Emory strengthens efforts to stem relationship violence

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Oct. 22, 2013

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In recognition of Relationship Violence Awareness month, Emory offers a series of events, rolls out new campus strategies and releases a video. Emory Photo/Video.

Violence among intimate partners is a pervasive public health problem, but one that Emory University is confronting through prevention, education, and now, a newly strengthened system for reporting and responding to sexual assault.

In recognition of Relationship Violence Awareness Month, the Emory Intimate Partner Violence Working Group is co-hosting a series of campus-wide events and trainings throughout October intended to raise awareness around the impact of relationship violence and address ways to prevent it.  

This month, relationship violence will also be spotlighted as never before, with the release of a video message to the campus community featuring top Emory administrators "describing our commitment to ending violence on the Emory campus," says Carolyn Livingston, senior associate vice president of Campus Life and Title IX coordinator for students.  

The video, set for release this month, marks a first for Emory, Livingston says: "It's moving the dialogue to the forefront, saying we welcome discussion by communicating to the broader community that everyone has a role. As a bystander, student, faculty or staff member – you certainly have a role in changing this culture."  

Campus goal: Ending sexual violence  

Among programs that address relationship violence on U.S. campuses, Emory has emerged as a leader, employing a broad-based response that includes peer advocates, support services, acclaimed awareness campaigns, a national conference, and a campus-wide working group with roots in nearly 20 organizations, offices and divisions.

"For me, what's been fruitful over the last couple of years is addressing response and reporting on campus," says Lauren "L.B." Bernstein, assistant director of the Respect Program, which works to prevent and respond to sexual assault and relationship violence at Emory.

"But that's a small piece of a broader picture across the prevention continuum," she adds. "While it's really critical to respond to incidents of crisis, primary prevention asks us what we can do educate our campus community, providing proactive measures, stopping violence before it starts."

The vision? "No less than ending sexual violence on this campus," she states, acknowledging that it's an ambitious goal.

According to a 2013 Emory Security Report released this month, 25 forcible sexual offenses were reported on Emory's main campus in 2012; none were reported on the Oxford campus.

While that figure represents nearly twice as many cases as were reported in 2011, Bernstein says it also reflects a measure of success in creating a climate where students feel comfortable reporting sexual violence — a critical first step in addressing a larger issue.

"When it comes to statistics, it's a matter of reporting versus prevalence," she says. "For me, those numbers going up is intentional, part of a strategy to define the problem in order to work to prevent it. It's not that there was a rash of incidents — they're coming to us because there is a decreased stigma about coming forward."  

This year, the Respect Program will continue to focus on support and peer advocacy training — they've just trained their 1,000th volunteer — while working "proactively through Residential Life, Greek Life and Freshman Orientation" to prioritize prevention, Bernstein says.  

Title IX strengthens the cause  

To cultivate a safe community, Emory has also taken steps to strengthen and centralize its system for reporting and responding to sexual misconduct.  

Last August, President James Wagner charged a working group to review University policies, procedures and practices related to Title IX, a clause in the 1972 Educational Amendments which states that no person can be denied the benefits of a federally funded educational program or activity on the basis of gender.  

In 2011, the federal government made it clear to U.S. colleges and universities that gender-based sexual violence is now considered a form of gender-based discrimination — information that only served to strengthen their charge, Livingston says.  

Recommendations from the working group have already resulted in:  

  • A more centralized adjudication process for handling sexual misconduct complaints on campus;

  • Training around adjudicating sexual misconduct;

  • The appointment of Danielle Dempsey-Swopes as Title IX coordinator; Livingston was named Title IX coordinator for students. Deputy Title IX coordinators have also been appointed at each school.

  • Creation of a Sexual Misconduct Resource Team to review sexual misconduct incidents with key campus partners.

  • The launch of a centralized online resource: sexualmisconductresources.emory.edu.

  • Appointment of a new full-time staff member within the Respect Program, to partner with key offices and student groups on campus.

"I think the message is we're building community on this campus and sexual violence is antithetical to our community," Livingston says.  

"The important thing is knowing that we are engaged in very thoughtful discussions about sexual violence — not only on this campus, but also nationally — and everybody can contribute to that discussion," she adds.  "It's how we build community, and everybody has a role."  

Events bring awareness

October's calendar of events and activities for Relationship Violence Awareness Month offer many avenues for engagement, including:

  • Tuesday, Oct. 22 —Gender Against Men Film and Discussion, Psychology and Interdisciplinary Sciences 230, 7 p.m. Part of the Institute for Developing Nations' Sexual Violence, War, and Reconciliation Film Series.

  • Wednesday, Oct. 23 —What Can I Do? When Intimate Partner Violence Touches My Life, Noon -1 p.m. Emory University Hospital, Classroom D. DeMett Jenkins, a chaplain with Emory's Center for Pastoral Services, and Paula Gomes, a psychologist and executive director of Emory's Faculty Staff Assistance Program, tell how to address concerns about a friend, family member, colleague or patient impacted by domestic violence.

  • Wednesday, Oct. 23 — Sexual Assault Peer Advocate (SAPA) Training, DUC Alumni room, 6 to 8 p.m. Provides guidance in how to help survivors. Open to all undergraduate and graduate students. RSVP requested.

  • Thursday, Oct. 24 —Scholarship and Partner Violence, School of Nursing, Noon to 1 p.m.

  • Monday, Oct. 28 —Take Back the Night Rally and Speak Out, DUC Terraces, 5:30 p.m.  The campus community convenes to hear stories of survivors, told in person or anonymously, and learn how they can be a part of ending sexual violence and supporting survivors. Those interested in presenting their story may contact lauren.bernstein@emory.edu or submit a story anonymously.

  • Wednesday, Oct. 30 —  What Can I Do? When Intimate Partner Violence Touches My Life, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Noon to 1 p.m. Practical steps for addressing concern for those you care about, co-facilitated by Gomes and Jenkins.

  • Wednesday, Oct. 30 — Pedagogy Meets Performance: Interrogating Male Intimate Partner Violence Against Women, Woodruff Library, Jones Room, 4 to 6:30 p.m., featuring Donna Troka, associate director Center for Faculty Development and Excellence and Ulester Douglas, instructor with the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and Men Stopping Violence.

It's intentionally a robust calendar of events, meant to engage the community at many levels, Bernstein acknowledges.

"Statistics indicate that one in four women and one in 33 men will be affected by relationship violence in their lifetimes," she says. "Relationship violence affects everyone in our community, and we can all be a part of ending it."