Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment

Sexual Assault. Sexual Harassment. Neither of these terms are necessarily comfortable topics to talk about. However, this past summer Penn State’s President Eric Barron started to get people talking. On July 2nd, 2014 Barron announced the creation of a task force to combat the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment on Penn State’s campus. The task force was created in order to identify the problems and policies regarding sexual violence, to make recommendations to solve the issues and to improve previous policies. Recently, the task force has released the Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Task Force report, which can be found here, that explains what the task force is, how they went about discussing issues, opinions expressed and their recommendations for the university.

The report states that, “the Task Force noted that Penn State students, like their peers at most colleges and universities, begin their college experience with relatively little prior education on sexual assault, and many already have been socialized into unhealthy and risky practices that serve to exacerbate the problem.”

In order to give students more of an understanding on these issues, Penn State required students to go through online modules about sexual assault (AWARE) and alcohol (SAFE) prior to moving onto campus for their first semester of college. However, the task force report noted that these modules have little impact on students.

The university has also created a counseling and psychological services  program (CAPS), which offers support for students dealing with sexual assault and relationship violence. Through CAPS, the university has also coordinated a sexual response team that works with the police.

Penn State University psychologist, CAPs coordinator and task force member Andrea Falzone gave Valley some more insight on the task force and the issue of sexual assault on campus.

“Our hope is that the recommendations will help spread awareness about sexual violence, as well as provide guidance on additional structures that can be put in place to better prevent sexual violence on campus and to better meet victims’ needs when sexual violence does occur,” says Falzone.

While there are a vast amount of educational programs regarding sexual assault offered on campus, the task force believes that a few more steps should be taken to improve the way the university addresses and solves sexual related problems.Some of the recommendations mentioned in the report include appointing a full-time Title IX Coordinator of the University, a new hotline to make getting information and reports more effective and efficient, the student conduct process embrace a more “investigative model” for solving sexual violence cases and a required class for first semester students to inform them on issues of student health and safety.

In addition to the recommendations of the report, Falzone believes that people need to start talking about this issue more.

“Break the silence about this.  Talk about it with your friends.  If a friend has experienced sexual violence, start by believing.  Support your friend and be there to help support and empower him/her.  There are a lot of misconceptions out there and what we call “rape myths.”  To begin to shift the culture, it is important that students educate themselves about these issues,” says Falzone.

In regards on who’s to blame for acts of sexual violence, Falzone makes on thing clear: “The sole cause of sexual violence is a conscious choice made by an offender/perpetrator,” says Falzone.

Adding on to that thought, Falzone explains that we live in a culture where victim-blaming is very common. “This only serves to further silence victims and provides a culture where the perpetrator can keep offending,” says Falzone.

Some common misconceptions that Falzone pointed out included that sexual violence is brought on by the victim, the topic of consent (what is considered consent…etc.), the fact that men “cannot” be victims and what “real rape” looks like.

Falzone also indicates that with more people talking, less acts of sexual violence will be committed and these misconceptions will be straightened out. “One of the main goals of the Task Force is to help build a stronger caring community within the university where students, staff, and faculty feel a better sense of connection with another and a sense of responsibility for what happens to each other, says Falzone.

If you want to start to educate yourself more on the issue, there are many opportunities on campus. “Students can work to educate themselves about this issue by attending events on-campus and upcoming bystander intervention trainings.  Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is in April and students who are interested in educating themselves more about these topics and making an impact can attend some of the events planned.  Students can join PHREE (Peers Helping Reaffirm, Educate, and Empower) or Men Against Violence (MAV) through the Center for Women Students.  Students can also join the UPUA Sexual Violence Roundtable,” says Falzone.

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