A Students Guide to Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence
Remember that preventing sexual violence is not the responsibility of only one gender. Both males and females can play a valuable role in creating a safe and comfortable campus environment.
When we think about alternatives to vulnerability, we must be careful not to assume that there is always something a person "could have done" to prevent an assault. This is blaming the survivor. When a person is sexually assaulted, it is the assaulter who is to blame.
In addition, sexual assaults, including those committed by non-strangers, may be violent and unexpected. This means that even when a person is able to assert what s/he wants, there is no guarantee that his/her feelings will be respected.
There are no formulas that can absolutely guarantee our safety from sexual assault. In a situation that is becoming coercive or violent, the moment is often too confusing to plan an escape, and people react in various ways. Some will fight back. Others will not fight back for any number of reasons such as fear, self-blame, or not wanting to hurt someone who may be a close friend. While fighting and giving up are both extreme reactions, it is important to realize that any reaction is legitimate. Again, the burden of responsibility must be on the attacker, not the survivor.
Remember that non-stranger rape is a crime. It is never acceptable to use force in sexual situations, no matter what the circumstances.
- Be an active partner in a relationship. Arranging where to meet, what to do, and when to be intimate should all be shared decisions.
- Listen carefully. Take the time to hear what the other person is saying. If you feel s/he is not being direct or is giving you a "mixed message", ask for clarification.
- Know your sexual intentions and limits. You have the right to say "No" to any unwanted sexual contact. If you are uncertain about what you want, ask the person to respect your feelings.
- Communicate your limits firmly and directly. If you say "No", say it like you mean it. Don't give mixed messages. Back up your words with a firm tone of voice and clear body language.
- Don't assume that your date will automatically know how you feel, or will eventually "get the message" without your having to tell him or her.
- Don't fall for the common stereotype that when a person says "No" it really means "Yes". "No" means "No". If someone says "No" to sexual contact, believe it and stop.
- Remember that some people think that drinking heavily, dressing provocatively, or going to a person's room indicates a willingness to have sex. Be especially careful to communicate your limits and intentions clearly in such situations.
- Be aware that having sex with someone who is mentally or physically incapable of giving consent is rape. If you have sex with someone who is drugged, intoxicated, passed out, incapable of saying "No", or unaware of what is happening, you may be guilty of rape.
- Don't make assumptions about a person's behavior. Don't automatically assume that someone wants to have sex just because s/he drinks heavily, dresses provocatively, or agrees to go to your room. Don't assume that just because the other person has had sex with you previously s/he is willing to have sex with you again. Also don't assume that just because the person consents to kissing or other sexual intimacies s/he is willing to have sexual intercourse.
- Listen to you gut feelings. If you feel uncomfortable or think you may be at risk, leave the situation immediately and go to a safe place.
- Be especially careful in group situations. Be prepared to resist pressure from friends to participate in violent or criminal sexual acts.
- Attend large parties with friends you can trust. Agree to "look out" for one another. Try to leave with a group, rather than alone or with someone you don't know very well.
- Don't be afraid to "make waves" if you feel threatened. If you feel you are being pressured or coerced into sexual activity against your will, don't hesitate to state your feelings and get out of the situation. Better a few minutes of social awkwardness or embarrassment than the trauma of sexual assault.
- Get involved if you believe someone is at risk. If you see a person in trouble at a party or a friend using force or pressuring another person, don't be afraid to intervene. You may save someone from the trauma of sexual assault and your friend from the ordeal of criminal prosecution.
- Confront others' rape jokes and remarks; explain to others why these jokes are not funny and the harm they can cause.
- Confront other people's harassment--verbal or physical. Harassment is not experienced as flattery, but as a threat.
- Educate others about what rape really is. Help them to clear up any misconceptions they might have.
- Don’t hesitate to question suspicious persons in your dorm or residence, and ask who it is they are looking for.
- Confront potential rape scenes. When you see someone verbally harassing another person, stand by to see if the person being harassed needs help. If someone is hitting or holding a person against their will, do something immediately to help.
- When walking in groups or even alone be conscious as you approach another person. Be aware of how afraid that person might feel, and give him or her space on the street if possible.
- Be supportive of person's actions to control their own lives and make their own decisions. Don't be afraid to express these ideas.
- If someone you know has expressed violent feelings or demonstrated violent behavior in a particular relationship, help him or her find an appropriate person with whom to talk (such as a counselor, RA, etc).
A Student's Guide to Responding to Sexual Violence
Some Steps To Consider If You Are Assaulted:
- Get to a place where you feel safe.
- Tell someone you trust.
- Consider reporting the assault to Public Safety and/or to the Office of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility.
You may make a report even if you are uncertain whether you wish to file criminal or on-campus judicial charges.
- Consider getting a physical and forensic exam.
A qualified physician or nurse will examine you for injuries and collect physical evidence that could be used in criminal proceedings, if you decide to prosecute. Medication is also available to minimize the risk of contracting an STD or unwanted pregnancy.
If the assault occurred within the past 24 hours, don't bathe, don't change clothes or linens, and don't douche as this can destroy physical evidence of the assault. If you feel the need to change or clean up immediately, place all evidence in a brown paper bag and never in plastic as this may compromise the physical evidence. If stored properly this evidence may stay viable for an extended period of time, however it is advised that you take action within the first 72 hours.
- Seek counseling. Early intervention helps survivors recover. Student Counseling Services staff is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, as are off-campus resources.
What If It's A Friend Who Has Been Assaulted?
Understand the myths and realities of sexual assault.
Remember that sexual assault is an act of violence and aggression, and less about sexual needs or attraction. Survivors are never responsible for the assault even if they had been drinking, had been walking alone, had invited the assailant to their room, and so on. Asking questions about these issues, or about whether survivors fought back or called for help is not supportive, and might reinforce stereotypes about sexual assault.
Understand your friend's immediate and long-term needs and concerns.
Every assault survivor responds to the trauma in his or her own way. Don't assume you know what kind of support your friend would like. It's okay to ask! And don't worry that asking will remind him or her of the assault. Survivors don't forget the assault, and your concern will mean a lot. Even though circumstances and feelings vary, there are some common issues that survivors often confront. These include the need for medical attention, managing the emotional trauma, decisions about a forensic exam, concerns about STDs and pregnancy, wondering if or how to tell family and other friends, and decisions about reporting to the authorities. If the assailant was someone known to the survivor, the survivors might worry about encountering him or her in a class or on the campus. Ultimately your friend will value your support as he or she regains a sense of control, and returns to everyday activities.
Recognize and accept his/her feelings.
First and foremost, believe your friend! Ask how he or she is feeling and listen to what they tell you. There is no "right" way to respond to an assault, so don't be surprised and don't pressure your friend to feel as you think he or she "ought" to. He or she might feel anger, but guilt and shame also are common emotions, even though they are unwarranted. Your friend might worry about what others will think, and if the assault happened in the context of a relationship, he or she might even worry about the perpetrator's well being. Don't make supporting your friend contingent on their feeling a certain way or taking certain actions. Support their autonomy!
Recognize and accept your own feelings.
It's natural to have strong feelings if a friend has been assaulted, but your anger and your reactions shouldn't interfere with supporting your friend. You might have different feelings, or feel differently about your friend's choices but this isn't about you. Do take care of yourself and seek support if you need it. As a student, counseling services are available to you as well.
Communicate compassion and support.
Don't interrogate your friend about what happened, but do be available to talk if your friend wishes. Your role is not to be a detective, therapist or a judge; it is to be a support.
Survivors of sexual assault temporarily lose control over their life and body. It is important that their decisions are respected now, even if you disagree with their choices. Your friend may make different decisions than you would make and that is his or her right. Don't use pressure or guilt to coerce them into taking action.
If you are an intimate partner...
Don't pressure your partner to resume sexual activity before he or she is ready, but don't withdraw physically either. Understand that their responses and desires may be different (for a while) - this is also not about you! Do be open, receptive, patient and emotionally available.
Learn about supportive resources on campus and in the community.
Hofstra University Student Counseling Services provides psychological counseling to discuss emotional difficulties or personal concerns. Students can also be introduced to resources that offer specialized or additional services in the community.
Share a copy of this information with your friend!