Respect Program strives to prevent, end sexual violence

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Sep. 14, 2012

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An Issues Troupe performance during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Photo courtesy of the Emory University Respect Program.

When considering a new name for Emory’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Program, Coordinator Lauren Bernstein sought a single, powerful word to reflect both the essence of the campus program and its commitment to student engagement and involvement.

So it was fitting that the solution came, quite naturally, from a student.

This fall, the program continues with a new name — the Emory University Respect Program — and a renewed emphasis on engaging the campus community to prevent and respond to sexual assault and violence.

The idea for the program’s new identity came from Emory College sophomore Kaylee Tuggle, a student intern, who observed that sexual assault prevention grows from respect for individuals and boundaries, Bernstein explains.

The word reflects a unified focus for the program under a new strategic plan, which aspires to not only support survivors, but also to educate and train students as leaders who will create “a community where all students learn, work and play without experiencing or fearing sexual assault or relationship violence,” she says.

National statistics indicate that one in four women and one in 33 men will experience sexual assault sometime during their college years, Bernstein notes.

Yet, Bernstein acknowledges that not all survivors of sexual or relationship violence will go to the police or even acknowledge it to friends. “We want to see that change,” she says. “With the work of our student advocates, students are now talking to other students, getting help, saying ‘This isn’t okay and you’re not alone’.”

At college campuses across America, most sexual assaults and the highest risk of alcohol abuse will occur within the first six weeks of the fall semester — a time frame is often referred to as “the red zone.”

“Students are new to campus, which means individuals who perpetrate violence can sometimes prey upon them, and they are also figuring out boundaries,” she says. “While there is a lot that is amazing about that experience — as they’re getting to know people — it can be a particularly critical time.”

Student leadership has become a growing component within the Respect Program, an initiative of the Office of Health Promotion’s Student Health and Counseling Services, Bernstein observes.

In addition to student interns, the program offers sexual assault peer advocacy training, advocacy services, consultations, medical and long-term emotional care.

One of the latest student-led success stories is “I am Tired of the Silence,” a student-produced video posted to YouTube and the first in the program’s new Project Unspoken series.

The eight-minute video, produced as a summer intern project by Emory College senior Caleb Peng, explores the question: “What do you do on a daily basis to avoid rape, sexual assault or harassment?”

When put to both male and female students, faculty and staff — including Emory President James W. Wagner— the answers underscore vast gender differences around the issue.

“There are few high quality videos available for free on YouTube about sexual assault,” Bernstein says. “We are hoping this video will go viral to raise awareness about sexual assault and gender-based violence.”

Besides drawing more than 3,500 views on YouTube, the video has attracted the interest of other universities, sexual assault prevention programs, educators, and inquiries from the White House’s Office of Violence Against Women, Bernstein says.

For more information about the Respect Program, visit www.bewellexcel.org. Those who’ve been affected by sexual assault or relationship violence and seek support are encouraged to call Bernstein at 404-727-1514.