Staying Safe: Experts Address Sexual Assault on College Campuses

By Alex Hutchins of sister site

Here are three tips that New Canaan’s Margie Hahn, a Villanova University student, says every rising college freshman from town should keep in his or her back pocket:

  1. Find and familiarize yourself with on-campus resources.
  2. Identify someone whom you feel comfortable talking to.
  3. Surround yourself with people that you respect and rely on who will be there for you and help you out.

Margie also noted how much pride she feels seeing New Canaan’s adamant support for giving students the tools and knowledge they need before going off to college.

“As somebody that was working to be a part of the solution here in New Canaan for so many years, it really prides me that New Canaan is so adamant about giving the students these tools and the knowledge they need going into university,” Ms. Hahn said Monday during a special press conference on campus sexual assault that included town, school and nonprofit leaders.

From left to right: Acting Superintendent Dr. Bryan Luizzi, College Career Coach Dede Bartlett,  First Selectman Rob Mallozzi III discuss the problem of sexual assault on college campuses.

Joined by First Selectman Rob Mallozzi and NCHS Acting Superintendent Dr. Bryan Luizzi, local experts such as Dede Bartlett, co-chair of the New Canaan Domestic Violence Partnership and Setta Mushegian, the current Director of Counseling and Advocacy at The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education in Stamford stressed the importance of educating students in an environment where safety is taken seriously.

“We want kids to start thinking about whether or not their campus takes sexual assault seriously,” Ms. Mushegian said. “We know that if campuses take it seriously, kids will take it seriously. It’s all about creating that safe space and safe culture for our kids. Our hope is that kids will be in a much safer space and more able to learn, which is really why they go to college in the first place.”

From left to right: Community Educator Christopher Carlino, Youth and Family Services Specialist Kate Boyle, Villanova Student Margie Hahn, Youth and Family Services Coordinator Jacqui D'Louhy, Director of Counseling and Advocacy at The Center in Stamford Setta Mushegian, and Sgt. Carol Ogrinc sit and discuss ways of staying safe on college campuses. Photo Credit: Michael Dinan

Additionally, Jacqui D’Louhy of the New Canaan Department of Human Services noted the importance of parents keeping an open line of communication with their kids while they’re away from home.

“Kids should be in contact with their parents. And in this day and age with FaceTime and other forms of communication, you have no reason not to connect with your parents on a weekly basis ,” Ms. D’Louhy said. “It’s also important for kids to create a list of emergency contacts that you can rely on if something happens, just as you might have a safety plan at your home if there was a fire.”

During the press conference, D’Louhy distributed information packets with quick facts and prevention tips surrounding sexual assault.

Data on Sexual Assault

Questions to Ask at Orientation

  • Does your campus have a sexual assault crisis center, women’s center or something similar that offers counseling and advocacy services?
  • Does the student health center offer SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence) kits?
  • What are your reporting options?
  • Who can you speak to confidentially?

The recently passed federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE, effective in March):

  • Improves the complaint and reporting process for victims;
  • Guarantees victims enhanced rights;
  • Sets standards for disciplinary proceedings;
  • Requires campus-wide prevention education programs

Bartlett, a career coach to university students and an advocate of domestic violence prevention also noted just how crucial these discussions about sexual assault are in the long run. “I think the overlying and overriding message of all of this is that ignorance is not an option,” Ms. Bartlett said. “There is such a tragic consequence if we don’t get this message out, if these conversations with parents and their kids don’t happen because all of us know who work in this area and who have friends in this area that the wounds of sexual assault can and do last a lifetime. And we don’t want this to happen to our kids.”