UA Effort Addresses Sexual Assault

Students, faculty and staff are joining forces across campus, and in communities beyond the University, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
April 6, 2015
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What is consent?


"Sex is fun and it feels good when it is mutually desired, safe and legal. Consent means agreement on how far things are going to go without insistent pressure or false promises that the relationship has a future. Consent cannot be read from body language, especially when wearing the altered-reality headsets that alcohol creates. Intoxicated people can't make decisions or stop what is happening if it crosses their line. Without consent, you are having rape, you are not having sex."

— UA Regents' Professor Mary Koss, a nationally recognized expert on sexual assault


University of Arizona affiliates are hosting a series of events in April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, to create awareness about efforts to end sexual assault.

"Sexual assault awareness is one of the most important tasks at hand today," said Krista Millay, program director for the UA Women's Resource Center. "It is finally getting the attention that it deserves, and we hope to see this consciousness-raising result in more support for survivors, more bystander intervention and more communities promoting healthy social norms for their members."

Millay said sexual violence warrants a community response.

"As community members, we have a responsibility to contribute to violence prevention by taking steps to examine our own behaviors and to effect change by starting with ourselves and our individual circle of influence," Millay said.

In a memo issued to the campus community on Thursday, UA President Ann Weaver Hart said the University community will not tolerate sexual assault.

"Sexual assault is wrong, no matter what the setting, no matter what the circumstances," Hart wrote. "This principle is inviolate and undergirds everything we do at the University of Arizona to confront the presence of sexual assault on our campus."

Hart also noted the national attention that the issue of sexual violence on college and university campuses has received.

"As a community of learning, the success of the University of Arizona depends on our ability to create a safe environment for all students and employees, as well as those who visit us. Sexual assault damages lives and can destroy a sense of safety, trust and mutual well-being that is vital for a campus community. We must take it seriously, and we must work together to prevent it and to confront it when it happens."

The UA has hired two full-time professionals trained to investigate reports of sexual assault and ensure due process for all involved, and the institution provides continuing education and training for staff working in sexual assault prevention, education and outreach. 

The University also supports the Associated Students of the University of Arizona's adoption of the "It's On Us" bystander intervention program, "which has seen great success," Hart said. 

The UA also has developed mandatory training for incoming students and has instituted specific changes in the student disciplinary processes around sexual assault to align with U.S. Department of Education recommendations. 

Also, the University is partnering with 28 of its peers in the Association of American Universities to conduct campus climate surveys. 

"Our goal is to learn more about what students think and know about sexual assault and misconduct and to understand what students have experienced on campus," Hart said. "These steps reflect the importance we place on addressing sexual violence on this campus."

A number of events will be held this month at the UA, including:

  • Wednesday: The Clothesline Project will be held on the UA Mall, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors will be able to create and display T-shirts designed with messages in support of those who have experienced sexual assault.
  • Wednesday: "Healthy Masculinity at the UA: Our Stories" will be held in the Kiva Room of the Student Union Memorial Center, from 6-8 p.m. The conversation will center on ways stereotypes about masculinity shape experiences.
  • April 14: Take Back the Night will be held at the UA Women's Plaza of Honor, from 4:30-8 p.m. The event will include a march held in opposition to sexual violence, a resource fair and live performances.
  • April 22: The UA Sexual Assault Resource Panel discussion will be held in the Copper Room at the Student Union Memorial Center, from noon to 1 p.m. Representatives from the Dean of Students Office, the UA Police Department, the Oasis Program and the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault will speak.

Megan McKendry, the sexual violence prevention specialist for the UA's Oasis Program, said everyone should feel empowered to help debunk myths about sexual assault and support those who they fear may be in danger of being sexually assaulted. 

"The campus community must come together to prevent sexual violence at UA," said McKendry, whose program offers support for individuals who have been impacted by sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking.

The UA's Step UP! Be a Leader, Make a Difference program is yet another example of ways the campus community is working to address campus violence. The bystander intervention training program provides participants with the skills necessary to take appropriate action in potentially dangerous situations.

Others at the UA also are advancing best practices associated with preventing sexual assault and managing remediation when an assault does occur. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that sexual violence is a serious public health concern. In the U.S., 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men has been raped, with most people first experiencing sexual violence before the age of 25.

In addition to teaching courses on human sexuality and family violence, UA Regents' Professor Mary Koss collaborates with Elise Lopez, who directs the Sexual Violence Prevention Program, housed in the UA's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

One of their research projects, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, focuses on developing a risk assessment tool that campus officials could use to evaluate students who are found responsible of sexual misconduct, and corresponding therapeutic interventions that can be used to tailor sanctions for these individuals.

Koss and Lopez also are consulting with the state health department on an innovative approach to reducing sexual assault. This initiative aims to train staff working at bars surrounding Arizona universities to recognize and respond safely and effectively to sexual aggression perpetrated by bar patrons.

"We have rape prevention programs, alcohol prevention and safe-sex education, but these things are happening in separate sandboxes," said Koss, a professor of public health, psychology, psychiatry and also family and community medicine.

"Some schools will find a person responsible and assign them an online course, or ask them to write a paper — that is offensive," Koss said. "There should be a plan to repair damage and to rehabilitate yourself, and it should be proportionate to the wrong you have done."

A published report Koss co-authored in 1987 indicates that 25 to 30 percent of college men surveyed acknowledged that they had committed some form of sexual assault against someone since the age of 14, and Koss said research indicates this percentage has been consistent for decades.

The UA also offers student internships, such as FORCE and the Men's Project, both through the Women's Resource Center.

FORCE works in collaboration with other student groups, the cultural and resource centers, and also UA departments to offer programs and events that engage students through a feminist perspective.

The Men's Project also works collaboratively, exploring issues of masculinity and male identity while promoting a culture of gender equity. Both internships are open to all students.

Students Promoting Empowerment and Consent is a student group and internship program associated with the Oasis Program that creates prevention and awareness programming to curb sexual assault on campus.

"As Wildcats, we need to look out for each other and speak out against words and actions that normalize and perpetuate sexual assault," McKendry said. "I hope that people challenge sexual assault and all types of violence and oppression in their communities."