Sexual violence and sexual harassment (SV/SH) can affect people of any and all genders. On college campuses, the prevalence of experiencing violence and/or harassment in its numerous forms rises—close to 3 in 10 females, 1 in 10 males and 3 in 10 TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) students have experienced sexual assault while in college. The chances are high that you already know people in your life who have been sexually assaulted and/or sexually harassed: in high school, in college, at your workplace, at the mall, on public transport, on social media, and in countless other locations.
If you want to act to make your organization a truly safe space for survivors of SV/SH or to protect members from potential violence and/or harassment, this is the article to give you an idea of where to start.
- Meet with CARE
Start a conversation today. Your organization does not need to be directly aligned with causes of social justice for this to be relevant! The simplest first step is to arrange for members to attend a workshop presentation by our Campus Assault and Resource Education (CARE). You can choose to sign up for a common offering, or tailor it to meet your organizational needs via the intake form. Allocate some specific time to carry out this workshop and spend some time considering what your members would and should like to learn. If you work closely with youths, for example, perhaps learning how to support survivors and witnesses to interpersonal violence would be important. As a baseline, I think that it is critical that we (i) educate ourselves on all available campus and off-campus resources, and (ii) dispel myths about 'what counts' as SV/SH and (iii) understand the broad range of effects of SV/SH on the individual.
- Make Use of Breakout Rooms
When you are trying to lead conversations or discuss topics that are potentially triggering to survivors, establish a breakout room system and place one or two moderators in the breakout room at all times. Where survivors or witnesses to SV/SH are overwhelmed by the content that is discussed, they may take a break by escaping to the breakout room—no questions asked. This is just one way of being mindful of the fact that anyone might be a survivor and that everyone deserves to be acknowledged and compassionately treated in times of emotional distress.
- Create a System for Accountability
Follow through after you've had that initial conversation. Have a clear, publicly listed system in place where you're able to outline the processes of accountability present within the organization. This could look like establishing anonymous channels for reporting or creating protocol that includes baseline penalties to enforce upon perpetrators of assault and harassment, like investigation of the alleged perpetrator, termination of membership, or barring of presence. Be consistent in letting members know that this system exists for their benefits and to enhance their feelings of security.
- Take Firm Action
Be ready to protect members in your organization that have been subjected to abuse. After you have ensured that all current and newly recruited members have signed and acknowledged the existence of these guidelines for conduct, you should be actively taking firm action against known perpetrators and/or organizations that have chosen to ignore the issue. It is critical that the guidelines are frequently reviewed and enforced to upkeep the safe space that is created. It is also a good idea to update members when changes are made to various resources—for instance, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) now offers an unlimited number of tele-therapy sessions.
- Instate a Welfare Officer
In the long-term, it might be cumbersome to remember to maintain these systems of accountability and coordinate future efforts to enhance them. Hence, it is critical to instate a Welfare Officer in your executive committee to oversee the implementation of these measures. In addition to receiving adequate training to essentially be a first-responder to instances of SV/SH, where they are equipped to share with survivors the various options at their disposal, they may also collaborate with other Welfare Officers to share on best practices and strengthen each other's work.
Instead of having to turn to one or two unfamiliar faces for support, I would like for us to look to a future where every space is a safe, inviting and empowering space for survivors. Taking that first step may be daunting because advocacy is difficult when people seem unwilling to have the necessary conversations—but all you can do is your best. Talk to your organization's executive committee or other members of your organization and educate yourself with the existing CARE resources.
Justice can look and feel like different things to different people, but loneliness is universal. What you can personally do is make sure survivors know that they are never alone.