With the new semester underway, it is important that the campus stay educated about the reality of sexual assault at colleges and understand University procedures that are in place to assist potential victims.
Who to contact: Last year, the University hired Alysha Warren as the first Sexual Violence Resource Coordinator and Therapist. Prior to her appointment, concerns had surfaced over the University’s response to sexual violence, and a task force was formed in the 2009-2010 school year that aimed to alleviate this concern. Though procedures for dealing with sexual assault were already in place when Warren arrived, her role is specifically to assist victims.
Since her employment, Warren has worked as a therapist for survivors and has been involved with various outreach programs. She is closely involved with the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which is a group of staff and administrators that have undergone in-depth training to help them deal with the dynamics of sexual assault, understand what survivors experience, and grasp how sexual violence plays out in different communities. Every member of SART is available to assist students in coping and filing reports, including SART Student Intern Rachel Verner ’15, who works in conjunction with Warren and a third-year doctorate student from the University of Hartford.
Warren explained that there are a variety of other campus members to whom students can report sexual assault. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has a therapist on call at all times (apart from winter and summer vacation) who can be reached on the phone at 860-685-2910. Other resources include Public Safety (PSafe), the Middletown Police, class deans,
and residential advisors.
Warren added that she is considered a confidential reporter, as is everyone in CAPS, the Chaplain, and some members of health services.
“If students just wanted to talk about their options and didn’t want to necessarily make a report, often times they’ll be referred [to a confidential reporter] first because it’s a confidential place,” Warren said. “A confidential report is still made, meaning that I would report a sexual assault has been reported to me, but I would not include the student’s name or specific information.”
SART members, class deans, and residential advisors are all mandatory reporters, which means that they are obligated to make a report.
What happens when a report is made: If a student chooses to make a report, there is an investigation that culminates in a judicial hearing.
Warren explained that the judicial hearing does not take place in front of the Student Judicial Board (SJB).
“Sexual violence cases are not heard by students,” she said. “They are heard by judicial board members who have been trained…about some of dynamics of sexual violence.”
The two students involved are not allowed to talk to each other or challenge each other’s responses in the judicial hearing. If the accused student is found responsible, there is a range of sanctions from suspension to expulsion.
During the process, Warren can serve as an advocate for potential victims by meeting with them and helping them to put together testimony.
“I will say that Wesleyan’s judicial process is very survivor centered,” she said. “In the cases I have been involved in, I’ve worked with students who needed to take breaks. We’ve left the room for half an hour just so a student could center themselves before they came back into the room because it was really hard emotionally. The board is understanding of that.”
Who does sexual assault affect: Warren explained that sexual assault affects a broad group of students at the University. She also challenged the notion that alcohol made people more susceptible to rape by explaining that such an idea allows people to distance themselves from sexual violence.
“I think that alcohol and sexual assault are linked, but not in the traditional way that people think,” she said. “They’re linked in the way that alcohol is often used as a weapon. So when sexual assault happens, [it’s] not that someone was drinking excessively but that someone targeted someone that was drinking excessively.”
“I think it’s really important to change that dialogue,” she continued. “We’re looking at the offender’s actions, as opposed to the person who is the potential victim…because the offender is making the decision. Like ‘this is someone who is in a vulnerable position and I’m going to exploit that vulnerability.’”
New Initiatives: Beginning this fall, Warren will help to launch a variety of initiatives. The Sexual Violence Action Committee (SVAC), a committee born out of a community forum from last year based on sexual violence, will have its first meeting in September. The purpose of the Committee is to have a space for students (who may or may not be connected to a group) who are interested in sexual assault prevention and dialogue to connect with other groups. They will then be able to receive more in-depth training about sexual assault issues, will be able to collaborate with each other, and also will be able to work in partnership with CAPS, Warren, and others involved across campus.
The Red Flag Campaign, a bystander intervention campaign that revolves around relationship violence and healthy relationships, will begin in October. A healthy workshop series will also occur around the same time. Lastly, there will be another new group in October that is an open format sexual assault survivors support group.
“One of my goals this year is to really start the dialogue,” Warren said. “So we have a Facebook page that we’re hoping people will join and start talking a little bit more about these issues.”
Warren said that there will be a retreat in November for survivors of sexual violence that is going to incorporate mindfulness skills and yoga.
She stressed that, along with all the initiatives, there is the need to create a culture of support on the University campus.
“[My] advice is to be empowered bystanders, to look out for each other,” she said. “If you have a feeling in your gut that something is wrong, or if you’re at a party and see something that concerns you, say something. There are a multitude of reasons why people are silent: we don’t want to be wrong about what we’re seeing; we don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of our friends. I would invite people to take the risk. If you have the feeling that something isn’t right, say something.”