American Association of University Women holds conference in Charlottesville

Panel discusses prevention, intervention of sexual assault

The American Association of University Women of Virginia held a conference Saturday at the Doubletree Hotel in Charlottesville to celebrate the chapter’s ninetieth anniversary and address major issues, including campus sexual assault, human trafficking and the use of archives.

In a workshop on sexual assault, students and administrators discussed university policies for investigating claims of sexual assault on campus and sexual assault education programs.

Many women and men involved in all levels of education attended the one-hour panel along with several students from different universities. Claire Kaplan, program director of the Gender Violence and Social Change program at the University, was a guest at the panel.

Kaplan said the panel focused on what universities are doing in terms of prevention and intervention of sexual assault.

“I was talking about Green Dot, one of the evidence-based programs that research has shown works,” Kaplan said. “We talked about bystander intervention, and talked about how when I first got into this work we thought awareness was enough to create behavior change — but it wasn’t.”

While the panel touched on the Rolling Stone article about an alleged sexual assault at the University, the discussion centered around college environments in general, with representatives from different universities presenting examples from their own campus.

Additionally, Kaplan said part of the panel involved debunking myths members of the panel and audience heard regarding sexual assault on campus.

“Given there was an age range, there were some myths that came forward and it was interesting having this conversation with people who might have been undergraduates in the 50s, 60s, etc.” Kaplan said.

Many of the attending members held diverse views about the causes of sexual assault. Kaplan said some members had misconceptions about how much of a role alcohol, as well as fraternity culture, plays in causing sexual assault. Others said they believed males should not be allowed on females’ hall floors.

MaryAnn Vega, a graduate student at George Mason University, was a member of the panel for domestic violence on college campuses. She said the panel was supposed to be run by questions from the moderator, but due to the overwhelming audience response it became more of a question and answer session. She also addressed the importance of correcting myths about sexual assault.

“It is important when we talk about sexual assault, that we remove the rape myths that we are provided through our everyday interactions (e.g. she shouldn't have drank, she should have been with friends, they should have worn different clothes, you can't be raped by your significant other) and remember that no one asks to be raped,” Vega said in an email.

The panel touched on future solutions for reducing sexual assault at universities.

“Most questions from audience members were how we could change the social climate that rape is happening within and how we can stop blaming survivors for what happens to them,” Vega said. “One of the things discussed at the panel is that rape happens even in the absence of substance abuse. Prevention needs to start with teaching students what constitutes as rape and how it is not always violent with alcohol and drug use involved.”

Ultimately, however, the panel’s focus was not on proposing solutions for sexual assault, but rather a dialogue about sexual assault, Kaplan said.

Sally Sledge, Virginia AAUW vice president for membership and moderator of the discussion, said the attendees were mainly interested in getting a better sense of the issues and culture surrounding campus sexual assault.

“We learned that there are a lot of resources for students,” Sledge said. “We could potentially donate to these institutions.”

Virginia AAUW Co-President Patsy Quick said her branch will meet Thursday to read evaluations from the workshops and discuss the outcomes of the conference.

“I think we are just beginning to address sexual assault,” Quick said. “I think our national association has already addressed sexual harassment as well as sexual assault, and I feel like we will continue to address that. It is not going away unless we get a lot of people involved to make a difference. It’s a whole culture. It has taken decades to come to this point and it will not be an easy thing to fix.”




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