UMD to mandate sexual assault training for future

incoming students

The university's CARE to Stop Violence office undergoes research study to determine the best method of teaching awareness

By Natalie Tomlin

Dec. 10, 2013

Stephanie Rivero, assistant coordinator at CARE to Stop Violence, hopes the Violence Intervention and Prevention Program will teach students how to look out for their peers and prevent violence from happening on or near campus (Photo by Natalie Tomlin).

The CARE office is located on the second floor of the University Health Center. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, and they also have a 24-hour crisis cell at (301) 741-3442. (Courtesy of CARE to Stop Violence)

Next year’s incoming students at the University of Maryland will be the first graduating class required to take a sexual assault training course to increase knowledge of prevention and campus resources.

University of Maryland alumnus Lauren Redding, a former editor in chief of The Diamondback and former president of UMD Feminists, created the proposal for the sexual assault pilot program that the University Senate approved this fall.

As a rape survivor, Redding said she felt personally invested in the issue of sexual violence on campus. After she was raped by an acquaintance during her sophomore year of college, she wasn’t able to accept what happened to her for 10 months.

“It’s almost like someone presses pause on your life,” the former journalism student said. “It was just so traumatic that I couldn’t even approach it at first.”

Despite the rejection of her initial course concept last year, Redding dedicated the winter break of her senior year to drafting a proposal to present to the University Senate.

She began working closely with the sexual assault task force that President Wallace Loh chartered to review sexual harassment policies and examine the training that was already in place.

“I really wanted to see something happen before I graduated. I just felt like I couldn’t leave the university without doing something to make sure that what happened to me happened less.”

After more than 1,500 students signed Redding’s petition last spring, the Office of Student Affairs approved a pilot program for this fall. On Oct. 10, the University Senate approved Redding’s complete proposal.

“The Senate said if the pilot program proves to be effective, then starting fall 2014, every incoming student has to sit in on this one-hour, in-person training by the end of their second semester,” Redding said.

The structure of next year’s course, the Violence Intervention and Prevention (V.I.P.) program, is still to be determined, according to Stephanie Rivero, the assistant coordinator of the University Health Center’s CARE to Stop Violence program. The CARE office provides professional and student-led presentations to various groups on campus, and it is also conducting the research study that will begin teaching volunteer students about sexual assault on campus.

Rivero said one of the overarching themes of the V.I.P. program will be to show students what sexual assault really looks like in a campus setting. She wants students to realize that the attacker is usually a person the victim knows to some capacity. The class will also teach students the importance of asking for consent.

The third theme of the class is bystander intervention. Rivero hopes students will finish the class feeling empowered and confident that they can help prevent sexual assault from happening by being a positive bystander. The sexual assault education will encompass rape, sexual harassment, relationship violence and stalking.

The CARE office is working on the research study with some senior staff from the Office of the Provost, as well as Steve Petkas, associate director of Student and Staff Development at the Department of Resident Life. Together, they have recruited about 100 freshmen to participate in the pilot program.

After the pilot classes finish in the next few weeks, Rivero will work with a psychology Ph.D. student over winter break to analyze the results and determine which method of teaching was most effective. The study consisted of four test groups: one completed an online video module on sexual assault, the second group completed an online text-only module, the third group will take an in-person discussion-based class and the control group will take the same pre- and post-test as the other groups without a class.

Redding and the CARE office hope to teach next year’s students in a small, interactive setting, but Rivero said this is unrealistic.

“I would assume that there is going to be a cost if we do decide to do face-to-face intervention with everybody simply because we’ll have to hire new people,” she said. “It’s a big job, so I would assume the cost would include hiring a couple of new fulltime staff.”

She said the university is in the process of finding a Title IX coordinator to oversee sexual assault issues on campus. Once this position is filled, the specific plans for the V.I.P. program will take shape depending on the coordinator’s ideas and concerns.

Loh said all students, faculty and staff will be required to take such a training program eventually. Rivero also said the long-term goal is to require a class for all members of the University community – not just freshmen.

“My guess is that implantation of a program of this scale would be phased in,” Loh said. “The training is not only to emphasize the obvious, that such conduct is unlawful. It is also to educate everyone on certain kinds of conduct that some people may not know are unlawful, such as circumstances that constitute a hostile environment. In addition, it is to inform everyone of University policies and procedures for handling such cases.  For example, some people may not know that if they hear about an incident of sexual misconduct, they are required to report it – how to report it, to whom, etcetera would be part of the training.”

Although the most recent University Police reports show that no rapes have been reported directly to the police in 2012, 2011, 2009, 2007 and 2006, reports to other campus officials show this is not an accurate depiction of the number of rapes taking place on or near campus.

Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas, University Police spokeswoman, said these reports showed 10 rapes were reported to other resources in 2012, but Hoaas said they know that number is still very low.

In fact, CARE to Stop Violence noticed an increase in sexual assault victims at the start of the fall semester. Rivero said she hopes the mandatory sexual assault course will help students become more aware of the resources available for victims.

Maria Romas, a senior English major and a CARE peer educator, said the course will spread awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus and the intricacies of consent.

“I think the most common misconception by far is it won’t happen to me,” she said. “Students in general have an invincible feeling around them about a lot of things, not just sexual assault, but I also think that a common misconception is that it’s the victim’s fault because that’s what society teaches you.”

Rivero said the goal of the course is not to scare students with statistics about the prevalence of sexual assault.

“We’re moving away from ‘don’t rape,’ ‘lots of people get raped,’ ‘rape is really scary and this big, bad awful thing’ and moving into ‘you can help prevent violence on campus,' she said. “Everybody can be doing something even if you think you’ll never run into this issue or you don’t know anyone who has been assaulted. The course will hopefully lead to a change in the culture and empower people to want to help.”

Related Links:

Facts from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

Lauren Redding's experience is chronicled in The Diamondback.

CARE to Stop Violence.

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