Thursday, April 9, 2015

The School Counselor: Sexual Assault Advocate

Thursday, April 9, 2015
Imagine going across the state line to attend a party hosted by an assistant football coach for the popular Big Red football team. When you arrive, you are constantly supplied with alcohol until you are totally wasted.  In your haze, you decide to leave that party with a group of football players to go to a second party.  On the
Steubenville, Ohio Big Red Football Team
way, you get sick, pass out, and are digitally assaulted by one of the players.  When you arrive at the second party, you are undressed, forced to have oral sex, and you are digitally molested by another player.  While you are assaulted, other participants take photos and post them on Facebook and Instagram. The next morning you wake up undressed in a strange basement with one of the football players.  As you finally make it home, you hear about what happened and you immediately text one of the players confronting him about the alleged assault.  Following the days after the assault, you are harassed online and at school, the football players are protected by school officials and coaches as they begin an elaborate coverup, and the police refuse to investigate your allegations.  As word gets out about the assault, a group of social media bloggers take the allegations viral demanding justice.  When the assailants are finally brought to justice, the news media exposes your name and sympathizes with the assailants.

The Assault Lifetime Movie
Is this a Lifetime movie? No, unfortunately this is a true story based on the Steubenville sexual assault case. However, there was a Lifetime movie called the Assault based on this case and the word is that Brad Pitt and his production company are planning to make a movie based on the social blogger who brought the case out in the open . The purpose of this blog is not to discuss this case (I discussed this in an earlier blog), but to address the negligence of the school staff who failed to report the assault and the lack of education of the students.

 In this case, six adults were charged with failing to report the assault and this case may be the one that highlights the responsibilities of school officials to report sexual assault. The Attorney General of Ohio discovered, through the testimonies of the students in the Steubenville case, that the students were ignorant of the definition of rape, unaware of how or who to report the rape, and many refused to cooperate with authorities. Experts believe there is a need for education for both staff and students around sexual assault and violence.

What is sexual assault?

In my macrocosm, I have some experience working with students who have been victims of sexual assault or violence.  Working as a school counselor, I have discovered that sexual violence is not just harassment or rape, but can occur in many different ways. RAINN and NSVRC have identified the many faces of sexual violence:

Rape
Acquittance rape
Child sexual abuse
Dating violence
Drug facilitated sexual violence
Military sexual trauma
Hate crime
Incest
Unwanted touching/contact
Male sexual violence
Partner rape
Sexual exploitation by a helping professional
Sexual harassment
Stalking
Stranger rape
Voyeurism
Exhibitionism
Exploitation 
Masturbating in public
Human Trafficking

Statistically, 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18 with the highest risk years between the ages of 12-34. In addition to females, 5% of males in grades 9-12 have been the victims of sexual violence. Another eye opening fact about sexual assault is that the majority of victims know their attacker or their attacker is a family member. In addition, sexual assaults often occur one mile from the victim's home or in the  home.  Although high numbers of sexual assaults occur among secondary aged students, secondary schools often lack sufficient systems of reporting or dealing with sexual abuse. According the the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sexual assaults, including rape, is the most under reported crime
Source: RAINN

Sexual assault has devastating effects on its victims. RAINN has found that victims are...

3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
4 times more likely to commit suicide.
6 times more likely to have PTSD.
13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
26 times more likely to use substances.
           
According to a US News and World Report article, the secondary education system does not have a common prevention education program about sexual assault, a standard protocol for reporting assaults, or protocols of who should make the call to report the assault.  In fact, protocols vary from state to state, system to system, and school to school.  Because of this insufficient system, 80% of high school counselors feel ill-equipped to to deal with sexual abuse reporting.  However, under Title IX public schools have the responsibility to protect the rights of girls from discrimination which include all forms of sexual and gender based violence. This includes protecting students from unwelcome conduct that is considered undesirable or offensive.  In addition, the Department of Education states that just because a student accepts the conduct or willingly participated in the behavior doesn't mean that it was welcomed. 

 Under Title IX schools must:

1. protect the educational rights and well-being of students:
  •  in class, in the school building, on field trips, extracurricular activities, and on school buses.
  •  before, during, and after an investigation of gender based violence.
2. investigate a student complaint immediately, even if the police are conducting their investigation and...
  • keep the student safe from verbal or physical harassment from other staff or students.
  • create a safety plan.
  •  enforce any restraining orders.
3. notify the student when an investigated is being conducted and what happened with the investigation.

4.  inform the student how the investigation was carried out (if the other student was transferred, expelled, or ordered to stay away from the victim).

Under Title IX, the school must not:

1.  force the students to work it out.

2.  force the student to change schools, buses, or classes.

3. make the student leave the team or extracurricular activity.

4. change the educational environmental where the student would not receive an equal education.

5. delay or pressure the student to wait to file a complaint.



Source: ACLU Gender Based Fact Sheet for Schools

Reporting Sexual Assault

Taking a report of sexual harassment or assault is important. Often times, as school counselors, we are the first to see the students and we tend to be clueless about sexual assault reporting.  Whether
you are in the role of taking a report or making sure the student gets to the right person, it is important to know the right protocol.

A suggested protocol includes:

1.  Listen to the student respectfully.
2.  Avoiding judging or blaming the student.
3.  Answer questions fully and acknowledge when you do not know the information to a question.
4.  Advise the student to document the incident in writing in as much details as possible.
5.  Advise students about their rights according to Title IX.
6.  Assist students if they wish to report their incident.
7.  Check up on the student and remind them to report any additional harassment.
Source: Crossing the Line

The Role of the School Counselor in Sexual Assault Advocacy

According to ASCA Ethical Guidelines, school counselors have the responsibility to know the laws, regulations, and policies related to students and strive to protect and inform them of their rights (ASCA Ethical Standard, A.1.d). According to Lester and Durham, school counselors have the ability to ensure that schools follow the legal and ethical mandates when reporting sexual assault and violence. As an advocate, school counselors must be willing to move beyond the "nice counselor syndrome" and even challenge administrations' illegal reporting policies. 

Under the ASCA Competencies, school counselors can advocate for victimized students in the area of responsive, school-wide, and system services. In responsive services, school counselors can help students identify their protective factors to promote resilience, self esteem, self efficacy, and hope for the future. In school-wide support advocacy, the school counselor advocates for collaborative relationships with professionals inside and outside of the school that support a comprehensive and coordinated response system. Finally, the school counselor can identify obstacles that prevent their colleagues from making adequate reports by advocating for better protocols and response systems. Finally, bringing awareness to sexual violence in the school and community may bring about the much needed change needed in secondary schools.

Sexual Assault Awareness

The purpose of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is to bring attention to rape culture, its negative effects on youth, and how to to develop healthy sexuality.  Rape culture consists of social inequality, normalization of violence, myths about sexual assault, victim blaming, and unwillingness to talk about rape culture. To develop healthy sexuality in teens, teens should be able to:
  • understand consent and how to respectfully interact with others;
  • be able to help influence peers in a positive manner and engage in bystander intervention;
  • recognize sexual violence and how to seek help;
  • provide support and information to peers who have experienced sexual violence.
One of the goals of Sexual Assault Awareness is to educate students about how to reduce their risk of sexual assault:

1. Avoid dangerous situations
  • Be aware of your surroundings and how to escape if you must.
  • Try to avoid isolated areas.
  • Try not to load yourself with packages or boxes.
  • Keep your cell phone on you and charged.
  • Don't allow yourself to be isolated with someone you do not know or don't trust.
  • Avoid wearing headphones so you can be aware of your surroundings.
  • Never leave your drink unattended.  It is all too common for attackers to slip a date rape drug into an unattended drink. The three common date rape drugs are Rohypnol, GHB, and Ketamin
 Source:  Sexual Harassment

2.  Know how to safely assist your friends
  • Create a distraction to get your friend out of the situation (i.e. "Do you want to go to the bathroom with me?").
  • If you feel comfortable step in and separate your fiend from the other person.
  • Enlist the help of others.
  • Keep an eye out for your friend especially if your friend is drinking.  
 Awareness Events

If you are looking for some simple awareness events to put together, here are some ideas from the Sexual Assault Awareness Website:
  • Hand out teal ribbons to students and staff to promote the idea of sexual assault awareness.
  • Set up an awareness table at lunch.
  • Launch a restroom campaign to educate students about consent and the definition of sexual assault.
  • Host a poster contest for students to educate other students about sexual violence.
  • Organize a white ribbon campaign to get male students to sign a pledge to stand up against sexual violence.
  • Participate in denim day on April 29th to promote sexual assault awareness.
  • Coordinate a clothesline project and hang student created t-shirts about sexual violence.  See the clothesline project brochure for more information.

Other Resources

For School Counselors

The School Counselors Response to Sexual Bullying

Sexual Assault Advocate/Counselor Training

State Sexual Assault Coalitions

Prevent Connect Wiki - Tons of resources on sexual assault.

For Students

What is Consent?

Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

Developing Boundaries

Teaching Peers to Respond to Sexual Assault  - online teaching scenarios to use with students.

Teach Bystander Intervention

Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention

Bystander Playbook

Youth Leader Toolkit

Youth Over Violence

Men of Strength Club

Speak, Act, Change Youth Advocacy Kit

See It, Stop It

Peer Educators

UnSlut Project

Please feel free to share your ideas in educating staff and students regarding sexual violence.