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K-State Today

April 12, 2011

When sexual assaults happen, university professionals respond as a team

Submitted by Julie Fosberg

The aftermath of sexual assault can be overwhelming for a victim. At K-State, that's when a team of supporters steps in.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but preventing and dealing with sexual assault is something K-State professionals do year round. The university has a systematic response to sexual assaults that includes a team of professionals from across campus. These team members work in areas as disparate as law enforcement, housing and dining, counseling and health care.

"Everyone who experiences a traumatic or criminal event goes through some process of healing," said Mary Todd, director of the K-State Women’s Center. "We want to assist in that process by providing whatever an individual needs, whether it is group work through the counseling center's trauma groups or online University Café, assistance in telling their parents, or just a quiet place to talk. Our advocacy office is here to serve any students who have been hurt, as well as their friends or family."

The K-State police department has several officers specially trained to help victims of sexual assault. Through classes and seminars, officers continue to learn about sexual assault and ways to help even if victims don't want to press criminal charges. At any time of day or night the campus police can connect victims with the advocate from the Women's Center.

The Women's Center provides crisis intervention, victim support and advocacy. The center advocates for victims in various ways, including helping them report the assault to law enforcement agencies. When victims choose to pursue adjudication within the university, the Women's Center advocate helps prepare the statement of complaint and guides the victim through the review process. The K-State policy prohibiting sexual violence strictly prohibits all forms of sexual violence and provides an adjudication process to resolve complaints of sexual violence.

K-State helps victims with both the physical and emotional impact of a sexual assault. To deal with emotional issues, the university has its own counseling services and can point students to other community resources. For the physical trauma, there's Lafene Health Center -- the campus health clinic -- and Mercy Regional Health Center of Manhattan. Several years ago Mercy and the city of Manhattan incorporated the SANE SART program, so that all students who choose to have medical exams and/or evidence collection may be assured that they work with highly trained professionals when they go to the emergency room. K-State has representatives on the local board, the Flint Hills Sexual Assault Coalition, which provides the program.

Sexual assault victims may be susceptible to poor performance in the classroom. That's why the university's office of student life works with professors to ensure that academic concerns are addressed.

"K-State does not want an individual's academic record to reflect the effects of a crime rather than true academic abilities," Todd said.

If a victim needs help changing their living situation on campus, housing and dining services can work to make that happen, too.

More than just helping victims after the fact, K-Staters team together every day to prevent and mitigate sexual assault.

The SafeZone program is a network of allies across campus who help those affected by sexual violence, as well as hateful or homophobic acts or any criminal or distressing situation. Indicated with a sticker of the SafeZone logo on office doors, desks or backpacks, safe zones are where people on campus can safely go for support and assistance.

Since its founding, more than 300 K-State men and women from all majors have worked to educate K-State students about sexual assault through Wildcats Against Rape. W.A.R. is a student group dedicated to raising awareness of campus sexual violence. The group's goal is to promote a caring and compassionate culture, and changing the part of our culture that makes it acceptable for people to take control away from others and behave in a violent, selfish way.

On an academic level, students can learn how to provide training in sexual assault prevention through Proactive Educators for the Elimination of Rape and Sexual Violence, or PEERS. They also learn to motivate people toward individual and public actions that result in increased support for victims and decreased sexual victimization.

The Women's Center provides information about various self-defense classes, on- and off- campus resources, and pertinent events for all K-State men and women through their extensive webpage at http://www.k-state.edu/womenscenter/ and through an outreach kiosk in the K-State Student Union. Additionally, students may write or tell their stories with the help of the Women’s Center if they feel it will help others.

Moreover, dozens of presentations are given each year on campus to alert staff, faculty and students to the benefits of reporting sexual assaults. W.A.R. and the Women's Center recently brought nationally known speaker Mike Domitrz to K-State for his highly effective "Can I Kiss You?" program. To close out Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Todd said they are partnering with a fraternity on campus to put on a program particularly for men.

It is important, Todd said, that anyone affected by sexual assault get assistance.

"The successful graduations, the keep-in-touch notes from students who are now in graduate school or the Peace Corps, the beautiful thank-you cards over the years, let me know that the students' strength and will to heal and succeed are far stronger than the criminal act that hurt them," Todd said.