Student Health hires new sexual assault prevention specialist

A 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities found 66 percent of females and 45 percent of males at USC experienced sexual harassment as an undergraduate. (Daily Trojan file photo)

Student Health Services hired a Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention specialist, who will arrive in late February to create a curriculum for students on affirmative consent, bystander awareness and other topics related to sexual violence and assault.

USC is working toward fostering a culture of consent by boosting sexual assault prevention techniques and education on campus. This is one of the goals in its 2017-2020 Strategic Plan.

RSVP Services is the immediate provider for students who have been victims of sexual assault, harassment or relationship violence.

“What we want to be able to do with the prevention specialist is [to] add capacity in this area and also to have someone who is really focusing their entire position on really looking at prevention,” Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman said.

A 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities found that 66 percent of undergraduate females and 45 percent of undergraduate males at USC reported being the victims of sexual harassment. It was also found that an estimated 25 percent of students  knew the resources available to them when reporting an assault.

“I think, for RSVP, what I wanted to do was raise our visibility on campus as a resource for both supportive services and advocacy, as well as prevention,” RSVP director Brenda Ingram said. “We haven’t had as strong as a voice on campus as we would like.”  

In 2014, USC launched an online module required for incoming students, titled “Think About It.”  The one-hour online course encourages students to participate in critical thinking about consent, relationships, sexual assault, bystander intervention and University resources by producing  multiple online scenarios for students.

While USC plans to keep the online module, it is looking to implement in-person training for incoming students that will continue throughout their time in college.

“[We] are in the process of developing what we are calling multiple doses of consent and healthy relationships and sexual assault prevention education,” said Diane Medsker, a senior learning and training specialist at the Office for Health Promotion Strategy.

Incoming freshmen will participate in the interactive workshop on campus in the upcoming semesters.

The University will pilot a workshop this fall titled “Affirmative Consent” that will teach students about current California consent laws. While the pilot program won’t be made mandatory for students, Ingram hopes to require it in addition to “Think About It” in upcoming years.

USC also hopes to increase bystander awareness and education by working with the organization Bringing in the Bystander. To start, 40 teachers and students will be trained on how to safely intervene in instances of sexual assault and relationship violence or situations such as stalking. Once trained, these students and teachers are certified to train other members on campus.

“It’s so easy to go into shock [as a bystander] and not be able to acknowledge what is happening right in front of you,” said Lizzie Keller, a sophomore majoring in cinema and media studies who uses RSVP services. “I think putting people in that mindset of being careful and paying attention to your surroundings would be really helpful.”

The Association of American Universities will conduct its study on sexual assault and sexual misconduct again in April 2019. Students at USC and 26 other universities will receive information to participate via email.  

“I really encourage everybody to … take the survey,” Van Orman said. “The information is really valuable and will really shape what we do on our campus.”