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  • Marissa Burr

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month: here are the resources available on campus

By Marissa Burr, Opinion Editor

As of tomorrow, March will end and April will begin, making it Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States. In the same country, every 68 seconds someone is a victim of the crime, and when someone is a student on a college campus, there is a 13% chance they will be sexually assaulted during their time there, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Canisius is not exempt from this statistic, but there are support services in place to help those who have been affected by sexual violence on and off campus.

Student Health Center

Located in the basement of Frisch Residence Hall, the Student Health Center houses many professionals who are equipped with training to help victims who come to them in the immediate aftermath of their assault. Students can walk in, make an appointment or call; not much information will be taken until someone is in the confidential space of the office.

“You can definitely start here,” Director of Student Health Tracie Barletta said. At the Health Center, only the details wished to be shared are asked about. They intend to get the information they need in order to provide the best quality care for the victim.

Unless the injuries are extensive, a victim does not need to go to the hospital, but visiting one right away will be encouraged by doctors. The Health Center can arrange rides over to a hospital with Public Safety and arrange for a trusted individual to accompany a victim there. The tests that need to be run are time sensitive, with their effectiveness for both health and forensic purposes ranging only 36 to 120 hours after the event. The tests also need to be performed by a sexual assault nurse examiner rather than by anyone on Canisius’s campus. Regarding preserving test accuracy, Barletta encourages those who have been assaulted to “do it all once and the right way” to avoid possible retraumatization.

The Health Center can connect victims with the other resources around campus to help them after they have left the doors of their office. The Title IX Office, Public Safety and the Counseling Center work collaboratively with them to give students the best care available. Barletta said, “Reach out to the resources that are available: you don't have to do this alone. You don't have to be alone with your thoughts and feelings and memories.”

Title IX Office

The Title IX Office — housed under Frisch when heading to the Student Center — is the Canisius’s center for handling sex- and gender-based misconduct, including sexual violence. In her role as the Title IX coordinator as well as the associate dean of students, Debbie Owens educates staff at Canisius on these issues so they can be prepared for any outcries. She also has direct contact with anybody who wishes to report their sexual assault directly to her office.

Once they do so, Owens assesses what they may need at the moment. Owens said she takes it slowly, providing comfort as well as information on the scope of her abilities. Students are encouraged by Owens to reach out to her personally: “Coming to see me is so extremely important because it’s the best avenue to getting assistance.”

The ways the Title IX Office can help vary depending on the individual cases and are always in-tune with what the victims intentions after their assault are. They range from immediate transfer to medical facilities for care if necessary to education on the legal process if a victim wishes to file a report, as well as the accommodations on campus that can be made.

Owens is aware that while a lot of incidents do not come across her desk, the ones that do don’t always end in adjudication — the legal procedure of a judge deciding on the case — or go through the justice system at all. The process is a long one and can be very hard on a victim, and these aren’t details that Owens holds back when a student expresses their intent to begin. After explaining the possibilities of what they’ll have to go through, many are dissuaded.

According to Owens in regards to why students are hesitant to come to her, “They may think I’m going to force or strongly encourage them to report, or make them feel bad for not doing so.” In fact, Owens said, she is just providing facts about the possible unsatisfactory result. No matter what they choose, though, “I am going to be with them through every step of the process,” she said.

Even if a student has no desire to pursue any legal action against their assaulter, the Title IX Office can still provide a lot of assistance. For starters, accommodations may be necessary or wanted if the involved parties spend time on campus together. Depending on the housing situation, one may be moved to a new building, and in that case Owens would work out a schedule for both parties in order to make sure they interact as little as possible; this can include visits to the fitness center, dining hall and even classes. The decisions aren’t punitive for those involved, which means the process will not favor one party over the other. If a class or important event is missed because of an incident, the Title IX Office can have it be excused and made up with an email as long as it is within the scope of Canisius College, as well. Owens said, “If we control it, we’re going to accommodate it.”

No matter where a students starts, any resource on campus will encourage them to contact Owens because she plays such an integral role in helping students in these situations. Her actions are completely student-centered, in their best interest and comply with what they’re comfortable with. She will keep working with them until they’re satisfied with what she was able to do for them, “as long as at the end of that they feel safer and they can go about their educational activities,” said Owens.

Public Safety

Similar to the way the Health Center and Title IX Office are located under Frisch, Public Safety’s headquarters are located under Bosch. Those providing campus protection are trained about talking with those who have been sexually assaulted, and their first step once hearing about it is to ensure there is no immediate threat or danger to the individual or anyone else. “We will work to organize the investigation, facilitate communication and provide resources for treatment and assistance,” said Director of Public Safety Kim Beaty in an emailed interview.

Under their job description, they are mandated reporters and must do so to the Title IX Office. From there, as Public Safety continues their investigation and outside groups — such as the Buffalo Police Department if the student wishes to file a complaint through them — do so as well, Title IX and the other campus resources will ensure that both parties “receive equitable treatment and services,” Beaty said.

Included in this is the option to have contact with a same-sex officer during any point in the reporting process if it makes the victim more comfortable. They are willing and able to provide any accommodations they have available within their staff to help, and this possible request is one of the many reasons that Beaty has built a diverse staff on campus. Much like how the Health Center can arrange transport to a medical facility after an assault if treatment is needed, Public Safety will do the same.

When asked if she had anything else to comment on assaults on campus, Beaty expressed, “I hope the student body is aware that Public Safety is here to assist them in making the most of their educational and living experience on campus and in the community. We are here to serve with their best interests and safety in mind.” This applies to both in everyday life, as well as with situations like sexual violence.

Counseling Center

The Counseling Center in the main level of Bosch is available to students at all times, regardless of whether it’s by appointment or needing to speak to an on-call counselor through Public Safety if it is after hours. Scheduling a visit can be done over the phone, online by filling out a form or by attending drop-in hours from 3 to 4 p.m. every day; all of this information can also be found on the Canisius website. Visiting the Counseling Center can be something a student can do at any point in the aftermath of a sexual assault, and they will be met with trained professionals who are prepared to provide them with trauma-informed care.

The Counseling Center is a completely confidential space that students can go to, and nothing will leave without written consent. Every step is based on the comfortability of the victim, and the counselors will work with them. On-campus counselor Charita Price said, “We meet them wherever they are in the healing process — our first [priority] is we want them to feel safe and in control. It varies depending on the needs of the student.”

Whether it is in the immediate moments following an assault or even years later, the Counseling Center is always there to help; it’s just a matter of the people involved reaching out to them. As statistics across the board show that only a small percentage of sexual assaults are reported, Price is more than aware that not everyone will. In her opinion, there are a few reasons that she sees often when people don’t wish to report: “Sometimes sexual assaults are confusing for a survivor, and because we know that the majority of sexual assaults between the ages of 18–24 occur by someone the victim knew and trusted, […] they don't necessarily know how to process it.” She talked about the stigma and fear surrounding what will happen if they report or share it because of the uncertainty. Price summed it all up by referring to it as the “then what?” that goes through a victim’s mind.

Reducing the number that go unreported — and hopefully, within enough time, the amount of sexual assaults altogether — can be made possible by reaching out to trusted loved ones or resources on campus: this includes Canisius’s community, which is not immune to this issue. By discussing the events more and getting the proper help in the following moments, not only can students be assured that they are not going through this alone, but the stigma around talking about them can be lessened. Price reminds others that the Counseling Center does not only help the victims of sexual assault, but everyone who is affected. Even those who haven’t experienced it themselves play a vital role. Being an active bystander and believing and supporting those who have been victimized is so important. “It is so important for us to continue to create a campus community about safety and respect for one another and looking out for each other,” she said.

So, as Canisius enters Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the campus approaches spring break, remember the rules of consent require an enthusiastic yes from both parties, and that if there is any uncertainity, it is better to just abstain from any actions that may be regretted later. Cura personalis is a core value of Canisius College — care for the whole person. If you are the victim of sexual assault, do not be afraid to get help. There are many people ready and willing to help you in the process. You may have been victimized, but more importantly you are a survivor. Price wants all students to know, “We are here for you… We are here to support you in your healing and through your decision making and every step of the way.”

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