Sexual assault in college part 2: accountability and resources
Incidents of sexual assault and interpersonal violence are widespread across the country and on college campuses. We spoke with Liz Zadnik, associate director of the Wellness Resource Center, to learn more about how we can support ourselves and survivors of sexual assault.
Liz Zadnik, associate director of the Wellness Resource Center, supports campus efforts to address and prevent interpersonal violence at the university. She helped us understand how to define and understand sexual assault in an earlier conversation, and now she’s back to dig in deeper with more information about accountability and resources.
Nutshell: What resources do Temple students have access to in regard to sexual assault?
LZ: Students can seek out Tuttleman Counseling Services here at Temple for issues revolving around sexual violence. Tuttleman Counseling Services offers confidential support to all students and is currently offering virtual individual and group services. Confidential means what is shared stays between the student and therapist. Tuttleman has a staff unit specifically for survivors of interpersonal violence—they have specialized expertise in trauma and support. They also offer one-on-one therapy to students who’ve experienced sexual assault, either as students or before, because we bring our whole lives with us when we come to campus.
In the city, we have WOAR: Philadelphia’s Center Against Sexual Violence. It is one of the oldest rape crisis centers in the country. They have strong roots in Philadelphia and are always exploring innovative practices to contribute to healing and community well-being.
Both services also have support group sessions, because we know that the power of being with others who can relate to one’s experience can be transformative.
To build on Zadnik’s recommendations, check out this chart for a full list of support services on campus that you can go to if you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault.
Nutshell: What’s the most empathetic way to react if someone you know tells you they have been sexually assaulted?
LZ: There are two types of trauma: There is a primary traumatic experience, which refers to the victim, or a vicarious trauma experience.
When someone tells us they’ve been sexually assaulted, especially someone we care about, we can sometimes take their trauma as our own. Vicarious trauma is the absorption of that pain and it sometimes can be overwhelming to bear.
What you can do is release the need to fix what happened. What they choose to do is what’s best for them. If they do choose to report the incident, that’s their decision, but it’s also their decision to not report. As long as there is no intention to harm themselves or another person, you should validate their decision as they begin to heal.
Understand that the healing and response process is not linear. It’s very much dependent on the person, so as a friend, it's okay to not have advice or the perfect response. Be a source of support and a listening ear. You can say things like, “It makes sense that you’re really angry today,” or “It makes sense that you’re really sad today”—these phrases affirm the person’s feelings.
Let your friend know that you’re always going to be there for them. I think that’s what’s most important because these acts and experiences take away a person’s power. So however we as friends can help that person reestablish a sense of power is indispensable to their healing.
Nutshell: What can students do if they want to report an incident?
LZ: There are a number of ways that folks can choose to hold someone who’s hurt them accountable. If students want to report, they can always come into the Wellness Resource Center and talk to a member of the team. We help the student compose an email or whatever method the student feels comfortable with. Next, the Title IX coordinator, Andrea Seiss, will reach out and explain all of the different steps and options. So, someone could work with Andrea on interim measures. A student can receive housing accommodations, schedule changes, and assistance with communicating with professors in order to rearrange exams or assignments if needed.
Students can also pursue an investigation. A hearing is held, where students can access an advocate to assist them in the process. The person [being investigated] is then found responsible or not responsible. And if the incident does not fall under Title IX standards, the case would go into our Student Conduct and Community Standards Office, which would then conduct an investigation. The university would then hold the student accountable if they’re found responsible.
That is the university process. And then there’s the criminal justice process that can run concurrently, depending on the student’s needs. The incident can be reported to campus police or the Philadelphia Police Department directly. Also, there is the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center, which is where folks can get a forensic exam, or what’s often referred to as a rape kit.
Nutshell: Are there alternatives for achieving accountability without the university or criminal justice process?
LZ: Nationally, folks are exploring the idea of restorative practice and transformational justice, which are rooted in indigenous understandings of community accountability. When you harm another person in your community, you are harming that individual. And you’re also breaking a community contract. This method is centered around how we make folks feel and the best ways we can support them through community outreach and resources. It’s an interpersonal process and a community process. It’s still a relatively newer and emerging practice to the college campus context.
Accountability is a part of healing, and it is very individual. It’s what is going to give folks a sense of well-being and restoration. Some folks feel as though formal processes are our only forms of accountability. Some don’t. But the main objective comes back to healing and the idea of the victim reclaiming their power, and getting their life back. We encourage students to follow our social channels for more information on harm reduction and accountability.
Nutshell: What interpersonal violence prevention efforts does the Wellness Resource Center provide?
LZ: Two of our programs are focused on interpersonal violence. One which is on sexual assault prevention is called Building a Safer Nest. The other one on healthy relationships focuses on how to think about what you want from a relationship, as well as boundaries and communication. Both also cover how to support a friend who may not be in a healthy relationship, or who brings an experience of sexual assault to you. These services are available throughout the year and upon request.
We work with student orgs like It’s On Us TU, Temple Student Government and Feminist Alliance to make sure the programming is rooted in the student experience. Students can tune in for specific programming year round, such as in January for National Stalking Awareness Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
If students want to get involved as educators, we have a peer education program that we run in the office where Temple students become nationally certified peer educators and receive ongoing training and support to facilitate educational programs and events.
One of our goals with all of our prevention programming is to affirm student experiences. We’re hoping to invite members of the campus community to find a role for themselves in social change. This could be supporting a friend, holding someone accountable for an insensitive joke or comment and guiding them to a different point of view, or becoming a peer educator—we want to offer as many opportunities as we possibly can.