for a bystander intervention training.
This round our youth focused on using online platforms to engage their communities. Their four projects are 1. “Draw my Life” video focusing on victim blaming, 2. Q&A about teen healthy relationships with questions from their peers, 3. Youth Resource Page that will be part of our Project DOT website, and 4. How Healthy Is Your Relationship? Quiz
A few of our youth will also be sharing their experiences with Project DOT on the Alliance’s podcast, “Sex Talk Happy Hour”.
SVFREE: What’s a theme that Project DOT represents that doesn’t get enough attention in these communities? Whether it’s establishing healthy relationships, bystander intervention, or misconceptions about rape.
ORTIZ: I would say the biggest theme Project DOT focuses on would be the gender norms/social norms that contribute to unhealthy relationships and rape culture.
SVFREE: What about this round of Project DOT are you particularly impressed by?
ORTIZ: I was impressed by how many commitments these youth have. They are busy, between school, extracurricular activities, studying for SATs and Regents, and even part-time jobs, they have more commitments than I did at their age. It amazes me how they balance it all.
SVFREE: What do you think entertainment can be doing better in terms of its messaging? Whether it’s TV, film, or music?
ORTIZ: Messaging in entertainment is changing slowly. However, it is still behind in terms of diversity, victim-blaming, its ambivalence about violence against women, and how it portrays healthy relationships, especially to youth, to name a few. Media needs to do better in conveying a realistic impression of the time, effort, and commitment that healthy relationships require.
SVFREE: How do you think social media affects the way they take in these messages?
ORTIZ: Social media is one of the most accessible and used platforms, especially by youth. They use it to share emotional connections, find ideas, express themselves, and learn. Instagram, Twitter, FB, and other social media platforms contribute to the unhealthy messages youth, who are just beginning to develop their identities, receive by exposing them to unrealistic or harmful behaviors and stereotypes. This results in them having unreasonable expectations of sexual and gender norms and experiencing difficulty in forming healthy relationships. Look at #relationshipgoals, it only shows the good and photogenic side of a relationship but never the struggles that the couples may be experiencing.
SVFREE: What kind of an impact do you hope will Project DOT create within these communities?
ORTIZ: I hope that it will spark and create an opportunity for conversation about healthy relationships including sex, consent, gender roles, and dating. As someone who is also a part of an underserved community, talking about sex, healthy relationships, and violence was not encouraged nor did it typically happen between youth and adults.
SVFREE: What did you learn from the youth?
ORTIZ: I’ve learned the value of silence. If we take a step back and give them the opportunity to fill the space, they will. This also continued to show me the importance of patience and listening. I learned that many youths have experienced trauma and/or may be involved in trauma. Regardless, all youth deserve an opportunity to vent, to share their stories, or to seek advice. Being a good, non-judgmental listener just comes with the territory of working with youth.
SVFREE: Were you surprised by their thoughts about gender, healthy sexual relationships, or bystander intervention?
ORTIZ: No, since our age group varied from 13 to 18, I was expecting varying thoughts about gender, healthy relationships, consent, and bystander intervention. You have the youth with fewer life experiences whose beliefs and thoughts come more from their parents/caregivers and friends and the other youth tend to draw from their personal experiences. Overall, youth are still learning about their sense of self through life experiences, knowledge, and environment while managing societal expectations.
SVFREE: What would you like their parents to know?
ORTIZ: That youth first learn about gender norms, sex, and healthy relationships from what you say and do and they repeat it to others. If you want to help them grow in into adults with healthy relationships, it is important to allow space for open and respectful communication, be okay with being uncomfortable at times, and be supportive.
A Thorn By Any Other Name
In 2016, the New York Times Magazine published an article called The Forced Heroism of the “Survivor.” Author Parul Sehgal talks about how the term “survivor” has been adopted by people who have experienced incidents of sexual violence and rape as an empowering way to self-identify. The article discusses, however, that not all who have experienced sexual violence may identify as such and how much pressure the word “survivor” can feel to some.
This unexpectedly became a theme in the most recent episode of the Alliance’s podcast, Sex Talk Happy Hour. In the episode, entitled “Healing and Dinosaurs,” I spoke with four women who had all experienced a form of sexual violence. One of the goals of this episode was to help any listener know how they could be supportive of survivors of sexual violence. I phrased the question using these terms, and one response I received was particularly striking.
Paraphrasing, one of our interviewees stated that she identifies as a victim, not a survivor, because sexual violence was something that happened to her, rather than something she “endured.” She states clearly that she completely understands why many use the term “survivor” but that it just is not the term she uses for herself.
It soon became evident that I was not the only one to find this thought striking.
Shortly after the episode aired, one of the other women I had interviewed reached out to me to share that she found this notion to be incredibly eye-opening and empowering. She shared with me that she never felt 100% comfortable with the term “survivor,” but because it is universally accepted, [she] thought that was the only way she could talk about her assault. She shared that while it never felt quite right, she went with it because “I didn’t know there was any other option.” More than that, she shared with me that through thinking about this notion she doesn’t hold either term as a core identity at all. Rather, she describes it as an experience she had as opposed to a personal identifier.
She’s also not the only one to reach out to me about this—multiple friends of mine who have listened to the episode have reached out to share that they had never really thought about another option or term being available for use.
Quickly I realized that we stopped asking how each individual preferred to talk about their experiences. Instead of asking, “Hi, how do you identify when it comes to this experience?” we just started ascribing the term “survivor” (and all its connotations) to every single person who has experienced sexual violence trauma. And in many ways, maybe we do this because it makes us feel more comfortable? Do we use the term “survivor” too widely because we think that’s the term with the least emotional baggage? Are we possibly erasing each person’s individuality? More importantly, are we potentially disempowering those who find that this term does not resonate with them?
From now on, these are the questions I will be asking myself. We cannot pretend to be true allies if we are not willing to step back and realize that ways in which we (even those of us actively working in the movement) might be contributing to a feeling of powerlessness to those who have experienced sexual violence. I for one am humbled by this revelation and am going to actively attempt to rewire my thinking by focusing on each individual’s preferences. I will no longer put the onus on the individual I’m speaking with to correct me with the term(s) they choose to use.
Oscar Night’s #MeToo Moment And More
Last night, the 90th Academy Awards honored many familiar and not-so-familiar faces in film. Usually, the show is a night to celebrate film, fashion, and unpredictable moments, but this year, the #MeToo movement made room for those in Hollywood to address what’s been in our social consciousness since October, combating sexual assault. It’s what the Alliance has been working hard at for years in our prevention and intervention strategies. It was a night that lent some moments to empower survivors of sexual assault and a call for transparency.
One particular moment that signified the shift in Hollywood, was when actresses Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra, and Salma Hayek gathered on stage to introduce the new voices in Hollywood package, which acted as a powerful platform to reinvigorate the crowd and those at home, with the message of Time’s Up. The three women, who spoke out against producer Harvey Weinstein, stood together in unity.
“We will work together to make sure that the next 90 years empower these limitless possibilities of equality, diversity, inclusion, intersectionality,” said Judd. “That’s what this year has promised us.”
But the conversation doesn’t end at the Academy Awards. It continues through many different platforms, programs, and strategies outlined by the Alliance. Our most recent endeavor is the podcast Sex Talk Happy Hour. For our first episode, the Alliance Senior Campus Coordinator Jeenie Yoon spoke with Film/TV critic Candice Frederick to discuss how film looks at sexuality and the treatment of women.
Here are a few topic highlights:
- Nudity and the double standard on screen.
- How sex is mixed with violence in film.
- How sitcoms focus on unrequited love by trying to turn an absolute “no” into a “yes.”
- MPAA’s issue with showing female pleasure on screen
- Female empowerment built on violence
Interested in learning more about these topics? Listen to our first episode here.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault Launches The Sex Talk Happy Hour Podcast
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault just launched its very first episode of our podcast “Sex Talk Happy Hour.” Join The Alliance’s own Jeenie Yoon (Senior Campus Sexual Assault Coordinator) as she speaks with this month’s special guest, film/TV critic Candice Frederick on how sex is portrayed in film, including nudity on the big screen, consent, and contraception.
Subscribe to our podcast here.
Pointing A Lens On Sexual Assault: The Films That Got It Wrong And Those That Got It Right
[Trigger warning – some content may be sensitive to read]
From almost the beginning of film, with the 1915 The Birth of a Nation, rape as a functioning story, has been appropriated. In some scenarios, rape is used as a perfunctory tool to give power to assailants. In other instances, rape is used to titillate the viewer and instead of showing the emotional and physical turmoil and the effects of PTSD, survivors are framed by the male gaze. What exactly does this mean? It means if you see a woman raped, it’s usually to show off her body, in a way that allows the viewer to be in the position of a spectator as if the act in itself is a sport. This function of storytelling also exists in television, as we’ve seen this used in Game of Thrones.
Director and writer Jessica M. Thompson, said it best, when she spoke to us about her enlightening film The Light of The Moon, “I was getting really frustrated with the way sexual assault was being portrayed in films and television, including some of my favorite TV shows like Game of Thrones. The way they portray rape on that show is horrifying. For one, it’s gratuitous and it’s way too much. It’s like they’re almost filming it for the male audience to sexualize it and to revictimize these victims. It’s not following the women’s narrative at all.”
A third “popular” way cinema likes to skew sexual assault away from how a survivor processes trauma is through the false narrative that following a traumatic rape, the survivor can just pick him or herself up and seek revenge on the perpetrator. This is another harmful view that does nothing to uplift a survivor looking to see their real experiences portrayed on the big screen.
We can’t continue to sanitize these harmful images and normalize them when it comes to survivors of sexual assault. In an industry that’s been rocked with the conversation of sexual assault, we wanted to lead up to the Oscars broadcast by discussing these different depictions of sexual assault, in an effort to hold those in power accountable. We also want to empower those who continue to get this polarizing subject right.
Films that get it wrong
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Director: David Fincher
Plot: Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, a journalist Mikael Blomkvist sets out on a journey to uncover the mysterious disappearance of computer hacker, Lisabeth Salander (Rooney Mara).
Why It Doesn’t Work: One of the worst offenses of how some films handle rape is how it fetishizes the bodies of women. The scene in question is uncomfortably long without a purpose and shows unnecessary shots of Salander’s body. While some films spend time focusing on a rape scene so it can give the viewers a deep understanding of how it feels to be violated, Fincher’s dark blockbuster seems to almost glamorize the rape of Lisabeth Salander, in the way the scene is shot and focused on her body in an overly stylized way that does more damage to Lisabeth’s experience. The violence is so extreme that it feels gratuitous and salacious.
The Kill Bill Series
Film: The Kill Bill Series
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Plot: The series follows The Bride aka Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) as she seeks revenge on the people that murdered her friends, her husband to be, and her own assailants.
Why It Doesn’t Work: Once touted as a feminist enthusiast, Tarantino’s pulpy blood-obsessed work seems stale here. Yes, Uma Thurman, as The Bride kicks some serious butt, but it’s also a harmful narrative for survivors who are just looking for answers on how to cope from their attack. The rape revenge narrative is a nice fantasy but it’s not reflective in a real survivor’s experience. It’s very rare when a survivor’s assailant is brought to justice in a court of law, nevermind at their own hands. Women of color are also treated horrifically, as they experience gruesome violence in the film and are relegated to stereotypes in their speech affectations, something that Tarantino has been accused of in the past.
The Birth of a Nation
Film: The Birth of a Nation
Director: Nate Parker
Plot: A true story about, Nat Turner, an illiterate slave and preacher who leads the uprising of slaves in Virginia.
Why It Doesn’t Work: While 12 Years a Slave focused on rape to share the enormous pain experienced by slaves, Parker uses two rapes irresponsibly, adding nothing to the story. Parker shows a scene where the guest of Nat’s master, Samuel (Armie Hammer) requests Esther (Gabrielle Union). It’s merely alluded that she’s sexually assaulted in his request. In another scene Cherry (Aja Naomi King), Nat’s wife, is raped. Both of these rapes take place off screen, acting as an afterthought, and thus continuing the harmful way cinema treats rape. But when it comes to the violence in the film, especially the rebellion, that’s shown in an animalistic way, instead of being pushed under the rug as rape is here. Both Cherry and Esther’s rapes seemed to come with minimal reaction from the other characters most important to them.
A Clockwork Orange
Film: A Clockwork Orange
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Plot: A story set in the future, centers on deviant Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his insidious gang as they get up to violent “hijinks”. Once jailed, for violently killing the Cat Lady, Alex undergoes “behavior modification” in exchange for his freedom.
Why It Doesn’t Work: Throughout the film, women are used as props to commit violence and torture against. In an interview, director Stanley Kubrick expressed that the main character, “represents the id, the savage repressed side of our nature which guiltlessly enjoys the pleasures of rape.” Showing violence of any kind against women without having it aid to a woman’s emotional and physical experience doesn’t do anything to uplift women or allow for a discussion about the lasting effects of rape. These characters that endure the sadistic behavior by Alex and his “droogs” are forgotten, and that’s an injustice.
Revenge of The Nerds
Film: Revenge of The Nerds
Director: Jeff Kanaw
Plot: In this self-described coming of age comedy, a group of freshman nerds and outcasts seek revenge out on the fraternity who bullies them throughout the semester to gain a sense of peace in their college years.
Why It Doesn’t Work: In this film, small exchanges between the outcasts often degrade women and their appetite or lack of appetite for sex. Women in this film, mainly the sorority girls, are treated like desirable objects to obtain and nothing more. At every turn, their privacy is being violated, and what’s worse is that it’s played for laughs. The nerds hide cameras to watch the women in stages of undress without their knowledge. In a later scene, lead nerd Lewis (Robert Carradine) disguises himself and then tricks Betty, Stan’s girlfriend, into having sex with him. When she realizes it’s Lewis, she’s delightfully intrigued by his sexual prowess. In a normal situation, a woman would feel violated and mortified. This film certainly didn’t age well, in fact, it’s astounding this 80s film was green lit in the first place.
Films That Get It Right
The Light of The Moon
Film: The Light of The Moon
Director: Jessica M. Thompson
Plot: Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) is an assertive and confident Latin woman, who has a great career, a stable relationship with her boyfriend Matt (Michael Stahl-David), and strong friendships. In one night, her ground is ripped from underneath her when she’s sexually assaulted while walking home from a club in Brooklyn.
Why It Works: The film brings an awareness of how it affects a survivor’s inner perception and the relationships they’ve forged with the people they know best. Due to the carefully crafted storytelling, the viewer gets to see the emotional turmoil someone goes through after an assault and the hardships as Thompson highlights the lack of answers given by various systems in power.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Plot: The film focuses its lens on the team of reporters from the Boston Globe and their investigation into the massive cover-up of child molestation by the Catholic Archdiocese. By highlighting the facts behind this true life story, McCarthy frames the survivors in an honest light.
Why It Works: The cover up by the Catholic Archdiocese went back decades. McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer unpacked just how the Archdiocese was able to cover up these horrible acts, by showing just how easy it was to place the offending priests in different parishes while using false statements for the reason of the removal of their current placement. On the other side of the story, is an honest narrative of how sex offenders groom their victims, and how through this process they can use their trust and bolster their power to intimidate their victims into years, sometimes decades of silence.
Director: Lee Daniels
Plot: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, Precious is a story about a teen girl (Gabourey Sidibe) who lives below the poverty line in Harlem with her verbally and physically abusive mother. She’s pregnant with her father’s second child and can’t read or write. When she has the opportunity to transfer to an alternative school, she sees some hope for a better future and slowly begins to turn her life around with the help of her new mentors.
Why It Works: In the film, Daniels shows the extreme physical and emotional abuse Precious endures from her mother, and her father. Throughout the film, the impact of Precious’ harmful environment is shown by how she sees herself as an individual and how hard it is for her to accept love from people who do care for her. While showing the abuse she endures, Daniels uses one of the reflex responses a survivor can go through. Precious copes through her episodes of sexual and physical assault by mentally exiting the situation, as she daydreams about being on a runway, adored and celebrated. What the viewer is seeing is how sexual assault can trigger tonic immobility, otherwise known as involuntary paralysis.
Boys Don’t Cry
Film: Boys Don’t Cry
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Plot: Boys Don’t Cry is a true story about a young trans man Brendon Teena (Hilary Swank) discovering his true identity and finding his first love in Nebraska. The story takes a horrifyingly tragic turn that still resonates with today’s LGBT youth, as Brendon was raped and later murdered by two acquaintances after they found out he was born a woman.
Why It Works: Trans youth are at greater risk for being sexually assaulted so the raw telling of this true story was a great service to LGBTQ community, especially in the late 90s when public consciousness about transgender issues wasn’t what it is today. The scene of the rape is brutal and the terse questioning Brandon endures by the sheriff afterward shows how some law enforcement lack training in conversing with survivors, and even more so when it comes to reporting the rape of an LGBT person. The film used direct transcripts of the questioning by the sheriff. Throughout the questioning, the sheriff undermines Brandon’s story and calls him “it.” In the end, it showed just how negligent the system can be with survivors, and how the Richardson County sheriff failed to protect Brandon from his two assaulters.
12 Years a Slave
Film: 12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Plot: Based on the experiences of slave Solomon Northup (Chewitel Ejiofor), 12 Years a Slave is a brutal look at slavery and the lives affected by the harrowing experiences endured. A once free man, Northup was kidnapped and sold into slavery and eventually landed in the house belonging to Edwin Epps.
Why It Works: One facet of slavery that’s usually pushed under the rug is the sexual violence endured by many black women at the hands of their masters. Many were used for sexual gratification, so owners could continue to exert their power. In 12 Years a Slave, McQueen’s strength as a director comes in the form of showing rape culture and its place in slavery through Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a woman enslaved to Edwin Epps. Because of his obsession with Patsey, Epps’ wife physically took out her displeasure on her as well. Patsey’s story was essential to the observations by fellow slave Solomon Northup and McQueen’s emotional crux.
The Aziz Ansari Case: Making Sense Of A Grey Matter
Over the weekend, actor-writer-comedian and self-described feminist, Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual assault. This accusation came after the Modern Romance author wore a Time’s Up pin at the Golden Globes. His anonymous accuser, “Grace” told Babe, that seeing him win an award for his series Master of None, was the moment that started a new fire and made her come forward. She described the night she went out on a date with Ansari as the “worst night” of her life. Of the experience, she said, “I believe that I was taken advantage of by Aziz. I was not listened to and ignored. It was by far the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had.”
She went on to describe how Ansari was eager to leave the restaurant and asked for the check. The two went back to his apartment for the second time and that’s where the date went awry. After complimenting his countertops, Ansari went forward with sexual advances. In the moment, Grace says she was uncomfortable by how quickly things were escalating. After he mentioned getting a condom, Grace explicitly told him, “Let’s relax for a sec. Let’s chill.” Instead, Ansari continued kissing and “briefly performed oral sex on her.” Grace said Ansari pulled her hand on his genitals even though she gave non-verbal cues that she wasn’t comfortable by taking her hand away. According to Grace, who was 22-year-old at the time, he tried this five to seven times.
Grace said she spent 30 minutes moving away from Ansari as he followed her throughout his apartment while trying to advance with her physically. “Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points,” she said. “I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”
The backlash that’s ensued against this particular case, suggests that some people still think of this kind of interaction as a horribly awkward sexual encounter gone wrong and nothing more. Although it seems like 2018 is a new dawn when it comes to confronting sexual assault, this isn’t a new conversation for organizations like The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, as we’ve been leading the charge in changing the way people think and talk about sexual assault by interacting with the public at large. That in mind, prior to the reckoning of Harvey Weinstein, society’s response to sexual assault, was at best, murky. As it turns out, this is still a work in progress when it comes to accepting that toxic behavior has been normalized and desperately needs a closer look when discussing this topic. Even with the hyper-awareness around sexual assault, it’s hard to distinguish how the #MeToo and now the #TimesUp movement, will provide longterm lessons beyond these harrowing stories.
It’s important to realize that all areas of sexually inappropriate behavior—whether the perpetrator is aware they’re committing such microaggressions—exists in the same harmful space no matter the severity. To deny this is to allow society to look the other way when rape happens and gives people permission to frame anything under the “boys will be boys” mentality, which can cause harm in many ways. We’re seeing this happen in a court of law as well, where perpetrators are not being held accountable, and if they are, it’s the equivalent to spending three months out of a six-month sentence in jail.
In this particular case, public outcry has mostly been in favor of Aziz Ansari because “Grace” didn’t point out a moment in her story where she said the word “No.” But when we look at the power dynamics between Aziz and “Grace”, it’s easy to see why a young, impressionable woman, wouldn’t know how to use her sexual agency to explicitly verbalize the word “no” to a man like Aziz Ansari, who not only has clout in the entertainment industry but is known as a favorite “woke bae.” Imagine trying to find a way to say “no” to the man who wrote a dating book all of your friends are raving about during brunch? Or saying, “no” to the man who gave younger millennials a new vernacular? This is a man who was adored by Grace’s generation and she knew it, as she herself stated, she was excited. Aziz was in the driver’s seat from the start, he picked the location of the date, the wine, and even the dress code.
This Aziz Ansari story seems to be a very grey area if we are to be completely honest with ourselves. Is this just an awkward date or is this sexual assault? This is a honest question that I am asking.
— Uche, J.D. (@AfroRhapsody) January 14, 2018
In an interview for 60 Minutes, Oprah sat down with entertainment attorney Nina Shaw; and actresses America Ferrera, Natalie Portman, Tracee Ellis Ross and Reese Witherspoon to discuss the complexities of this conversation. At one point, she stated, “People are afraid to say there’s a difference between inappropriate behavior, inappropriate comments, and sexual assault, and sexual predators, and rape. There is a difference.”
Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross explained a talking point that The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault knows well:
“There is a difference, but one part of it supports the other. There is an understanding of consent and respect that I think has gotten very confused in our culture that has set up a space that can make all of that, happen.”
Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote:
“Plenty of women — women who have had experiences ranging from catcalls to coercion to violent abuse — can differentiate catcalls and coercion and violent abuse in their minds. We know that a grope isn’t a rape. We’re just sick and tired of acting like we’re supposed to be grateful when a grope isn’t a rape.”
While some people find the case against Aziz Ansari hard to swallow, be it his popularity in our culture, the role his work takes in discussing gender politics or something else entirely, it’s easy to agree “Time’s Up” on silence but what do we do with this awakening? As for the media’s polarizing reactions to the Aziz Ansari’s case, there’s still room to learn if we freeze the clock on Grace’s particular experience. If anything, this instance has shed a light that society has conflating ideas on consent.
Here are some things to keep in mind when thinking about consent.
Liquor is not a bargaining tool for sex:
If you think pouring one more drink to turn a no into a yes is consent, then you’re mistaken. Any type of coercion is considered rape.
Consent is not always verbal:
It is true that not everybody is vocal or likely to explicitly say ‘yes’ throughout a sexual interaction. This is why it is important to check in with your partner/s about their communication style, what they feel comfortable with, and even how best to check in with them during sex.
If you don’t feel physical intimacy reciprocated you need to stop:
One of the articles in defense of Aziz is titled “Aziz Ansari is guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader” and sure, he’s not a mind reader, so with that in mind, if the other person isn’t physically or vocally enthusiastic, you can’t assume that they’re just shy. You need to stop all activity if the other person doesn’t seem enthusiastic. It’s the perfect opportunity to stop and ask, “Are you not enjoying this? Are you uncomfortable?”
Consent does not ruin a moment:
The idea that asking for or expecting consent will ruin the moment is a product of the harmful and often sexist media and culture that we are exposed to.
Consent should be talked about beforehand:
Some examples of phrases to use:
- What do you want to do?
- What feels good to you?
- How does x make you feel?
- I’d love to try x with you
- Could you do x to me, I really like that
Consent isn’t just practiced by people in the hookup culture:
Consent is needed with a long-term partner. Consent can be withdrawn at any time and has to be given to each sexual act. This means that with a new partner communication about boundaries and intentions is critical as you may not be able to pick up on their signs well. A long-term partner can still deny consent or choose not to have sex at any time, so it is important to give and get consent always!
In Conversation With The Light of the Moon Director/Writer Jessica M. Thompson
For the film The Light of the Moon, Director/Writer Jessica M. Thompson has crafted an intimate look into sexual assault. Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) is an assertive and confident Latin woman, who has a great career, a stable relationship with her boyfriend Matt (Michael Stahl-David), and strong friendships. In one night, her ground is ripped from underneath her when she’s sexually assaulted while walking home from a club in Brooklyn.
This particular depiction of a survivor is one we rarely see portrayed in the media. Unlike other films, this complex portrait doesn’t focus its lens on the rape itself or empowers the victim with a disingenuous revenge story, but instead, brings an awareness of what a victim goes through after she experiences rape, and how it affects her inner perception of herself and the relationships she forged with the people she knows best.
This narrative is thoughtfully crafted by Thompson in the way she beautifully constructed the emotional turmoil someone goes through after an assault and the hardships and lack of answers given by various systems in power.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault spoke with Jessica M. Thompson about this important story.
With cases like Brock Turner, and now the light shining down on the film industry, it seems like in the last few years the media is ready to provide an outlet for this difficult conversation. When you first started developing this project, was that the case?
This is what’s crazy — with every turn of events, I thought, “There’s no better time than right now.” The Brock Turner case came out on day one of production. The cast and crew all sat around and read the victim’s statement and it really affirmed that we were doing this for the right reasons and that this story really needed to be out there.
It was Brock Turner, then Donald Trump, and now Harvey Weinstein. It just keeps on getting more and more relevant. Now, I do finally feel that the lid has been taken off and the media is really ready to talk about this issue in a truthful and honest way.
There are movies out there that focus on a revenge story after a victim is assaulted. That never feels like a genuine narrative. Your film is incredibly different in the way it approaches trauma. How was your process writing this story in terms of the content? I know this is loosely based on your friend’s own story of sexual assault.
I had this idea boiling in the back of my mind. I was also getting really frustrated with the way sexual assault was being portrayed in films and television, including some of my favorite TV shows like Game of Thrones. The way they portray rape on that show is horrifying. For one, it’s gratuitous and it’s way too much and sometimes I feel like they’re filming it for the..
The male gaze?
Yes! It’s like they’re almost filming it for the male audience to sexualize it and to revictimize these victims. It’s not following the women’s narrative at all. So, I would think about these films and shows written and directed by men and that was in the back of my mind. Then when this happened to my friend I felt compelled to write a story that is written and directed by a woman and that also has cinematography by a woman so that there’s literally no male gaze.
In the very beginning of the film, Bonnie is asked, “What did he take away from you?” And then we see in the film just what her attacker takes away in how she’s affected. How was it fleshing that out?
So many women I spoke to said the first thing the authorities say to them, sticks with them. Out of all the survivors, I spoke with only one had a positive authority figure. I don’t want to bash the NYPD but it’s alarming to me. Usually, they say the completely wrong thing and that can revictimize someone. It’s exactly what you said, and you picked up on it very well the, “What did he take?” She’s trying so hard to let her attacker take nothing. She’s trying so hard to deny it but we all know that’s not how trauma works. We see that he’s taken her confidence, her relationships, the safety of her house and community. It goes through and through every aspect of her life. I improv’d a lot of the writing so that’s how I would get to those places. I improv around a theme, a topic, or a line, and I’d eventually get to that point.
I’ve never seen a film showcase how sexual assault affects relationships. Did you always want to include that aspect?
That was always the main impotence. Seeing my friend and her boyfriend and how they tried to renavigate that. Your partner has to navigate this with you, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how those conversations looked. It’s the ripple effect of how this affects the victims and the people around them, their friends, families, partners and work relationships. It doesn’t just affect one person.
The scene where Bonnie gets assaulted is, from a technical aspect, done really well. You were able to show the intimacy and the invasion of that moment. It’s really brutal in a way that’s necessary. Were you worried about triggering victims?
I was. I went back and forth for a long time about whether I should show it or not. The way the cinematographer [Autumn Eakin] and I spoke about it was that it was always going to be focused on just her face. That it would always zoom in as if we were in her mind. We worked very hard on the sound design to get that effect of her pulling in and out of her mind. From my research, a lot of survivors go through this survival instinct where they kind of pull themselves out of their body. I really wanted to capture that. It wasn’t focused on sexualizing [the rape] in any way.
Still, I really went back and forth about showing it because of what you said. We did a lot of test screenings and I felt that people were not being as empathetic. I did want to reach a male audience and I think people wanted to see it in order to empathize with how she reacts to it. She’s in denial and lashes out at her boyfriend. It seemed like people weren’t on her journey as much when they didn’t see that scene.
I like how at one point it’s suggested that she could’ve been stalked at the nightclub and then later on attacked. With The Alliance’s program Nightlife, they actually go into clubs and nightlife spaces to train bouncers and bartenders so they’re attuned to this behavior.
Yes, I went to one of your events, the September Soiree, and that was the first time I heard about that. I think it’s an incredible initiative. The one time my drink got spiked was by the bartender. I remember blaming myself and saying, “But I held my drink? How did this happen?” But I think it’s incredible to get bartenders and bouncers to be aware of it.
With the uptick in the media’s involvement in the conversation about sexual assault and rape, and the social responsibility we have from campaigns like MeToo, what do you hope for the future?
Through powerful figures in the media like Harvey Weinstein, they use their power to force silence around the issue. I wanted the film to create dialogue. I feel like we can make a change from the power of film. Art has a big role to play in that. I should say that The Weinstein Company was interested in buying us for distribution but we knew the rumors and we knew that we were never going to go with them.
Right now I feel a lot of hope that we are empowering people. I’ve seen 50 women come forward and feel that solidarity in numbers saying, “Even if you judge us, we’re all in this together.” The lid is off and now is our time to stand forward and put a stop to this. I feel like we really turned a corner and I’m excited to see what society does with it.
The Light of the Moon opens November 1st.
Project DOT: The Breakdown Of Our Youth Messages Part 3
As part of Project DOT’s prevention initiative, mentors set out to underserved communities in New York City to discuss important topics that older children and teens aren’t talking about enough at home and in formal settings. In order to engage in language and ideas that children and teens are thinking about and actively dealing with on a day to day basis, youth leaders focused on healthy relationships, the bystander intervention, and consent.
During a series of workshops, the kids expressed their thoughts through artwork and various other activities on situations they’ve encountered. Below kids and teens in the South Asian community detailed the messages they want people to know they’re actively thinking about.
#Everybodytoldme that henny get the body flowing, but #nobodytoldme that trying to have sex when my date is drunk and cannot consent is rape.
Consent should be cut and dry. If your partner doesn’t say “yes” to sex, then you shouldn’t have sex, right? Right. However, did you know if you still get a verbal confirmation from the other person that doesn’t mean they gave you their consent?
If there’s alcohol involved, the person you’re having sex with may not be cognizant enough to consent to sex, which means, if you hear your lover or “friend” mumble what might sound like consent it doesn’t count. In fact, going forward with sex despite your partner’s inebriation is a violation of their rights and privacy.
If someone does decide to go forward despite their partner’s state of mind, it’s considered rape and as we know, that comes with huge repercussions.
#Everybodytoldme to mind my own business, but #Nobodytoldme that as a young person my voice matters when I see someone getting abused
As kids, we’re told by adults to mind our own business. If you’re lucky, there will be one person that tells you to ask questions and to intervene when you see fit, and that’s only part of what it takes to be a bystander.
The first part is recognizing a potentially dangerous situation. This might prove to be particularly difficult because a bystander isn’t usually directly involved until they act, so it’s important to have skills that will allow you to analyze a situation from afar before you intervene. The next step is identifying whether or not you will need more people behind you to intervene. If getting involved is beyond your capabilities, whether that’s because it’s too dangerous of a situation or you’re simply not comfortable, there are always alternative options such as calling for help. Just that simple action may de-escalate a situation completely.
#Everybodytoldme apologizing was key but #NobodyToldMe told me that threats of leaving aren’t the same as love
One of the key signs you’re in a healthy relationship is that there’s strong communication on both sides. That way, when it comes to apologizing, neither you nor your loved one will have a problem with owning up to your mistakes and/or flaws. That said, sometimes apologizing isn’t a cure all. Apologizing just isn’t enough if you’re in a dangerous situation.
If you’re being abused whether it’s physically or verbally, you can’t take your partner’s apology as confirmation that this won’t happen again. Any form of abuse is a cycle that continues in some form, even if you don’t recognize it as abuse. Threats of leaving are just one way a partner can manipulate their lover into staying with them. It’s also a huge power play that solidifies that person as someone who has dominance in the relationship. This isn’t a sign that your partner loves you, it’s a sign that they want to own you.
Project DOT: The Do’s And The Don’ts Of A Healthy Relationship
As part of one of the workshops that the Alliance started through Project DOT, the
kids and teens from the South Asian community created art around messaging
behind healthy relationships. Here are a few sentiments the kids came up with on
what a healthy relationship looks like VS an unhealthy relationship.
– “I feel SAFE around my partner.”
– “My partner RESPECTS me.”
– “My partner LISTENS to what I have to say.”
– “My partner takes good CARE of me.”
– “My Partner ACCEPTS me for who I am.”
– “I feel COMFORTABLE around my partner.”
– “My partner INVADES my privacy.”
– “My partner PHYSICALLY ABUSES me.”
– “My partner VERBALLY ABUSES me.”
– “I feel NERVOUS around my partner.
– “I feel SCARED around my partner
– “My partner IGNORES my need
– “My partner has MOOD SWINGS and yells at me
– “My partner BLAMES me for their problems.”
You can see some more youth created messages around consent, bystander
intervention, and healthy relationships on our social media pages.
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
Project DOT: The Breakdown Of Our Youth Messages Part 2
As part of Project DOT’s prevention initiative, mentors set out to underserved communities in New York City to discuss important topics that older children and teens aren’t talking about enough at home and in formal settings. In order to engage in language and ideas that children and teens are thinking about and actively dealing with on a day to day basis, youth leaders focused on healthy relationships, the bystander effect, and consent.
During a series of workshops the kids expressed their thoughts through artwork, and various other activities on situations they’ve encountered. Below kids and teens in the Latinx community detailed the messages they want people to know they’re actively thinking about.
#Everybodytoldme rough sex is wavy, but #nobodytoldme to check in with my baby. #Communicationiskey
Rough sex may be talked up in pop songs as the best thing about sex but everyone doesn’t like it rough. Rough sex might be your thing but it might not be your partner’s. Keep in mind that sex feels and looks different on everyone. Even if your partner doesn’t vocalize that they don’t like rough sex, doesn’t mean they’re enjoying it. Try to be perceptive and read body language during sex. Most importantly, check in verbally so you know for sure what they like before, during and after.
#Everybodytoldme to mind my business but #Nobodytoldme that I can distract my friend and take them out of a situation where they’re facing public abuse
There’s only one “d” in the bystander effect but did you know there’s actually three d’s? In order to overcome being a bystander in a potentially dangerous situation and provide support in an intervention you should keep in mind the three d’s:
- Direct – Give commands or orders
- Distract – Divert a friend’s attention from a harmful situation
- Delegate – Get the attention of someone else to intervene in a situation.
This message created by the youth identifies with the second “d” — distract. For instance, if you’re walking down the street and realize your friend is being catcalled by a someone this should immediately raise a red flag in your mind as a potentially abusive situation as they’re being harassed by someone.
Some might still think this behavior is accepted as a form of a compliment but today we recognize this as abusive behavior, especially if these comments aren’t received well by the person they’re directed at. It’s important to know you can use your voice to distract your friend from the cat caller by starting up a conversation which would drown out the abusive voice.
Pro-tip: It doesn’t even have to be your friend. If you see someone in need of rescuing from cat calls, you can step in and pretend as though you know the person just so they’re saved from the situation.
#Everybodytoldme jealousy isn’t the same as love but #nobodytoldme. your apology doesn’t count if you keep doing the same thing to me.
Some people may think because their partner is possessive over them that means their boyfriend or girlfriend “loves harder” or that their love/bond is stronger because of it. This particular exhibit of controlling behavior is actually a form of abuse and someone who’s on the receiving end of it may not have a clue.
What most people don’t realize is after time they get so conditioned to receiving one type of emotional response that their brain rationalizes this behavior. What outsiders may define as jealousy or a possessive nature, those who are in a relationship sometimes don’t have the ability to recognize that they’re in an unhealthy relationship until they feel trapped.
The Alliance teaches the youth signs to recognize and identify by engaging them in conversation and community mobilization efforts. Remember, having the tools and know-all is just half the battle of getting out of an unhealthy relationship. The other half is having the courage to ask for help.
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
Project DOT: WHAT DOES A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP LOOK LIKE?
As part of our Project DOT campaign, Denys Salas, the Assistant Director for Voces Latina gave our youth some tips about what it looks like to be in a healthy relationship.
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
Project DOT: In Conversation With Adriana Lopez
Project DOT (Dream. Own. Tell.) is a sexual assault prevention program for kids and teens that aims to engage youth in discussions about healthy relationships, consent, and the importance of being an active bystander to end sexual violence.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has worked in partnership with community-based organizations to ensure children and teens from underserved communities have a safe space to talk about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. Through workshops and community mobilization activities, youth mentors instill positive messages about sexuality, gender roles, self-esteem, etc. as a way of counteracting the culture of violence we are exposed to in our daily lives.
As part of our social media campaign for the Latinx week, we sat down with Adriana Lopez to get an inside look of how Project DOT served the Latinx community. Ms. Lopez is the New York City Alliance’s Senior Prevention Coordinator and has a big role in the development area of this particular program.
SVFREE: In your words, how would you describe Project DOT?
LOPEZ: It’s a program that focuses on helping youth learn skills to develop healthy relationships and have a healthy sexuality.
SVFREE: Can you give us a background with how this program began?
LOPEZ: Sure! The program itself started three years ago. There’s been, so far, three groups that went on last year a Latinx, Black and a South Asian youth group. A lot of the feedback we received from youth [is that] this information needed to go beyond the people who were attending the workshops. So, we decided to add another component, which was the community mobilization activities. This year we’ve completed another three groups in the same communities, and we are excited to see how youth have mobilized and taken these activities to their own communities.
SVFREE: What’s a theme that Project DOT represents that doesn’t get enough attention in these communities? Whether it’s establishing healthy relationships, bystander effect, or misconceptions about rape.
LOPEZ: It depends on the group. In terms of the Latinx youth group I worked with this year – we discussed how we learn in school about science, math, and history but we don’t really learn how to resolve conflict, or how to recognize the red flags in abusive relationships, or how to build healthy ones. We know part of it is about communicating well, building healthy identities and a healthy self-esteem. Youth really appreciated that these topics were a part of the conversation.
We also discussed how part of how we build our expectations about what relationships should look like, is based on the messages we receive from our immediate community, and the role media plays a role in perpetuating a culture of violence. Thinking critically about this was a very important part of the process and something that youth enjoyed because they realize we are all always engaging with popular culture. They found it cool to sit down and look at some of the songs that they’ve been listening to and think about what the lyrics actually meant.
SVFREE: Where do you fit into Project DOT as a Senior Prevention Coordinator?
LOPEZ: Part of it has been to help develop and enhance the curriculum we use in our workshops and include content that reflects the needs of our youth groups. We learned a lot from the first round we did last year and we incorporated more information that focused on intersectionality. We broke down gender roles, [specifically] how rigid gender roles might contribute to gender-based violence.
We also expanded our sections, which focused on media analysis and how that impacts or promotes gender race violence; and I spend a lot of time nurturing our partnerships with community-based organizations, so we can co-facilitate workshops, and help plan community mobilization activities with youth.
SVFREE: In terms of Project DOT, what do the prevention and community mobilization activities look like with youth?
LOPEZ: That’s a really good question. There’s a lot of knowledge building and skill building that focuses on communication, leadership and analytical thinking. One activity youth completed was a radio interview through the Just As I Am youth group. [While on the radio show, youth] talked about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality and what that looks like in the Black community.
Our Latinx youth group from Voces Latinas in Queens [completed] a presentation to parents and community leaders about the importance of engaging adults in a conversation about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. [During the presentation] youth [discussed] a lot of the information they’ve learned during the workshops. Through a community mapping activity they did in our workshops, they discussed the strengths they saw in their community that could help them overcome violence and the places that they felt they could go to find support if they are experiencing teen dating violence and sexual violence.
SVFREE: What about Project DOT are you particularly impressed by?
LOPEZ: One of the things I am taking away from doing several of these workshops is that often as adults we underestimate how much youth know about their own needs and their ideas about how to resolve the issues that we’re talking about in our workshops. As adults, we forget at times to create a space to be able to have these conversations with youth. However, when we engage them it’s in a genuine and authentic way. They’re very open about how they think we should be solving these issues.
During our workshops, youth shared with us that sometimes adults will say to them “what do you know about sex and dating, you’re not even supposed to be in a relationship in the first place.” but they’re much more aware than we give them credit for. They are not passive agents and shouldn’t be seen as one in this conversation.
SVFREE: What kind of an impact do you hope will Project DOT create within these communities?
LOPEZ: At the end of the day, much of what we talked about with the youth we are working with, was about developing a healthy self-esteem and learning about how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. In our discussions, we realized that sometimes youth aren’t able to recognize behaviors that are unhealthy. So it’s important to talk about what that looks like, and empower youth to know and voice boundaries, so that it can help them build healthier relationships in the long term.
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
In Conversation With The Rape of Recy Taylor Director Nancy Buirski
Many victims of rape are painfully silenced after their assault but for Black women, young and old, the ties of systemic racism in our country run parallel to their silence. It dates back to slavery where white men had “their pick” of black women and had sex with them against their will. Many Black women were seen as an “other” to the human race in the eyes of men who had power. This ideology of owning someone and the implications of what this meant, permeates our culture today.
The documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor by director Nancy Buirski, which is playing at the New York Film Festival, examines the important role race has in rape and one woman’s courage to voice the violent act that occurred when six white boys surrounded her like vultures and gang-raped her. Taylor never received any justice, and despite identifying her assailants and the boys fessing up to the egregious attack, nothing was done. Despite this injustice, Ms. Taylor’s legacy and her will to be outspoken about this six-decade crime endures.
The Alliance sat down with director Nancy Buirski to speak about Recy’s courage and how we can better intervene in healing victims of assault.
Project DOT: The Breakdown Of Our Youth Messages Part 1
As part of Project DOT’s prevention initiative, mentors set out to underserved communities in New York City to discuss important topics that older children and teens aren’t talking about enough at home and in formal settings. In order to engage in language and ideas that children and teens are thinking about and actively dealing with on a day to day basis, youth leaders focused on healthy relationships, bystander intervention, and consent.
During a series of workshops the kids expressed their thoughts through artwork, and various other activities on situations they’ve encountered and the language around prevention. Below kids and teens in the Black community detailed the messages they want people to know they’re actively thinking about.
#Everybodytoldme I should tell my friends I’m being abused, but #Nobodytoldme My friend should support me with whatever decision I choose. #Communicationiskey
When a victim comes forward to tell their friend they’ve been experiencing abuse, it can be a nuanced situation from the start. It’s not the easiest thing in the world for a victim to reach out. First, they have to inwardly reflect about the abuse they’ve endured and recognize it as abuse before they even come forward. As a friend, this means you have to be receptive to their words, and sometimes that involves being supportive even if the victim chooses to stay with the person abusing them.
You shouldn’t champion them staying with the person but you should support the victim, letting them know that you’re open to being someone they can come to if another situation of abuse arises. While staying is not a healthy decision, it’s a choice that comes with many working parts of their acceptance and healing. A true friend may not understand the emotional turmoil that occurs if they look down on the victim for staying.
Some victims of abuse stay for economical reasons, as they’re financially dependent on their abuser, who has dominated their life in every way. While others simply believe their abusers will change because it’s something they’ve been promised.
What many don’t realize is healing and acceptance looks different on every victim, and because of that, it can take weeks, months, even years before a victim leaves their abuser.
#Everybodytoldme to mind my own business, but #nobodytoldme that as a young person my voice matters when I see an ex is spreading rumors about their partner
Plenty of young people feel underestimated and as if their voice doesn’t matter. The one thing the Alliance teaches to teens through workshops is that they should feel empowered by their voice and recognize situations where they could use their voice in a productive way if they feel comfortable in doing so.
A person who doesn’t speak up when they witness a potentially dangerous or damaging situation comes under the umbrella of the bystander effect. If a young person doesn’t speak up, more often than not, it’s because they don’t recognize that they can utilize their voice as an agent to directly affect the outcome of a situation. To further complicate the situation, many young people conflate the advice to mind their own business with staying silent when a voice is so desperately needed.
By recognizing the power of their voice, this makes it a bit easier for a young person to critically think about how they want to react to a situation as it’s happening. The Alliance tries its best to give these tools to teens, along with powerful statements they can utilize if a situation comes up.
#Everybodytoldme to use a rubber, but #nobodytoldme to ask my lover. #Communicationiskey
There’s an array of misconceptions about consent depending on the situation. It’s a nuanced subject that the Alliance works hard to breakdown for youth. This particular message resonated with the youth.
In school, there’s a lot of attention on using contraceptives in the form of condoms (which is a good idea to follow) but that shouldn’t be the only focus when it comes to creating a lasting healthy relationship with your partner. There are more working parts in establishing a healthy communicative relationship than what’s taught in a formal setting. The message of using a rubber may relate back to practicing good sexual health but the discussion around contraceptives usually eliminates a huge component of a healthy relationship.
For one, it isn’t just one person’s responsibility to bring up contraceptives — both partners should have a conversation about it. The message of using a condom without any explanation afterward skips over the talking point that both partners need to communicate with each other. It’s not a one-sided conversation as it’s so often portrayed as.
Stay tuned for next week’s breakdown.
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
Project DOT: Inside Bystander Intervention And Healthy Relationships
As part of our social media campaign for Project DOT, staff from the Alliance as well as our youth-led partners have released videos discussing the important themes that run throughout the many workshops and activities that youth participate in. For this week Youth Consultant Deria Matthews and JAIA’s youth Damian Dacius discuss bystander intervention and healthy relationships, respectively.
Take a look at their informative tips below:
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
Project DOT: In Conversation With Deria Matthews
A big component of Project DOT is getting the Alliance’s young partners involved in the host of activities, which take place while kids and teens are enrolled in the program. Not only does this make it easier for the kids to connect to an adult but parents can rest assured all of the information they’re receiving comes from a reputable source who won’t talk down to the children. Instead, that person, much like Youth Consultant Deria Matthews, will act as a leader the kids can look up to as an example of being a young and successful individual.
We sat down with Deria Matthews to discuss her reflections on Project DOT now that she’s worked in a series of workshops with the Black youth and the South Asian youth. Deria had a lot to share about the youth’s experience and how the Alliance successfully deconstructs harmful messaging related to sexuality and gender.
SVFREE: In your words, how would you describe Project DOT?
MATTHEWS: It’s a youth-led program that’s specific to communities of color that have a need for education on healthy relationships and sexuality.
SVFREE: Where do you fit with your role within Project DOT?
MATTHEWS: I’m the youth consultant. I work specifically with the curriculum and the model development for the South Asian and Black communities.
SVFREE:In terms of Project Dot what do the activities with the youth look like within these workshops?
MATTHEWS: They’re really hands-on and discussion based. Our prevention strategy is us talking about awareness and having young people sharing their experiences. We give them the language on a broader scale around sexual assault.
SVFREE: What kind of interactive activities do you hold with the youth?
MATTHEWS: A big part of it is looking at lyrics, digital campaigns, advertisements and discussing messages on gender. We also look at memes, too. We do alphabet relays, we talk about love languages where everyone speaks and shares what their love languages look like. We do something called a “human barometer.” People walk to one side of the room or another to talk about healthy relationships. One side of the room would discuss “healthy” and the other side of the room is “unhealthy” relationships. The middle of the room is the “not sure” side. So we’ll read a statement or a behavior that might show up in a relationship, and then the youth have to decide whether they think it’s healthy or unhealthy.
SVFREE: How do you guys dissect other campaigns?
MATTHEWS: We look at the ones that target sexual relationships and assault. We see who their audience is and use a critical eye to think about who they’re trying to talk to and what their message is. We discuss if it’s targeting people of color, men and/or women. When it comes to [the content], the youth look at the messages and what they say about dating, sex, and the roles that certain genders are supposed to perform.
SVFREE: What about the workshops are you particularly impressed by?
MATTHEWS: Even though adults aren’t having these conversations with young people, they still are creating their own understandings despite what might have been given to them. They’re having these important discussions outside of what their parents and schools are telling them. Sometimes, it’s healthier than what has been given to them.
SVFREE: Have you received feedback from the parents?
MATTHEWS: We haven’t but when the kids did a radio show about what they’re learning, the parents were extremely supportive, but when you deal with things around what girls can wear, there’s a lot of resistance. Parents are especially trying to police what young women wear. The parents aren’t really recognizing the harm and abuse that’s done to them when they’re shaming them for what they’re wearing or sending a nude picture. They say, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Instead of saying, “Someone shouldn’t have shared your picture if you trusted them.” Or “Someone shouldn’t have touched you just because you have on a short skirt.” There’s a lot of that kind of response and pressure being put on young girls.
SVFREE: Have the kids brought up any kind of stereotypes they’re dealing with or trying to escape when it comes to age, race, and gender?
MATTHEWS: There are stereotypes around what girls are expected to do or should do. A lot of times girls will be told that they’re supposed to be the cleaners of the household or that they want to get married or they’re supposed to get married. They’re told that these are things that girls should want for themselves. They’re also told through advertisements that girls aren’t sexual even though they’re told that teens are overtly sexual. They’re only exposed to one angle that boys want to have sex with girls rather than the other way around.
SVFREE: How do you think the media could do better in terms of speaking to youth?
MATTHEWS: It’s important to have young people represented. How To Get Away With Murder is a show that’s doing a good job. They’re showing young people in college and their sexual lives and it’s racially diverse. They have an Asian person who’s gay and has HIV and he’s with a white male partner. They have these very real conversations about having HIV and what that’s like. I think having more conversations and moments around consent is necessary. HTGAWM shows a more intimate exchange as opposed to an SVU formula.
SVFREE: What’s a theme that Project DOT represents that doesn’t enough attention in these communities?
MATTHEWS: Young people have an awareness now about sexuality and gender fluidity. The young people are with us in this change. Some of the youth identity as gender non-conforming. Some of them have trans partners. Young people aren’t outside of these conversations that we’re having as adults.
SVFREE: What kind of an impact do you hope will Project DOT create within these communities?
MATTHEWS: I hope it starts to change the norm. I hope it ends the silence around sex and young people’s sexual bodies. I hope it starts conversations because young people are sexual beings. By not talking to them it really opens them up to sexual assault.
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
Why Rescinding the Dear Colleague Letter is Harmful to Students
In light of the Department of Education’s recension of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (the Alliance) reaffirms its commitment to creating a safe space on universities for all students and to protect the rights of survivors of sexual assault. We do not support the lowering of standards for universities. Best practice for all, complainants and accused, would be improving on existing guidelines rather than taking away protections.
We find the Department of Education’s abrupt decision to rescind the 2011 and 2014 Dear Colleague Letters appalling, and are concerned about the 20 million college students nationwide now subject to unequitable standards and limited protections. Undermining the use of the preponderance of evidence standard will reverse progress towards fair due process. The letter released today claims that many institutions relied on a clear and convincing standard prior to 2011. However, according to Title IX & The Preponderance of the Evidence: A White Paper, a 2011 survey and several corroborating studies prove that claim false. The survey showed that out of 191 colleges surveyed, 168 specified a standard and 136 of those (80%) already used preponderance of evidence. In suggesting a preponderance of evidence standard, the 2011 DCL did not require universities to adopt an unconventional or unproven method. It in fact enforced a method that had seen success both in higher education and in civil court. Additionally, preponderance of evidence is in line with the American Bar’s Association (ABA) Criminal Justice Task Force recommendations. Universities can ensure due process for all sides without resorting to standards that place the entire burden on complainants.
It’s exceedingly frustrating that this latest guidance fails to understand that students suing a school for discrimination regarding sexual assault- based misconduct are allowed the civil standard of a preponderance of evidence. If students found guilty of sexual assault are allowed the preponderance standard to prove a false finding, then complainants deserve the same treatment when proving an allegation true.
We would like to highlight the following three areas as additional problems. For one, contrary to the department’s current belief, disallowing cross examination does not prevent questioning, it redirects questions to a panel head in order to spare the complainant potential trauma and to maintain order in an emotionally rife setting.
Second, the letter of recension speaks of equity, but there is no equity in allowing respondents to appeal a decision but not complainants. Both complainants and respondents deserve equal opportunity to appeal a decision they find unfair and unjust. Finally, allowing universities to rely solely or predominantly on police investigations is antithetical to a university’s responsibility to enforce students’ rights and adjudicate rights violations. Students must have the right to pursue their case on the collegiate level only, and even still, there is stark difference between finding someone guilty of student misconduct and finding them guilty of a felony. Criminal investigations have standards and intent that conflict with those of universities, such as a higher burden of proof and district offices whose discretion in choosing cases does not indicate a false accusation.
Above is just a sampling of areas where the 2017 DCL ignores the reality of sexual assault adjudication on college campuses. The solution to a lack of due process is modeling additional and clarifying guidelines, (like ABA Task Force Recommendations or New York State’s Enough is Enough Legislation,) not rescinding basic protections.
The Alliance implores the Department of Education not to return us to a time where survivors of sexual assault on college campuses had to fight to be heard. Improve upon existing guidance instead of reversing progress in favor of the tipped scales of the past.
Today is a difficult day for survivors of sexual violence, particularly those who were victimized on their college campuses. The college campus should be a place safe from violence and hostility. The Alliance will continue to advocate for students and survivors across New York and nationwide.
We urge our supporters to take today to reach out to the survivors in your life, validate the importance of this continued fight, and take care of those around you.
Project DOT: Talking About Consent With Saswati Sarkar
As part of our campaign for Project DOT, Saswati Sarkar the Assistant Director of Prevention Programs sat down to give some tips on what consent looks like in a healthy relationship.
If you’re a parent, you can use these talking points to discuss this difficult subject with your child/teen.
If you’re a young person in a relationship, you could keep these tips in your back pocket.
Some helpful links:
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
Introducing Project DOT With Mary Haviland
This week the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault officially launched its social media campaign around Project DOT (Dream. Own. Tell.) Project DOT is a program that’s part of the Alliance’s prevention initiative that engages with approx. 15,000 disenfranchised youths (ages 13-21) from LGBTQI, African-American, Latinx, and South Asian communities in New York City. Its main goal is engaging youth from underserved communities who lack traditional prevention programming when it comes to positive messaging and self-empowerment about healthy relationships, prevention of sexual violence, and sexual education.
Due to the program’s creativity and its strategic innovative ways of connecting with the youth, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has picked up Project DOT to be upscaled. This way, the program and its existing model can be expanded, in an effort to disseminate the powerful tools given to the youth on a national scale.
To keep in line with the CDC’s practices, the Alliance is now collaborating with the center to measure attitudes, knowledge, and will conduct a post-workshop for an eventual evaluation of the model via interviews and focus groups.
As part of our social media campaign, the Alliance will share the impactful messages made by the youth for the youth, adults, and their community at large. To kick off the campaign, the Alliance’s Executive Director, Mary Haviland, sat down to speak about the inception of Project DOT and its hopes for how we as a people will come to understand and speak about sexual assault.
SVFREENYC: As executive director, what’s your role in Project DOT?
MARY HAVILAND: Every year we convene with the rape crisis centers and ask them what they think the priorities are for survivors of sexual assault. One of the themes that always comes up is the media and the extent to which survivors get blamed for their own assault. Also, people went deeper into the discussion of the media and the hypersexualized messages around women and kids so we put it front and center on our agenda to do a media campaign for New York City among youth ages 18-21. There have been several domestic violence campaigns that have been put up by the city or other non-for-profit organizations but there hasn’t been one, to our knowledge, that targets specifically sexual violence.
SVFREENYC: In terms of the media, do you see a shift in how they portray women and sexuality in general because we have millennials that are paving the way in the digital age?
HAVILAND: I do see some shift but I also see some shift backward in some sectors of the media. There definitely has been some sophistication and understanding of sexual assault promoted by some media outlets but there’s still this lack of education and a deeper awareness of the issue and the impact it has on communities. I still think there’s not enough messaging out there about sexual assault. There’s particularly not enough material out there on sexual assault that’s sensitive to the diversity of New York City. This campaign was really meant to dig deeply into the cultural and racial context.
SVFREENYC: How was Project DOT started and how has it transformed from its inception?
HAVILAND: We found that the kids knew less than we thought about the issue and that they wanted to talk more than we thought. Initially, we thought of “five sessions” or “six sessions” but now it’s almost doubled in terms of the work we take the kids through before we get to the messaging and community mobilization part. We’ve established firmer relationships with our community-based partners. We’ve had to have them in there fifty percent with us otherwise we find that the youths don’t resonate, as they should. One of the outcomes was how much the kids want parents to understand what they’re learning.
SVFREENYC: There does seem to be a huge disconnect between parents and the kids.
HAVILAND: Right, especially in communities where there’s not only an age divide but there’s a cultural divide. Kids are really trying to fit into American society and some grown-ups are just trying to make their lives here. They’re really struggling with their own cultural identity and trying to find a place that’s comfortable for them to fit. Even in communities that aren’t necessarily immigrant communities, that’s still going on to a certain extent. In the Black community, the kids are joining things that the older generation doesn’t necessarily agree with so I think that the messaging to parents by kids is just a really powerful tool for communities to listen to.
SVFREENYC: Have you received any feedback from the parents?
HAVILAND: This program was designed to end with the kids engaging in community mobilization activities. The idea is to take the messages away and disseminate the messages back to the community and so during those activities there’s been some feedback from parents. We also got feedback from them because the kids had their consent to participate in these groups. We tried to make the argument that parents would rather [their children] get accurate information from this program rather than some underground source that could pull them into danger. I think that argument won out with a good number of parents.
SVFREENYC: Can you think of a success story?
HAVILAND: I think about the kids who are in these groups. There are a number of them who have really blossomed. I’m often here when the groups are going on because they’re in the evening. The sounds that I hear coming from the rooms is so heartening. The kids are super engaged and sometimes with laughter and a lot of movement. We developed some really cool exercises for them. I’m really proud of the groups. I think they’ve really helped kids cope with the onslaught of media and their social networking pressures.
SVFREENYC: Where did you get the slogan Dream. Own. Tell from and what does that represent to you?
HAVILAND: I think it encapsulates what we hope the kids will do in this program. The “dream” part is to really think outside the box, to dream of a world where sexual violence is much less frequent and less tolerated, where survivors can get assistance that helps them heal as quickly as possible. Also, a world where survivors can have access to justice. The “own” part is based on the youth-centered effort in the messaging. It’s really a kids campaign. The “tell” part is getting the message out there so that’s what we’re hoping to do.
For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.
Enough is Enough Audit
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault applauds Governor Cuomo for his commitment to protecting students on campus. It began with his support for passage of the “Enough is Enough” law in July, 2015 that requires all NYS colleges and universities to adopt policies to respond to and prevent sexual assault. The governor has followed up by auditing all 244 colleges state-wide to ensure that they are complying with the law. Given the uncertainty around such policies on the national level, we are extremely grateful for continued focus by the Governor on the issue of campus sexual assault.
At the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, we have been part of the effort to help colleges and universities meet the state and federal requirements. The Alliance leads a state-wide Working Group which issued written recommendations on responding and preventing sexual assault on campuses that has gone out to all Title IX Coordinators in New York State. Secondly, the Alliance launched its campus program including the Campus Training Institute (CTI), which provides training programs designed to address sexual violence from an intersectional and trauma-informed perspective. In the first year of this program ending April 2017, Alliance staff conducted 53 trainings at 12 campuses, a student summit, and major presentations reaching over 3,000 campus staff, administrators, students, and rape crisis counselors.
The Alliance looks forward to continue working with institutions around the city who would like to improve their processes around addressing and preventing sexual violence on their campuses.
Our Joint Statement with the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault on Potential Rollbacks to Title IX
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (the Alliance) and the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA) are alarmed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s directive to review guidance that protects students’ rights.
This review process, called notice-and-comment, is directed at a 2011 guidance called the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL). The DCL prioritized and re-stated the obligation of institutions of education to commit to non-discrimination in their policies and practices on college campuses. It specifically laid out duties with regard to sexual harassment and violence under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The DCL did not add requirements to the applicable law but provided guidance to policies that had long been in place at the Department of Education under both Democratic and Republican presidencies. The DCL reaffirmed the following Title IX requirements: the designation of Title IX coordinators in all institutions of education; prompt and equitable grievance procedures for complaining and accused students; training for staff, as well as education and prevention for students; and finally, remedies for findings of discrimination. The DCL requires a transparent and enforceable method of providing non-discriminatory education in the U.S.
Under this current administration, transparency and accountability measures for universities have already been rolled back. Recently, the Department of Education discontinued an Office of Civil Rights directive issued under President Obama that required a review of three years’ worth of Title IX complaints upon the filing of an individual Title IX complaint. This directive enabled the office to investigate and identify systemic injustices on campus. The Alliance has addressed concerns over this rollback in an Op-Ed in the Hechinger Report. The Alliance and NYSCASA are looking at legislative measures to protect New York State students under state law.
In addition to this rollback, the Department of Education held a series of roundtables earlier this summer. Due to the scheduling of these roundtables, the Department of Education seemed to heavily weight the concerns of those who oppose the application of Title IX to the campus context. DeVos’s comments and examples used today downplayed the recent successes in fair adjudication of sexual violence cases on campus and lay the stage for further rollbacks of student protections. DeVos’s continual reference to wrongfully accused students as victims dishonors student victims and survivors who bravely reported their victimization. We also vehemently challenge DeVos’s understanding of sexual harassment. We do not believe that “if everything is harassment, nothing is harassment,” and we will stand with victims against such tone deaf remarks.
We believe it is imperative that the notice-and-comment review be conducted in a fashion that allows for the inclusion of the lived expertise of survivors, advocates and legal experts in the field. Just as the DCL demanded transparency and accountability of universities, we ask the same of any potential Title IX changes made by the Department of Education.
Secretary DeVos Takes Aim at Civil Rights Protections for Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault
By Mary Haviland and Michael Fagan
The events of the past weeks at the U.S. Department of Education are very troubling for those of us who have worked to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses. Last Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met privately with survivors of sexual assault, representatives of educational institutions, as well as students accused of sexual assault and their families, as part of an effort to re-examine the Education Department’s policies to combat sexual assault on campus – protections strengthened during the Obama Administration. Those protections under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in education based on gender, required colleges to better respond to survivors and do more to protect students against campus sexual assault.
More troubling has been the words and actions of Candice Jackson, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, who was named to her position in April by President Donald Trump. She made the jaw dropping statement that of the Department of Education’s nearly 500 open Title IX sexual assault complaint investigations, “90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation…” She provided no data to back up this claim, and was forced later to apologize.
According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities in 2015, nearly one in four female undergraduates reported experiencing an incidence of sexual assault or misconduct during their college years. As an indication that campus sexual assaults are significantly underreported, the same survey found that between five and twenty-eight percent actually report the assault to campus officials or law enforcement.
One of the ways for a student to make a report is to the school’s Title IX office. Among other things, under Title IX, the school is required to have an established procedure for handling these reports, conduct a prompt and fair investigation for the reporting and accused students, and provide interim safety measures for the reporting individual if requested.
Only if the reporting student believes the school has failed to uphold the rights under Title IX, and then files a Title IX complaint, does it actually reach the U.S. Department of Education as a Title IX complaint, representing a miniscule fraction of the sexual assaults taking place on campus.
Under policies implemented during the Obama Administration, when a Title IX complaint did reach the Department, as part of their investigation, staff of the Office of Civil Rights required the school under investigation to submit three years of past complaint data/files to determine whether the college or university was complying with Title IX and taking seriously its obligation to thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual assault and protect the survivor. This data provided the Department with a window into possible patterns of neglect by schools – what better way to see how schools are handling these issues than to look at actual data. And importantly, it gave the Department a vehicle for requiring schools to take corrective measures and more broadly, protect future survivors and possibly implement preventive measures to reduce sexual assaults on campus.
These policies put in place a powerful accountability tool that made colleges and universities sit up and take notice. At stake are millions of dollars of aid that they receive from the federal government each year. Not to mention that they are entrusted with the education and safety of our young people.
With a stroke of pen, Ms. Jackson struck down the ability of Office of Civil Rights staff to hold colleges accountable by looking at three years of data. In a memo to staff, the Office of Civil Rights will only apply a systemic approach when “the individual complaint allegations themselves raise systemic or class action issues,” or the investigative team determines that there may be a systemic issue through conversations with the complainant. So instead of relying upon a data driven approach to understand what is happening on a given college campus, Ms. Jackson will require the complainant, who has allegedly experienced a sexual assault, to make the case for systemic problems on campus. The same complainants she disparaged and dismissed in her comments this past week.
In New York, we are fortunate to have one of the most aggressive policies in the country to combat campus sexual assault. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed “Enough is Enough” into law in July 2015. The law requires all colleges and universities across New York to adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines that includes a uniform definition of affirmative consent and expanded access to law enforcement. Acknowledging the importance of data and follow through, in May of this year, Governor Cuomo ordered a comprehensive review of compliance under the “Enough Is Enough” law. The evaluation will include a review of the policies and procedures of colleges and universities across the state to ensure compliance with the law.
At the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, we have been part of the effort to help colleges and universities meet the state and federal requirements. The Alliance leads a state-wide Working Group which issued written recommendations on responding and preventing sexual assault on campuses that has gone out to all Title IX Coordinators in New York State. Secondly, the Alliance launched its campus program including the Campus Training Institute (CTI), which provides training programs designed to address sexual violence from an intersectional and trauma-informed perspective. In the first year of this program ending April 2017, Alliance staff conducted 53 trainings at 12 campuses, a student summit, and major presentations reaching over 3,000 campus staff, administrators, students, and rape crisis counselors.
We applaud the more than 30 Senators who sent a letter to Secretary Betsy DeVos condemning the limitations placed on the enforcement of civil rights laws. In an era where Twitter seems to be the preferred mode of communication, we encourage the use of hashtag #DearBetsy, which was launched and popularized by the groups Know Your IX and End Rape On Campus, to share personal stories about campus sexual assault and the importance of Title IX.
Too much has been accomplished to address campus sexual violence to go back now. There are constructive ways policies can be improved, but they should be data driven and draw upon best practices like those taking place in New York.
(Mary Haviland is the Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, and Michael Fagan, Communications Committee Chair of its Board, is a former Communications Officer for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse at the United Nations and former Deputy Commissioner at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services.)
Understanding Our Reactions to the Cosby Case
By Lia Hagen
This month, after more than a decade of waiting, Andrea Constand sat at a witness stand and publicly accused Bill Cosby of drugging and assaulting her. After a period of deliberation that took longer than the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense, she received the jury’s conclusion. They were hopelessly deadlocked, and the case ended in a mistrial.
To many, this was a stumbling block on the path to justice. To others, it was a glimmer of hope for a wrongly prosecuted man. Cosby’s case will be retried and his fate decided. But his and Constand’s story isn’t just about the courts. It’s about us, too.
As dozens of women came forward to echo Constand’s accusations, members of the public were forced to choose a side. Was Cosby a beloved entertainer or a rapist? A celebrated figure who worked to advance the lives of black people, or an abuser of women? Like his actual court case, this trial of public opinion has been filled with grandstanding, misdirected nostalgia, and touching testimonies from accusers. And like Cosby’s jury, the public is currently unable to come to a conclusive decision about who this man really is.
But maybe that just means we’re asking the wrong questions.
We shouldn’t waste time debating the merits of Cosby’s body of work. We can never erase his legacy, and there’s no use in digging through his illustrious past, searching for the moment when the man became a monster. That’s something we’ll never find.
There is no “type” of person who becomes a rapist. Rapists aren’t just balding men on barstools. They don’t spend their evenings lurking in dimly lit alleys, waiting for a girl to totter over in her stilettos. Rapists are all around us. They have families and feelings. They take the subway to the restaurant and say please and thank you to the waiter. They’re not supervillains. More often than not, they’re a lot like Dr. Huxtable: likable, well-known, and seemingly normal.
Maybe that’s what’s so frightening about this case. In discussions about Cosby, I often find that people are desperate to understand how Cosby lied to the American people about who he was. But he didn’t, not really. On TV, Cosby was the father that many people didn’t have, the friend who we always wanted. He made us smile and laugh, made entire communities feel stronger.
Cosby never had to lie about who he was. In fact, he publicly admitted to giving drugs to women over a decade ago. Yet somehow, he’s still received the benefit of the doubt for all these years. People can’t believe that someone they care for would do things they can’t condone. But he has. He is a charming, talented entertainer, and he is an abuser of women. It’s not an either/or situation. He is both, and he always has been both.
Once you learn that, Constand’s trial becomes easier to understand. It’s believed that the inconsistencies in Constand’s testimony were the reason for the jury’s split decision. At first, Constand misreported the date of her assault and claimed that she had no further contact with Cosby after the incident. Many people who have not been sexually abused believe this means she’s a liar. They have never experienced how trauma alters memory, and they don’t understand why anyone would keep in contact with a rapist. But a rapist is not all that Bill Cosby was. He was someone who claimed to be Constand’s friend, someone Constand saw as a mentor. He was one of the most famous men in America and a crucial donor to her place of employment. The power dynamics in this situation are almost impossible to navigate, and, quite frankly, Constand doesn’t have to explain the way she kept herself afloat. Not if we all agree that she was drowning.
It’s difficult to understand how to engage with rapists, particularly rapists that we care about. That’s part of the reason why celebrities like Casey Affleck, Nate Parker, and Sean Penn keep receiving our love and critical acclaim. No one really knows how to reform a rapist, especially in a society where their behavior is frequently condoned or even encouraged. But that doesn’t mean we can just ignore their actions. If we don’t recognize abuse while it’s happening, we have a responsibility to address it in the after. It isn’t easy. It is, in fact, excruciatingly hard.
But we must learn to understand how someone who appears so good can do something so evil. We must understand that rapists are not caricatures. They are real people, living among us, shaped by the same culture that has shaped each of us.
If we don’t learn to see that, we’ll never be able to take an honest look at sexual violence. And we’ll never be able to tackle the issues that turned the man in the bright sweater into something considerably more sinister.
Lia Hagen is a 20-year-old creative from the cosmopolitan metropolis of Omaha, Nebraska. She is a long-time poet and President of NYU’s slam poetry organization, SLAM! At NYU. She also works as an intern at the Bowery Poetry Club and the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. Her passions include writing fiction, creating newfangled content for the internet, and taking selfies she’ll never post.
So You Want to Interview a Survivor
Working at a rape crisis program means that I and my colleagues receive weekly requests from journalists and students to interact with survivors of sexual assault. I’ve received requests about interviewing survivors, filming survivors, photographing survivors during their sessions or group work, and following them around in their day-to-day lives for the purposes of a documentary, final project, article, or paper.
All of these requests come from kind-hearted individuals who are interested in highlighting survivor voices in whatever project they are working on. The intent is generally very positive.
Unfortunately, sometimes this intent doesn’t translate into the impact that these requests have. At times we have had reporters or writers who are working under a strict deadline and suddenly find themselves in need of a survivor, stat!
Journalists and similar media professionals adhere to a code of ethics that aim to preserve the integrity of the profession while seeking truth and reducing harm. The Society of Professional Journalists outline several major ethical codes that journalists and journalists-in-training should be adhering to, including the minimization of harm. The code states, “Journalists should show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent.”¹
It says something that victims of sex crimes are specifically highlighted in this code of ethics.
More often than not, these well-intentioned requests end up having more of an exploitative impact.
Think about it this way: if rape crisis professionals are actively working with survivors of sexual violence, it is more often than not because that survivor is still healing and processing through their trauma. They are likely still working through feelings of self-blame, shame, pain, anger, and may be struggling with being believed by others. When considering these factors along with the fact that many high-profile sexual assault cases result in public abuse of the victim online, it is easy to understand the hesitancy a survivor may have in sharing their story with a wider audience.
I say none of this to shame those who are interested in highlighting these very important stories and experiences. Rather, I want to help minimize harm while still getting the information out there. So here are some basic tips on being more trauma-informed when working with survivors of sexual violence:
- First things first—ask yourself if you really NEED survivor interviews or video. Can you get the information you need from other sources? Various newspaper articles, blogs, and academic articles cover the effects of sexual violence thoroughly. If the answer to this question is no, remind yourself that your request may end up being more exploitative than originally intended.
- Ask yourself if you are starting from a point of belief—meaning, will you believe the survivor you end up working with? Or are you operating from a place of suspicion?
- Remember only 2-8% of officially reported sexual violence cases are false reports, and this includes recants from those who feel scared or intimidated by lawyers and police (this rate, by the way, is no higher than the rate of false reports for all other crimes)
- When someone is asking you to share the most traumatic experience in your life over and over again, in front of multiple people, and having your integrity, personality, and story questioned ruthlessly by attorneys or the public, it is understandable why some original reports may be withdrawn later.
- Do your research beforehand.
- It is so important to know that crimes of sexual violence are rooted in power, control, and patriarchal beliefs. Sexual violence does not stem from consumption of alcohol, has nothing to do with the victim’s behavior or outfit, and is not about sexual gratification.
- Not all sexual violence victims are women, and not all perpetrators are men.
- Start here, here, or here for your preliminary research²
- Cast a net into your own social circles first. When you consider the statistics, it is almost impossible for you to not know a survivor of sexual violence.
- Anywhere from 20-33% of female identified individuals experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime and 10% of survivors of sexual violence are male identified. You very likely know someone who has experienced sexual violence.
- Putting out an open request on social media platforms will likely draw people who are more ready emotionally and mentally to talk about their experiences on a public forum.
- Always ask the survivor if something is okay with them first.
- Whenever possible, send the survivor the questions you plan to ask and be ready to share with them the reason and goals behind your project.
- Give them permission to not answer the questions they are uncomfortable with.
- Ask them when and where they would like to talk with you—give them control over how, where, and when the conversation goes down.
- Ask them permission if you can film/record them first!
- Don’t be pushy.
- You should never guilt a survivor who isn’t okay with a certain question or aspect of your interview or project (i.e., If they don’t want you to film them in a counseling session you should not ask again).
- Learn to be okay with whatever boundaries the survivor sets up—just because you had your heart set on recording a session does not mean you’ll get that from a survivor
- Offer to keep the survivor anonymous by giving them a fake name (and note that in your project whenever possible).
Overall, just be respectful and non-judgmental about whatever the survivor may need. Work with rape crisis professionals whenever it is appropriate and please understand that we cannot hand out survivor information as it is our responsibility to maintain confidentiality and protect the identities of our clients. If ever you are not sure whether something you want to say or do is appropriate, reach out to a rape crisis professional and ask! We are happy to help raise awareness in a sensitive and trauma-informed way.
Hopefully this helps keep you trauma-informed while completing your interviews, articles, and projects.