April marks sexual assault awareness month

 DePaul’s Office of Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) helped students and faculty observe sexual assault awareness month (SAAM) through virtual programming and by welcoming Sara Heidbreder as the new sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist.

 To kick off their SAAM campaign, HPW invited Greenlight Family Services — a Chicago-based counseling and adoption service with specialized sexual assault therapy for incoming and current college students — to lead two workshops for the DePaul community.

 The first workshop, hosted on April 6, covered gender-based violence and prevention strategies, and the second on April 22 instructed students on how to support survivors of sexual assault.

 Elizabeth Meyer, program coordinator for Greenlight Family Services, said that preventing sexual assault on university campuses and beyond begins by helping people understand what sexual assault is.

 “If somebody feels like their boundaries have been violated in some way, from penetrative sex down to somebody sending you a nude without your consent or flashing you on the subway [and] anything related to sex that feels like has pushed your boundaries or transgressed your boundary, for me would count as sexual assault,” Meyer said.

According to DePaul University’s Illinois Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act report, DePaul’s Title IX coordinator received 88 reports of sexual violence made by or about DePaul students in 2019. In addition, 25 confidential or anonymous reports of sexual violence were made to designated confidential reporting resources who disclosed the incidents to Title IX.

But those numbers don’t account for the sexual assault or violence cases that aren’t reported, and there’s no way to know just how many people have experienced sexual assault. Further, the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated sexual assault as a public health crisis.

According to National Alliance to End Sexual Violence policy director Terri Poore, close to 40 percent of the rape crisis centers in Washington D.C. surveyed by the alliance saw an increased demand for services since the virus outbreak. At the same time, some hospitals are performing fewer sexual assault forensic exams (i.e., rape kits) compared to pre-Covid-19 years because of the fear of going to the hospital among other contributing factors.

From students learning remotely from all across the globe to a decrease of in-person interaction with instructors and peers, campus life has changed drastically. This makes reporting and investigating sexual assault and harrassment that takes place in the university environment — whether in person or online — that much more tricky.

Because of students’ fears around reporting to their universities for a myriad of reasons such as the offices not being completely accessible or supportive, many students in the U.S. either aren’t reporting their sexual assault experiences or finding community in their survivor stories through anonymously sharing them via social media, according to a CBS News report.


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 Knowing students may be hesitant to report to Title IX, Heidbreder said she is available to provide a myriad of resources and support to advocate for students, and she emphasizes that any meetings with her students are confidential and won’t be reported to the Title IX office.

 “My arms are wide open,” Heidbreder said.

 Heidbreder encourages DePaul students and faculty to partake in any offerings the university has to spread awareness on sexual and relationship violence because everyone can and should play a role in the eradication of this public health crisis.

 Each month, HPW offers a three-hour training and certification program called the “Vinny Vow.” The program provides comprehensive information on bystander intervention for assisting in the prevention of sexual and relationship violence.

 Attending workshops and taking the Vinny Vow provides the many of the tools necessary to prevent sexual and relationship violence on campus and beyond, but Heidbreder strongly encourages self-reflection as a supplement.

 “Each individual needs to confront our deep-rooted attitude toward this issue,” Heidbreder said. “We need to challenge ourselves to think deeper.”

 According to Heidbreder, there are three key self-reflection prompts to consider as we learn about our perceptions and lived experiences with sexual assault.

  1.  When you think about sexual assault, what images pop up, and what are your reactions to it?
  2.   Where is your attitude coming from on sexual assault? Did you see it in a movie? Did you witness it with your family? Did it happen to you?
  3.  What does a healthy relationship look like to you? And where does that image come from?

 After thinking about these questions, Heidbreder encourages looking for gaps in a person’s thinking or attitude about sexual assault and filling them in through education, whether that’s through HPW or elsewhere.

 DePaul spokesperson Kristin Mathews emphasized that “sexual assault is never a victim’s fault,” and she encourages students to utilize HPW for sexual and relationship violence education.

Mathews also noted that members of the DePaul community can find general safety tips “for remaining vigilant around campus” on Public Safety’s website.

 If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced sexual assault or relationship violence, the National Sexual Assault Hotline and online chat is available 24 hours to provide anonymous support, advocacy and referral to resources. Dial 1-800-656-4673.