Wellness Center and Public Safety work together to fight victim-blaming

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Winans Hall, also known as the Wellness Center. -Photo Editor/Amanda Palma

On Oct. 14, 2016, a timely warning appeared in the email inboxes of all Rowan students. A female student reported that she had been sexually assaulted in Holly Pointe Commons and the Public Safety Office had released a statement warning others in the area.  

In the email, a small bit of advice rounded out the slew of information.

The email said, “Keep control of your drink,” “Have a companion or safe means of getting home,” and, “Always trust your instincts.” The words were meant to warn, but in the next warning sent out a month later on Nov. 15, something changed.

In the end of that email, the words had shifted from one warning to a different one. Instead of tips about watching one’s drink, sexual assault was defined and the behavior of predators was outlined.

In an effort to destigmatize campus sexual assault and rape, Associate Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the Wellness Center Amy Hoch, Psy.D., drafted a new set of guidelines to punctuate each timely warning regarding sexual assault and rape.

“It is hard to report rape for any person it happens to because there is fear related to retaliation, shame about what’s happened and because of the larger culture and how we handle reports about rape,” Hoch said. “Often we don’t believe [the victim], we minimize it or we blame the person for something happening. Then that makes it very hard, when we’re all taking that information in, when we hear the reports made, if we’re the victim, to then come forward.”

In the research analysis “Communicating/Muting Date Rape: A Co-Cultural Theoretical Analysis of Communication Factors Related to Rape Culture on a College Campus,” the language and behavior surrounding rape cases often contributed to a larger culture that has manifested across college campuses.

“One explanation is that college campuses foster date rape cultures, which are environments that support beliefs conducive to rape and increase risk factors related to sexual violence,” wrote Ann Burnett, Jody L. Mattern, Liliana L. Herakova, David H. Kahl Jr., Cloy Tobola and Susan E. Bornsen in the 2009 thesis.

“We need to stand up to instances where there is victim-blaming.” – Amy hock, psy., d.

The research suggested, much like the second timely warning, that the behavior of the perpetrator must be known and defined in order to have an effect on the culture at hand.

On Rowan’s campus, a considerable effort has been put into identifying predatory behavior and ending victim blaming as well.

“We need to stand up to instances where there is victim-blaming as well. One of the things we do here at Rowan is bystander intervention, Green Dot, and the main goal is that when people see or hear anything like rape jokes, or minimizing something that’s happened to someone, or victim blaming, that someone will speak up and say ‘Hey, that’s actually not accurate,’” Hoch said.

The purpose of Green Dot, to break down stigma here on campus, is mirrored back in the Wellness Center’s own efforts working with the outside community and even with the Public Safety Office.

The partnership of the two offices is vital to understanding and preventing gender-based assault, sexual assault, and campus rape (commonly known as acquaintance rape).

Hoch led sensitivity training for the Public Safety office regarding treatment of victims, how to handle an assault case, what to look for in perpetrators and what sort of language should be used when dealing with sexual assault and rape victims in particular.

“We do training with Public Safety on trauma-informed policing, specifically in regard to this issue of sexual assault or dating violence. We do training with the judicial board who hear the cases,” Hoch said. “They need specialized training to understand why they might be hearing certain things from a sexual assault cases versus another code of conduct issue.”

Across campus in the Bole Hall Annex, Senior Director of Public Safety Reed Layton echoed similar sentiments.

“We just had a three-day, mandatory class for all police and all security officers to come for several different things,” he said. “Hoch informed all the officers on sensitivity, confidentiality – you don’t want to offend the victim by saying stuff that makes it worse for them… You’ve always got to be cognitive in what you say and how you approach it.”

While sensitivity is necessary for the sake of protecting the victim and their privacy, there is a level of conflict for the officers who wish also to warn others in the community as well.

“It’s so hard to do,” Layton said. “There have been times where we put the alert out, and we’ll get emails saying, ‘You could have been more different with the wording,’ and we try to word it right, but we’re not the only ones involved.

“There’s probably about six different people reviewing it between general council, university relations and all of us,” Layton continued. “We try to really watch it but at times people do get offended, and I don’t think you’ll ever really stop that completely, but the less damage the better.”

Public Safety and the Wellness Center have been working together to in order to continually break down walls surrounding a taboo issue like sexual assault, but several campus initiatives have been set up for students to take part as well.

Rowan itself is a member of the Title IX Summit, held in June on campus, and Hoch considers Rowan a leading member in New Jersey when it comes to breaking down campus rape stigma and creating solutions.

Rowan also hosts a Title IX Summit for students as well, and a Title IX club is also operating on campus after being founded by Al Pelose, a wellness management and health promotion major.

In addition to summits and conventions, Green Dot seeks to educate potential bystanders to be able to recognize and intervene on potential assault scenarios. RAD, the Rape Aggression Defense system, is a set of self-defense tips for students seeking to be prepared for any situation.

Despite the intensive work done to combat the crime, it still happens. Layton and Hoch both agree, however, that Rowan is safe and equipped to deal with whatever is reported.

“As the community grows there is going to be problems,” Layton said. “But we have the resources – like the Wellness Center, the people and the technology – in place to handle those situations quickly.”

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