Plans Made to Combat Sexual Assault
In a survey conducted by the Campus Assault Resource and Education Program (C.A.R.E.), 23 percent of female UC Irvine students reported being victims of sexual assault or rape within the last 12 months.
The survey, which was partially funded by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, included self-reports of assault and rape from over 1,200 randomly-selected students. The survey also found that over 80 percent of participants thought that sexual violence was either “not a problem” or “only a slight problem at UCI.”
“This information goes to show that sexual violence is happening here and is happening a lot,” C.A.R.E.’s Violence Prevention Coordinator Robert Buelow, said of the survey.
However, C.A.R.E. director, Dr. Mandy Mount emphasized that the findings of the campus-wide survey were only preliminary.
“We still need to go through this data with a fine-toothed comb,” Mount said.
Mount went on to state that the information had not yet been compiled into a final report or shared with other campus offices.
“The survey is complicated and we want to make sure we have taken a hard look at the data before we put it out there,” Mount said.
Nonetheless, Mount admits that the data at least appears to support assertions that levels of sexual violence at UCI are on par with national campus violence statistics. However, despite this high percentage few sexually-based crimes are reported to the police and make their way into official crime reports.
“The real issue is going to be [what constitutes the] definition of sexual assault,” said UCI Police Chief Paul Henisey, “and whether that assault is reported to us, from a criminal perspective.”
“One of the reasons our work with C.A.R.E. is so important is to ensure that people report criminal behavior, when they have been victimized in a criminal nature,” Henisey said.
According to Mount, another reason for the disparity between official crime rates and self-reports of victimization is culture.
“We have a campus community that reflects a great amount of diversity and a lot of that diversity translates directly into a resistance to talking publicly about these issues,” Mount said.
Mount went on to address the cultural and environmental norms that make it difficult for students to come forward and seek help.
“We know that many of the students who are experiencing sexual violence are experiencing it at the hands of friends and family members or people they are close to,” Mount said.
Despite these cultural obstacles, more people are seeking help from places like C.A.R.E. According to Buelow, this is a sign of the increase in public awareness of the services available.
“Some of the most effective changes takes place in one-on-one dialogue facilitated by a program with students,” Buelow said.
Buelow, who began work at UCI just over a year ago was brought on to run primary violence prevention programs and to help coordinate between the different offices that provide services to victims of sexual violence. Buelow was originally hired jointly by the UCI Police Department and C.A.R.E., but now works out of C.A.R.E.’s new offices on the sixth floor of Aldrich Hall.
To Buelow, a central part of his role is to raise awareness of the issues surrounding sexual and intimate partner violence. To a large extent, it appears that education about the issues and prevention of violence are one in the same.
“We don’t have very clear guidelines for what works in terms of violence prevention on college campuses,” said Dr. Elliot Currie, a professor of criminology at UCI.
“Creating an environment where people, particularly women, who are in potentially abusive situations feel comfortable in coming forward, I think is one of the key needs in confronting the kind of violence you see on the college campus,” Currie said.
Changing the environment on campus is the mission of C.A.R.E.’s sponsored student group, One In Four.
Named for the national statistic that one in four female students will be the victims of sexual violence during their time at college, One In Four is based on a peer group model comprised of undergraduate male students. and overseen by Buelow.
“We’re just a bunch of normal guys,” said group member Stephen Marley. “[At events,] we don’t lecture people … we just have a normal, everyday conversation.”
According to One In Four, one of the best ways to educate people about sexual violence is to present people’s stories, not just statistics. The group took this approach during their annual “Take Back the Night,” which over 500 students attended during Spring 2008.
“If we turn survivors’ experiences into statistics, then their stories may never be heard. What we are trying to do is prevent people from becoming statistics,” said John Huntley, a One In Four member.
For the small core of One In Four members, sharing their message as men, with other men is an important part of what they do. This peer status comes in particularly useful when discussing issues like consent, which is a cornerstone of One In Four’s campaign.
“In particular, with guys, consent is seen as the absence of a ‘no’ is a ‘yes.’ The idea that ‘she was drunk,’ or ‘she didn’t say no’ … it’s this idea that you have to explicitly be told ‘no,’ and that’s not the case, you need to have a ‘yes’ in anything that you do,” Marley said.
Marley admits that, in large part, One In Four is simply repeating what women have advocated for, as he puts it, “generations.” At the core of the One In Four program is a sense of compassion for victims that inspires the group’s focus on prevention. “We want victims to know that there are people out there who care about their story,” reiterated Huntley.
In the coming year, the story of sexual violence prevention and victims’ services will continue to evolve, and for Buelow, that means more contact with students and more integration of existing services.
“We are working on creating a coordinated response where people who come forward will be able to know what to expect,” said Buelow.
“We are all talking and communicating, and trying to establish a comprehensive response, and a comprehensive set of resources.”