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Presidential task force to advise universities on sexual assault

By Marissa Stipek
On January 31, 2014

President Obama recently launched a task force to fight rape and sexual assault on college campuses across the nation. The task force, which includes the Secretary of Education, Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General, will set guidelines for how colleges can raise awareness, as well as develop protocols, for handling situations of sexual assault.

Rebecca Getson, Miami's sexual assault response coordinator, leads a team that addresses attacks occurring in Oxford.

"I reach out to every survivor," Getson said. "There is a handful of additional people, to get them the assistance that they need and to make sure that we are doing everything we can. But just a handful of people need to know."

Getson said incidents are handled on a case-by-case basis.

"We have a lot of options, and it depends on what the survivor needs," Getson said. "We give them as much information as we can in order to cover physical and emotional well-being. For example, if the offender is a fellow Miami student, we work to make sure they aren't living in the same dorm, or in the same classroom with the survivor if that was the case."

Getson also works to prepare others to handle crisis situations.

Samantha Brooks, Graduate Resident Director in Minnich Hall, said herself and other resident assistants (RA) are trained in crisis management in July before students arrive on campus. The training includes how to deal with rape and sexual assault.

"Part is counseling related - we learn to identify changes to look for in a survivor. For example, if their grades are off or social life is different," Brooks said.

Once those in need are identified, the staff is equipped to provide support.

"We are taught how to talk to them and what to say," Brooks said. "We tell them that they are not alone, and that it is not their fault."

Brooks said training has helped her feel more prepared to handle real-life situations.

If an assault occurs on campus, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Miami University Police Department. If it happens Uptown, it is under the jurisdiction of the Oxford Police Department.

"We can talk to the police, but the university itself cannot press charges," Getson said. "We work parallel with [the police] to make sure we cover everything."

Getson is optimistic about Obama's new plan and said it's a great opportunity to put a spotlight on the issue of campus rape and assault.

"Last year, [President Obama] authorized the Campus Save Act, which expands what universities need to do," Getson said. "We are currently getting recommendations for response and prevention. Hopefully the task force will assist with this, and we can see across the nation what is lacking and what we can do to improve."

Getson said Miami is focusing on improving educational efforts.

"We want to provide awareness about what is sexual assault, teach about what is and what is not healthy behavior," Getson said.

Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS) is another organization on campus that aims to educate male students on sexual assault.

"This semester, we probably gave about 10 programs to different dorms, fraternities and sports teams," junior MARS member Bobby Miller said.

According to Miller, MARS is comprised of 10 to 12 members.

"We want to teach people how to recognize if they are gaining consent or not, and what to do if they see a situation," Miller said.

Miller said he would like to see MARS reach out to more people and gain more visibility on campus.

Brooks said she would like to see equal enforcement of policies regardless of the perpetrators roles or positions on campus.

"Often times, people think of rape as a gray area when really a line has been crossed and a student's health has been harmed," Brooks said. "It is frustrating to see that not properly dealt with."

Getson said she believes campus rape and sexual assault are preventable.

"How long it will take depends on how much time and education are necessary to change the culture," Getson said.

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