Website to spell out sexual assault policy, resources

by Matthew Kwiecinski

The University plans to launch a website that will break down the new sexual assault policy and available resources.

The website, expected to launch in the spring, will outline where to go for support services, how to report an incident and what to expect after reporting.

Tara Pereira, who oversees the University’s policies on sexual harassment and abuse, said the website, called “HAVEN” would be a “one-stop-shop” for prevention and resources.

“It is meant to be a place where students, faculty and staff can find any info they need, from resources because they are writing a paper, to, ‘My daughter just called me and said she was assaulted, and I’m a parent, and I’m not sitting on that campus, and I don’t know what to do,’ ” Pereira, the deputy Title IX coordinator and director of campus inclusion initiatives, said.

GW’s Sexual Assault Response Consultative Team already runs a website with information on reporting an attack and seeking medical help or counseling, but Pereira said the new website would incorporate information about how to respond to certain situations through multimedia and role-playing scenarios. It will also provide resources to learn about and report hate or discrimination crimes.

Pereira said the website will operate as a separate entity from the response team website with more features, but it will pull information from the group for the sexual harassment sections.

“We were thinking of HAVEN as being more than just sex assault and harassment, but a safe space for all types of discrimination and hate crimes,” she said.

In January 2011, two medical students released a survey that found 74 percent of 1,031 respondents thought the University was not doing enough to educate the community about resources available to victims following a sexual assault.

The University approved a new sexual harassment and sexual violence policy last month, creating a 180-day reporting window during which victims can take judicial action following an assault. It also allows a victim to remain anonymous during the reporting process, which Pereira said helps survivors be in control of their information after coming forward with a case.

The policy also pinpointed Pereira as the go-to official at GW for sexual harassment cases. She said she can put a “face” on reporting to make victims more comfortable coming forward with harassment incidents.

Pereira oversaw the University’s judicial office until this summer. In that role, she spent more than a year creating information flowcharts that helped explain the school’s alcohol and drug policies so students could more easily understand the consequences.

She said GW is using websites, like that of the University of Michigan’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, as a model.

Michigan’s website incorporates social media components, along with a discussion board for survivors to share their stories.

Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the Michigan office, helped redesign the website last year to “make [the website] more user friendly and make it more relevant so that when survivors come to our website, they are able to quickly identify resources they need," she said.

Tracy Cox, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said sexual assault awareness took to a national pedestal after news broke about Jerry Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University earlier this year.

“This topic has been on everybody’s radar,” Cox said, adding that campus sexual assault statistics are “generally recognized to be grossly underreported.”

“It’s good that [GW] is taking proactive approach to address these concerns,” she said.

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