This past week, freshmen at Rose Hill sat through a rite of passage; CORE Programming. An essential part of CORE Programming is information on sexual assault and Fordham’s Campus Assault and Relationship Education (CARE) program, which provides information on sexual assault. With the recent concern about sexual assault on college campuses, USG’s task force on sexual assault issues and the two recent sexual assaults reported in security alerts last week, I decided to sit through this CORE Programming with the freshmen to get a refresher on how the university is addressing sexual assault.
Sitting in a lecture hall with about 50 freshman, I watched as Debbie Mosko, FND and associate director/wellness programming coordinator told us all not to laugh as we embarked on the topic of sexual assault on college campuses. If anyone was thinking about laughing, I imagine those thoughts were quickly dispelled as she asked all the women in the audience to raise their hands and then informed us that one in four women will be a victim of sexual assault. She presented a list of chilling statistics about sexual assault on campus. The presentation, as a whole, was tense.
The university has the best interest of its students at heart, and I think CARE is a worthwhile program that does a lot of good things and provides valuable support to students. Having said that, CORE Programming should be revamped to better assist freshmen in protecting themselves and others from sexual assault. I also think that refreshers about sexual assault would be helpful for upperclassmen. I am a senior, but I had not heard a lot of this information since the first week of my freshman year.
Sexual assault prevention should be an ongoing conversation for all students. Refresher programs on university policy should be more than a passing reference to CARE at floor meetings. The conversation on sexual assault should be just that, a conversation. We as a university need to keep talking about sexual assault and how to stay safe beyond week one of freshman year.
One of the ways CORE Programming, and CARE in general, could improve is by spending more time discussing bystander intervention. A recent NPR piece called “The Power of the Peer Group in Preventing Campus Rape,” detailed a new prevention technique “exploring the idea that having male friends who object to violence against women can be a powerful antidote to rape on college campuses.”
The piece cited a 2002 study on campus sexual assault by David Lisak that found sex offenders “hiding in plain sight.” Lisak’s and others’ studies have found that somewhere around 10 percent of men admitted to rape or attempted rape. And, a significant number of those men were found to be repeat offenders. Because sexual assaults rarely get reported on campuses, some of these serial offenders rape with impunity. Lisak also found that many of these men had a strategy for committing sexual assault, usually involving getting women drunk to the point of incapacitation. The NPR article suggested that focusing on bystander intervention could help prevent a lot of these situations.
The CORE Programming lecture did address bystanders, as does the CARE brochure, but I do not think either venue provides enough useful information to students. The advice they give is as follows:
“Take the initiative to help friends who aren’t thinking clearly from being targets of violence (or) take steps to stop a friend who chooses to use violence.”
“Prevent an intoxicated friend/person from going to a private location with an acquaintance or friend.”
“Ask a friend, acquaintance or stranger who is attempting to take sexual advantage of another to stop and leave the location.”
This is not bad advice, but it is incredibly vague. When do I know if someone is too intoxicated and needs me to intervene? How can I intervene safely if I think a person is being targeted for violence? How do I read situations like this to decide if intervention is appropriate? The sexual assault prevention programs detailed in the NPR article walked men and women through potential situations, discussed reading body language and gave scripts for how to intervene if something seems wrong. Sometimes, preventing an assault can be as simple as distracting the potential victim and guiding him or her away from a dangerous situation. Prevention tactics can be simple, but they are not necessarily intuitive. Discussing strategies before situations occur would make it more likely that someone would intervene if they saw something alarming.
The main problem with the CORE Programming lecture was that it focused too heavily on telling people not to drink as the number one way to stay safe. While this might be true, it is not a realistic prevention strategy. College students drink, and college students hook up when they have been drinking. For this reason, telling college students not to drink in order to avoid being assaulted is not helpful. Sometimes, a girl or guy may be responsible with his or her drinking and still end up in a dangerous situation because an assaulter uses date rape drugs or other tactics to incapacitate victims. Empowering everyone, men and women, to keep each other safe by learning how to intervene as a bystander could help reduce the number of sexual assaults on campus.
The statistics for campus sexual assaults are scary. Clearly, all colleges, including Fordham, need to adjust the conversation and move beyond telling girls not to drink and boys not to rape. Bystander intervention is a key part of the conversation, and we all need to do more to learn how to keep each other safe.
Katie Nolan, FCRH ’15, is the Copy Chief for The Fordham Ram, and an English major from Louisville, Kentucky.