University’s R.A.P.E. Center helps students educate, protect themselves
University’s R.A.P.E. Center helps students educate, protect themselvesOctober 21, 2003Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
The environment of a college campus, by nature, provides a wide range of opportunities for students. In turn, this same environment can also pose many challenges. Students, particularly first-year students who are adjusting to college life, can be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is often the basis for sexual assault, and cases of rape and sexual abuse occur at Syracuse University, as well as other colleges and universities around the nation, each year. During the 2002-03 academic year, 31 cases of sexual assault were reported to the University Rape Advocacy, Prevention and Education (R.A.P.E.) Center by students. In each instance, the victim was either acquainted with or had encountered the perpetrator prior to the incident.
Of those 31 cases, first-year women were at the highest risk. Nearly 25 percent of the cases occurred within the first five weeks of the semester, and 84 percent involved alcohol or other drug use. Most victims of sexual assault are between the ages of 14 – 25, says Dessa Bergen-Cico, associate dean of students, and sexual assault is an issue that is of concern on all college campuses.
According to Bergen-Cico, SU is exceptionally well equipped to provide support and assistance to victims/survivors of sexual assault and help students learn to reduce their risk through the R.A.P.E. Center, an office within the Division of Student Affairs. Located in the lower level of the Health Center on 111 Waverly Ave., the center was established in 1990 to provide support to and advocate for victims of nonconsensual sexual activity and to educate students about sexual assault prevention.
“In our educational efforts, we are moving away from being problem-centered to a more positive wellness-based approach,” says Bergen-Cico. “We want the message to be less about negative messages and more about personal wellness and community health and safety.”
The services of the center, which operates with a small staff and a core group of volunteers, are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, according to associate director and advocate Janet Epstein. When a student seeks assistance after a sexual assault, the victims’ health and safety are immediately attended to, and victims are informed of medical, legal, judicial and counseling options. Advocates also accompany students to area medical facilities and law enforcement agencies. After the initial response, Epstein follows up with each victim, providing whatever support is needed, such as academic support, follow-up medical care, assistance with housing, or the need for counseling referrals.
Bergen-Cico and Epstein say that while the R.A.P.E. Center is the initial point of contact for victims, there are many other departments across the campus – including the Department of Public Safety, the Office of Judicial Affairs, and the Office of Residence Life – that work together to make the recovery process as smooth as possible.
While helping victims/survivors is the R.A.P.E. Center’s primary focus, the facilitation of education and prevention programs is also a priority. On Oct. 23, the Chancellor’s Commission on Substance Abuse Prevention and Campus Security and the Syracuse Area College Community Coalition will host a community education forum on Ecstasy and predatory drugs in conjunction with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s Operation X-Out initiative.
The upcoming forum is just one of a series of programs and initiatives that have been launched this semester to educate the campus community about the risk factors for sexual assault-including the use of alcohol, which Bergen-Cico and Epstein label as the “number one date-rape drug.”
During Syracuse Welcome 2003, more than 750 incoming students attended a discussion led by a national leader in violence prevention, Don McPherson, founder and executive director of the Sports Leadership Institute at Adelphi University and a former SU All-American quarterback. McPherson spoke to the students on gender, relationships, communication and responsible sexuality, as well as social and cultural influences that shape attitudes. Students were engaged in discussion about why sexual violence prevention is both a men’s and women’s issue. McPherson also spoke to students on campus last April.
The R.A.P.E. Center established and is continuing to work closely with A Men’s Issue (AMI), a men’s discussion group that has started on campus to examine societal attitudes that lead to sexual violence, and with fraternities to deliver the message that sexual violence is also a man’s issue, and encouraging men to step up and challenge others when they observe inappropriate behavior. Epstein has seen evidence of that message hitting home in the fact that members of fraternities are approaching the R.A.P.E. Center for assistance in learning how to challenge the behavior of their peers. AMI will host an informational table in the Schine Student Center Atrium on Oct. 22 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Also this semester, in collaboration with College Crime Watch, the R.A. P.E. Center has placed informational stickers on the doors of bathroom stalls-a place with maximum visibility-across campus that educate about the risk factors that could lead to sexual assault.
The R.A.P.E. Center and the Substance Abuse Prevention and Health Enhancement (S.A.P.H.E.) Office work collaboratively on programs and workshops on the connection between alcohol, other drugs associated with risky factors, and sexual assault. Education on the topic has also been injected into academics, particularly through curriculum infusion mini grants.
Also this year, the R.A.P.E. Center began work on reviving e5m (“every five minutes”), an interactive peer theater group that presents scenarios and engages the audience in open discussion about social and cultural attitudes that foster sexual violence. The group will begin performing during the Spring 2004 semester.
Epstein is currently seeking faculty and staff volunteers to become advocates and serve as part of the R.A.P.E. Center’s response team. Training will begin in January. For information, contact Epstein at 443-7273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the 2002-03 academic year, 31 cases of sexual assault were reported to the University R.A.P.E. Center by Syracuse University students. According to Dessa Bergen-Cico, associate dean of students, awareness of the trends identified by the R.A.P.E. Center’s analysis can help students protect themselves and their peers.
- Perpetrators were most likely to be Syracuse University students.
- Incidents were most often acquaintance rapes.
- First-year women were at the highest risk, accounting for 42 percent of the cases reported to the R.A.P.E. Center.
- Nearly 25 percent of the cases occurred within the first five weeks of the Fall semester.
- Alcohol or other drug use was a factor in 84 percent of all incidents of sexual assault; 26 incidents involved alcohol, with nine of these incidents involving a combination of alcohol and other drugs. Date rape drug facilitation was suspected in 10 incidents. Alcohol or other drug use was a factor for the perpetrator and/or the victim/survivor.
- 35 percent of reported incidents occurred on campus.