Over 30 members of Eastern’s faculty have now undergone intensive training as First Responders, broadening the university’s support network for victims of sexual assault.
The problem of date rape, sexual assault and stalking on college campuses is a huge one, according Golie Jansen, an associate professor of social work at EWU with extensive training in victim advocacy. Unfortunately, it gets very little exposure due to the complex psychological dynamics involved. Most violence against women goes unreported, therefore the issue tends to slip under the radar of public awareness.
“We want to break the silence, and I think we’re making good progress on that,” Jansen said.
Recent research conducted by the Department of Justice indicates that as many as one in four college students will fall victim to rape or sexual assault during their four-year career at a university. Yet in 2005, only one incident was reported to the campus police at EWU, according to Jansen. Thus, there appears to be an enormous gap between reporting such assaults and the number of incidents that statistics would suggest are occurring.
“How would we respond, as a university, if one out of four women had a disease?” Jansen asked. “You may suggest that everybody would be up in arms.” With approximately 6,000 female students at Eastern, statistics indicate that 1,500 of them may be victimized. “If that many students fell ill during their four-year career at a university, we would not be very happy with that,” said Jansen. “That figure could be applied to these crimes, yet people are uncomfortable talking about it.”
The university is taking a proactive approach.
Funded by a federal grant secured by Jansen in 2004, the First Responder program offers in-depth training on how to identify behavioral signals from students who may have been sexually victimized or who might be in an abusive relationship. First Responders are taught how to listen to and normalize the feelings of victims of sexual assault.
With grant money, the university has also created a full-time position for a violence prevention advocate; a position that Jansen says will remain in place even when grant funding has expired. Leah Westra, who has a background in victim advocacy, now fills that position.
“My first priority as violence prevention advocate, outside of doing outreach and education with Golie to other campus units, is obviously the victim,” Westra said. “Basically what I do is offer resources and confidential support Ã¢?” crisis intervention.”
Several factors converge to lessen the reporting of rape and create a blanket of silence over the issue.
For example, 90 percent of assailants are known to the victim. This can make it difficult to report an incident. “I don’t want to ruin his life” is a common response from victims, according to Westra. Also, when the perpetrator is known, victims often fear reprisal for coming forward.
Furthermore, the victim is often blamed, even by authorities to whom a crime is revealed, Westra said. They might ask, “Are you sure?” or “What were you doing alone with him?” and other questions that cast doubt upon the victim. In a social environment where these attitudes prevail, victims can fear implication and remain silent.
“Women will usually think, ‘I shouldn’t have gone to his dorm room with him,’ or ‘I shouldn’t have drank so much,’ or ‘Maybe I led him on.’ But nobody ever has the right to rape somebody,” Jansen said.
“We all have lapses in judgment sometimes,” Westra added.
“We all get into situations sometimes where we could say later, in retrospect, that it was not a good decision,” Jansen said. “But even so, it doesn’t make us guilty of an offense that someone commits against us.”
Proper training of those who are in a position to be contacted by victimized students helps to create a safe climate in which they can open up, get help and bring sexual predators to justice.
The office of the violence prevention advocate, as well as offering crisis intervention and support, is heavily involved in education and outreach. Over 1,200 students have been reached this year through incoming student orientation. Talks and workshops are being presented in various departments and can be scheduled for any interested group.
“Any student organization that wants us to come and talk, we’ll do it,” Jansen said.
“Victim services is not the issue,” Jansen said. “It is great to have someone like Leah, but the real work is stopping the behavior. That’s the goal of the training and education of the students.”
Faculty trained as First Responders display a “Safety Zone” graphic outside their offices.
The violence prevention advocate can be reached at 359-6429.