On-, off-Grounds organizations create support network for sexual assault survivors

A look at resources for survivors, student groups working to prevent sexual assault


Take Back the Night strives to initiate conversation about sexual assault and provide a chance for the community to coalesce and brighten the lives of survivors.

Courtesy Take Back the Night at U.Va.

Last week, Take Back the Night held a weeklong series of events to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault on Grounds. This is just one of the many organizations on Grounds who strive to provide support to survivors of sexual assault, and educate University students about the threat sexual assault poses to our community.

According to the Association of American Universities Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, 11.2 percent of all students are sexually assaulted, including 23.1 percent of female undergraduate students and 5.4 percent of male undergraduate students.

With this volume of student survivors, a variety of student groups exist to educate students on Grounds about the resources available to them if they experience a sexual assault.

Medical Support

Immediately following an assault, many survivors seek medical attention to assess their injuries and receive adequate care for other medical needs, such as emergency contraception or antibiotics to protect against sexually transmitted infections.

When survivors seek medical attention from U.Va. Hospital or Elson Student Health Center, a forensic nurse calls an advocate from the Sexual Assault Resource Agency to provide support and answer questions the survivor may have. Survivors may also call advocates themselves before arriving at a hospital or health clinic.

SARA advocates are available 24/7 and will come equipped with a backpack of useful resources, including clothing for survivors who choose to undergo a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit examination and have their clothes collected as evidence.

“We are there for their support, answering whatever questions they have, but we are just a complete advocate,” SARA Director of Community Outreach Sheri Owen said. “We are not counselors or anything. We are just there for their support, holding their hands, just being there for them.”

The U.Va. Hospital Emergency Department and the Elson Student Health Center are the only medical facilities on Grounds that have Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners that have been trained to administer a PERK kit.

PERK kits are used to collect evidence such as DNA samples and photographs of visible injuries, which can later be used in legal proceedings or to file a report. They must be conducted within 72 hours after the assault.

Initially giving consent for a PERK kit does not mean a survivor must complete all components of the exam. If a specific part of the exam makes a survivor feel uncomfortable, then he or she can opt to forgo it. In addition, receiving a PERK kit examination does not obligate the survivor to report the incident.

At the request of the survivor, a friend, family member or a SARA advocate can sit with the survivor during the PERK examination.

The PERK examination and contraceptives and medications that prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections are free to the survivor. The costs are covered by the state.

Psychological Support

Sexual assault is not only a physically traumatic experience, but also a psychologically damaging one. Thus, survivors often speak to a professional after an assault occurs. The University has numerous resources available to survivors on and off Grounds.

Counseling and Psychological Services and Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center are both on-Grounds resources that provide therapy and counseling services. These services are confidential.

“Our first priority is to help the survivor reestablish a sense of safety in their life,” said Charlotte Chapman, director of counseling and chair of programs at the Women’s Center. “This varies depending on the person and what has happened. For example, if an assault has occurred in their living space, we would help advocate for them to move somewhere else.”

The Women’s Center offers free counseling services to students and organizes a support group for survivors that meets during the spring semester. The center also helps students find and contact other therapists or psychologists in the Charlottesville area.

If survivors are debating between whether or not to report their assault, they can contact Claire Kaplan, the program director for Gender Violence and Social Change, at the Women’s Center. Kaplan is a confidential employee, and thus is not required to report an assault disclosed to her. In contrast, many University professors who are responsible employees must disclose assaults.

“Even if you don't think you could ever like therapy or you don't want to talk about what happened just go one time and try it out,” fourth-year College student Emily Woznak said, who was sexually assaulted her first year at the University in 2013. “It was incredibly helpful for me to speak openly about my assault and the aftermath with a therapist who held no judgment.”

A third-year college student and survivor of sexual assault told The Cavalier Daily that CAPS was fundamental to her recovery.

“I can honestly say that without CAPS things would have been infinitely harder and although sometimes CAPS gets a bad rep on Grounds it’s definitely worth a try,” the student said. “I found that if anything my doctor was able to talk me through my own thoughts and allow me to reevaluate, understand the problems I needed to face and prioritize.”

SARA is another confidential resource that is located off Grounds. In addition to the advocacy program it provides for survivors who seek medical care, SARA offers a 24-hour hotline, free therapy sessions, legal advocacy and helps the survivor to the extent the survivor wishes.

Organizations advocating for survivors on Grounds

The University has a myriad of organizations on Grounds that are dedicated to educating students and the community about the prevalence of sexual assault and the resources available to survivors.

These organizations include Green Dot, One Less, One in Four, Take Back the Night and more.

“I think the amount of advertising they have now for Green Dot and other resources for sexual assault, particularly to first years, has greatly improved since 2013,” Woznak said. “I also think Just Report It has been a great resource for the reporting process and alerting the community.”

More recently, some students say they have noticed a difference in the attitude about sexual assault and the availability and knowledge of resources for survivors on Grounds.

“As an RA, I've been able to watch two classes of first-years transition into U.Va.,” Green Dot member and third-year College student Maeve Curtin said. “I've seen them adopt this mentality of bystander intervention wholeheartedly and actually use Green Dot language to identify not only ‘red dot’ behaviors, but also talk about ‘green dots’ as intervention strategies when friends and strangers alike might need help.”

Green Dot is a program that trains students to become active bystanders in order to prevent sexual assaults from occurring. It teaches students how and when to intervene in a potentially dangerous situation, which could lead to a sexual assault.

“The really uplifting thing about Green Dot though is that it gives us the power to stop things before they occur or progress,” Curtin said. “Regardless of what preconceptions you come into a training with, you can leave with something you're comfortable doing.”

One Less, a student-run sexual assault education organization, also encourages University students to attend Green Dot training programs and other bystander or support programs run by different groups.

“I do always try to tell people I have sat through over a dozen Green dot talks and trainings and I always learn something new every time,” said Alexa Iadarola, events and publicity chair of One Less and a second-year College student.

“Because no matter how involved you are in this, no matter how much you know about University policy or resources or statistics about assault within that community or active bystander techniques, you’re always going to learn something,” Iadarola said.

One Less gives presentations on resources to support survivors and how to prevent sexual assault to groups on grounds that request their service. The club is also currently working to reach different facets of the University.

“I would really love to see the sexual assault advocacy community do more to invite the community into our doors as opposed to the opposite,” Iadarola said.

One in Four is an all-male group that also focuses on educating the student body about sexual assault.

“One of the big benefits of having this group be all male is that we get guys into the discussion,” second-year Engineering student Ahmed Osman said. “If you were to have a group of of all guys in the room then certain questions are more likely to be raised than they would in other situations.”

Kevin Hare, president of One in Four and a third-year College student, also emphasized the importance of using gender-neutral words when speaking generally about sexual assault. As an all-male group, they feel it is also important to bring awareness to male survivors as well.

“I think we make a difference by giving those presentations and really trying to educate people and hoping to start conversations beyond just our material,” Hare said. “[We are] really trying to just make this a campus-wide conversation where people feel comfortable discussing [sexual assault] and people can challenge each other and have those critical conversations.” 

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