In the early morning hours of Nov. 29, a female student was raped somewhere between midtown and Fraternity Row. The 20-year-old victim said she accepted a ride from a man she did not know after leaving 101 Cantina and the man then sexually battered her in his car. She was able to escape from the car afterward and was picked up by a female driver passing by who saw her running from her attacker. The driver called the police and took the victim to the hospital.
In both the UF news release of the attack and an e-mail alert sent to the entire university listserv, the University Police Department took the opportunity to remind people of some “basic safety considerations.” The list included: “Avoid walking alone” and “Stay in well-lighted areas away from alleys, bushes, and entryways.”
These “safety considerations” are rape myths. According to a 2005 National Crime Victimization Study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, 73 percent of all sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, not strange masked men lurking in the shadows.
“Most of the cases we see are not the stranger jumping out of the bushes,” said Chris Loschiavo, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution at UF.
Loschiavo said almost all sexual assault cases at UF involve “two students who have had a lot to drink and the issue is, was one person able to consent to sexual activity.”
In addition to perpetuating false advice and rape myths, every link on UPD’s website that is supposed to lead to UF policies and procedures concerning sexual assault as well as links to rape awareness resources are broken. One link directs to UF’s own rape awareness group, CARE, which is not only a broken link, but is a group that no longer exists on campus.
Despite the public image that UPD presents today, this was not always the case. At one time, UF was a national leader in rape awareness and prevention tactics. Now, in light of the fact that local and national rape statistics have not improved in decades, UF is beginning to make an effort to once again learn and implement effective ways of preventing rape.
STRIVE, UF’s current rape awareness program, reports on its website that one in four female college students will be victims of sexual assault — defined as any unwanted sexual contact. The U.S. Department of Justice confirms this statistic, and states that once women graduate college, the ratio widens to one in six.
STRIVE has also been able to bring that one in four statistic closer to home.
“When we give an anonymous poll in a classroom of 500 and ask ‘Have you experienced a sexual assault?’ it matches up. We’ve asked every time and it’s always in the 20 percent to 25 percent range,” said Ron Del Moro, peer educator in the STRIVE program.
STRIVE, which stands for Sexual Trauma/Interpersonal Violence Education, aims to educate the university community by holding “open, non-judgmental forums where we explore questions such as ‘Why does this happen?’ and ‘What can we do?’”
This January, STRIVE plans to expand by implementing a new program modeled after the University of New Hampshire’s successful program called Bringing in the Bystander. This program has a heavy focus on bystander intervention.
“A lot of people stand around and see a lot of shady stuff go down,” Del Moro said. “We want to get those people involved.”
According to the UNH Bringing in the Bystander website, under the tag line, “Everyone in the community has a role to play in ending sexual violence,” the program “approaches both women and men as potential bystanders or witnesses to risky behaviors related to sexual violence around them.”
UNH developed this program through in-house research conducted by Prevention Innovations, a consulting, training and research unit that develops, implements and evaluates programs, policies and practices to end violence against women on campus. Vice President Joe Biden spoke at UNH in April on the success of the program and called on everyone to take responsibility. Biden, a long-time proponent of rape awareness, co-authored the Violence Against Women Act that passed in 1994.
Back in the 1980s, cutting-edge and innovative rape awareness programs like the current one at UNH were few, but UF had one of the best.
SARS, Sexual Assault Recovery Service, and COAR, Campus Organized Against Rape, were both campus organizations at UF and founded by therapist Claire Walsh in 1981 and 1982, respectively. Throughout the ‘80s, Walsh and COAR representatives spoke on at least a dozen national TV talk shows, supplied information to more than 500 universities and media organizations and served as models for similar programs at other schools.
In the 1988 book titled, “I Never Called It Rape,” one of the first extensive studies of rape on college campuses, COAR was called out as “one of the nation’s most comprehensive programs,” which included a rape-myth quiz, a slide show of sexual stereotypes in the media, and discussions of body language and assertiveness in dating. COAR also made it a point to discuss the societal and cultural attitudes of men, women and relationships that may lead to rape situations as well as ways to enhance general communication between men and women.
Walsh credited COAR’s success to its unique approach to involve both men and women as its target audience. Half of COAR’s members were men.
“We see males as absolutely crucial in helping to change attitudes that are put out by the culture,” Walsh told the Gainesville Sun in 1986. “Women can’t do it by themselves, males can’t do it by themselves — we need to work together.”
However, this nationally recognized and successful program came to an end in 1991. A mess of differing politics, separate budgets and general bureaucracy crippled, defunded and eventually disbanded COAR entirely. SARS was redistributed from the Infirmary, where SARS counselors were able to focus specifically on rape victim counseling, to Mental Health Services, which left rape victims to check in as mental health patients and be randomly assigned to a general counselor, regardless of the counselor’s specialization. Basically, both programs were eliminated
Since COAR and SARS, UF has seen a few half-hearted and not nearly as passionate attempts at rape awareness. The names change almost yearly and are hard to research and keep track of.
“It could change names as the mission evolves and as funding changes,” said Jennifer Stuart, coordinator of STRIVE. “But there is a mandate that any university has to have education on sexual assault. So that will happen.”
That mandate is the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights of 1992, which requires all federally funded schools to provide sexual assault prevention programs as well as provide information on what to do if an assault occurs and who victims can contact. The mandate is a part of the 1990 Clery Act, named in memory of a sexual assault and murder victim of 1986. The Clery Act also requires every university to publish an annual report of its past three years’ worth of campus crime statistics.
The sexual assault definition used in these reports is “forcible rape,” defined as: “The carnal knowledge of a person forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity (or because of his/her youth). This offense includes the forcible rape of both males and females.” It also includes “forcible sodomy,” “sexual assault with an object,” and “forcible fondling.”
Between 2008 and 2010, 17 “forcible rapes” were reported at UF. This seems more than a little bit shy of the one in four statistic reported by STRIVE and most rape advocate groups.
“The reality is that these kinds of cases go woefully under-reported,” Loschiavo said.
This past summer, in an effort to increase reporting and awareness, the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights sent a “Dear Colleague Letter” to universities and school districts nationwide. The letter clarified exactly how Title IX should be interpreted and what misconduct code guidelines to abide by, specifically in sexual misconduct cases. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education or activity.
Though the letter does not have force of law, the 19-page “policy guidance” outlines the standards that will be considered if a sexual assault case in a school or university is investigated by the Office of Civil Rights. But, if the same sexual assault case is brought to state court, the standards may be different.
“State law has some different standards and so the institution now is forced to choose: do we want to lose in state court if an accused appeals and says these regulations are invalid and violate my due process rights, or do we want to lose in an OCR case? That’s really the choice we have,” Loschiavo said.
In light of how few cases of sexual assault are actually reported and prosecuted, the Bringing in the Bystander program aims to reduce the number of victims overall. Loschiavo is optimistic about the new program, though he does think it’s going to take a long time to effect change.
“We’re working against the culture,” he said. “Even when there were minimal consequences to the bystander getting involved, bystanders have chosen not to get involved. As a campus, we’re trying to have a culture shift to empower bystanders to intervene.”
Legal systems, police departments and rape awareness groups can only go so far in prevention and recovery tactics. The Bringing in the Bystander program affirms that encouraging people to speak up is the most effective way to help reduce sexual violence.