How NU is dealing with sexual violence

In its effort to create a safe student environment, Norwich is working on several fronts to deal with sexual misconduct or violence, including collaborating with a novel student-run organization.

Norwich University has always tried to maintain the safest environment for students and the overall community, free from any form of sexual misconduct and sexual violence, according to Stephanie Drew, who oversees the university’s programs under Title IX. That 1972 federal education law prohibits sex discrimination and sets out procedures to deal with sexual assault and harassment in colleges and universities that receive federal funding.

“Unfortunately, here at Norwich like any other institution, violence is a reality,” said Drew who is Employee Relationship Equal Opportunities and Title IX Coordinator at N.U. “It does happen here, but we are not unusual with dealing with these cases. We are trying really hard with our programming efforts to share a better awareness and prevention of this topic.”

Sexual misconduct refers to different unwanted actions, behaviors, and words forced on a non-consenting person, including sexual assault and sexual exploitation. Even though in the majority of the cases reported women are the victims, this type of violence happens also among men.

“Typically, in colleges, three out of five females, and one out every five males, report a case of sexual assault,” said Mary Beth Davis, 20, who is president of Violence Intervention Peer Advocates (VIPA), a student-run organization operated through the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). “However, here at Norwich it is very unlikely for males to report it.”

Davis is a junior English major and Spanish minor student from Shelby, N.C. and she plays an important role in working with CCE to offer peer-led help for students. The VIPA club supports victims and survivors of sexual assault, domestic or intimate partner violence, and other forms of interpersonal aggression, including stalking, harassment, and bullying.

“We will listen to someone’s psychological problems, because typically, after a traumatic event happens, a person just wants to talk about it, and that is what we are here for,” said Davis, who is a certified confidential advocate.

Reporting sexual violence or harassment at a small school like Norwich can be difficult for students, and not everybody will feel confident in sharing or reporting an incident or experience. On a small campus, students may worry about the possibility of quick-spreading news if they decide to report a case of sexual assault.

“I believe that if someone would report a sexual assault, the entire campus will eventually find out,” said Emily Lambert, 18, a freshman international business major from Riverview, Mich. She also voices a lack of confidence that anything would be done. “Why would I embarrass myself by sharing, knowing there is the possibility that there will be no consequences for whoever committed the assault?”

However, other students view things differently, affirming to trust and recognize the efforts by the Norwich authorities in the case of rape or harassment on campus.

“There have been situations where actions have been taken,” said Carly Menges, 20, a junior health science major from Cleveland, Ohio. “I remember last year a kid got expelled, after being accused of sexual assault. Nothing would have happened if the victim did not inform the authorities,” she said.

According to US Department of Education campus safety and security data, 5 rapes and 4 instances of fondling were reported between 2014 and 2016. A total of 24 assaults, including 19 in 2015, were reported on campus.

Figures from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center indicate that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. But the center said more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault; women are more likely to report a case of sexual assault and seek resources and help, while men often feel ashamed to share or inform the authorities.

“More guys need be open and tell things that happened to them,” said Leah Cifuentes, 20, a junior communication major from Pittsburgh, Penn. She added that she felt physical assaults or fights among men are more likely on campus but agreed few men are willing to report an assault.

A main factor often related to incidents of sexual assault in a college environment is the use or abuse of alcohol and drugs, which cloud judgment and affect a person’s responsibility and actions.

The United States Department of Justice Website (https://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault), defined sexual assault as, “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Falling under the definition of sexual assault are forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, fondling, and attempted rape.

Norwich highly recommends students, staff, and faculty members read and understand the Norwich Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence, and Stalking. A key point is the issue of consent, which is defined in the policy website (http://about.norwich.edu/policy/sexual-misconduct-relationship-violence-and-stalking/) as, “a clear indication, either thought verbal or physical actions, that parties are willing and active participants in the sexual activity.”

Norwich provides a variety of resources accessible 24/7 in case a victim of sexual violence is seeking help, Drew explained.

“Being the Title IX coordinator, it is my responsibility thinking about the safety of students, staff, and faculty members on campus,” Drew said. “Other confidential resources like the Counseling Center, and the Sexual Assault Crisis Team (SACT), are great options for people, whether something had happened here at Norwich or outside.”

VIPA, the student-run organization, cooperates under strict guidelines with Drew as Title IX coordinator.

“We will listen to someone’s psychological problems, because typically, after a traumatic event happens, a person just wants to talk about it, and that is what we are here for,” said Davis. These two resources collaborate, meaning that victims are guided to either one of these options, based on what their needs are. A student who is willing to report an assault will referred to the Title IX coordinator, while students wanting only to receive counseling or advice will find assistance from the VIPA club.

Both the Title IX coordinator and the VIPA club are resources available to anybody on campus. However addressing the issue of sexual violence requires the cooperation of the entire college community, and especially, a willingness from victims of any type of violence to report it, campus advocates say.

“It would be good if people reported more frequently. This school has a ‘No Tolerance Policy’,” meaning that the offenders would have to leave campus, and if the police is involved, probably go to jail,” Davis said. “It would be the best way to stop the cycle, and help someone in the future.”

All the university resources working on these cases are aware of the difficulties of sharing such traumatic episodes and maintain confidentiality while offering assistance to anyone who has been assaulted or harassed.

“It is up to the victims to do whatever feels best for them,” Davis said, adding, “Reporting means having to tell your story over and over to different authorities, and having to relive the same episode every time.”

A victim can always change his/her mind, and decide to file a complaint, or report an accident later on, involving the school in potential disciplinary action against the suspect.

“I encourage victims to reach for resources,” Drew said. “I see my goals as better education and prevention, but above all, having a fair process for all parties when something does happen.”

Drew said having a student-led club collaborating on the issue of sexual violence enables the university to have a wider reach and better understanding of students’ points of view. “I am older, and I think students can relate better to somebody who is more in their demographic age,” Drew said of VIPA.

As coordinator, Drew is responsible for training students who are willing to be part of the VIPA club and become confidential advocates. These students are trained to help and support victims by providing emotional support, counseling, and suggesting information and resources.

“A lot of people just come to ask for information,” Davis explained. “One of the roles as an advocate is to know the victims’ process. We give them their options, and that is what most people come for, because they simply do not know what to do in case of sexual violence.

”The VIPA club works together with Drew to educate the Norwich community, involving students in different activities around campus in hopes of creating a connection while teaching about sexual violence. This sensitive topic is often taken for granted and disregarded, which is why Norwich requires all first year and transfer students, and new hired staff and faculty members, to participate in exercises designed to educate about Title IX and sexual violence and harassment.

“Anyone that is new to the university has to receive some sort of training,” Drew said. “In addition, all athletic teams are now required to receive programming and training, according to the mandate issued by the NCAA.”

As far as first-year students belonging to the Corps of Cadets, they receive this training during rook week, before the beginning of the first semester. Likewise, first year civilians are required to participate in the training during orientation.

“I think it is good that they have all the sport teams to do Title IX training, since our school is primarily military and sports, and the majority of the students are either in one or the other,” Menges said.

Apart from the mandatory trainings scheduled at the beginning of the semester, Title IX provides online programming, and small group discussions with leaders of the Corps of Cadets, and the residence life assistants in the civilian population.

“Education really is the key to prevention,” Drew said. “We are really working towards trying to change the message more to healthy relationships and trying to help people better understating how to deal with sexual assault.”

One strategy adopted by VIPA together with Drew is to promote awareness and educate the Norwich community through social events. “Norwich tries. We do a lot of things that help get the information out, but I feel like you cannot really get any results unless the students want to listen,” Davis said.

In the past, the Title IX members organized several social activities like bingo, with giveaway gifts including bracelets, info cards, and T-Shirts. For the future, they will be focusing on getting connected to students by using social media and the Norwich website.

Last year in April, members of the Title IX group organized and ran the first Sexual Assault Awareness Week, a series of activities on campus dedicated to drawing students’ attention to the prevention and understanding of sexual assault.

“It is very hard for people to give importance to this topic until they get directly involved with it,” Cifuentes observed. “No one cares until something happens to you, to your mom, to your best friend, or to someone close to you. It is important to know that a lot of people go through sexual assaults.”

The Sexual Assault Awareness Week will be hosted again this year and it is scheduled to run from April 2-6. By getting students involved in different activities around campus, those who are involved in prevention and awareness efforts are hoping to create a connection while teaching about sexual violence.

“I want to be able to work on prevention together with students,” Drew said. “I really want to hear from students what you want to see, and what would you like to have happen here at Norwich.”

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