NYCAASA Blog

Why Rescinding the Dear Colleague Letter is Harmful to Students

  Published on September 22, 2017 by Rebecca Baron

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

  Published on September 18, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

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.

 

The New York City Alliance Talks About Consent from NYCAASA on Vimeo.

 

Some helpful links:

 

Ted Talk: Sex Needs A New Metaphor

 

Tea and Consent

 

For more about Project DOT check us out on social media.

Introducing Project DOT With Mary Haviland

  Published on by Teri Rosenberg

Project DOT 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

  Published on September 11, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

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

  Published on September 7, 2017 by Mary Haviland & Joanne Zannoni

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

  Published on July 28, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

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

  Published on June 21, 2017 by Teri Rosenberg

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

  Published on January 11, 2017 by Jeenie Yoon

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:

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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
  7. 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.


¹http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

²https://www.rainn.org/types-sexual-violencehttp://www.pcar.org/about-sexual-violence/oppression-sexual-violencehttp://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/global_campaign/en/chap6.pdf