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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Sexual violence prevention extends beyond education into personal conduct


UC Davis CARE representatives discuss sexual violence prevention

The Center for Advocacy, Resources and Education at UC Davis assists students and staff who have experienced sexual violence. Sexual violence prevention is an important aspect of the work done at CARE.

Sarah Meredith, the director of CARE, discussed how sexual violence prevention extends beyond education and into a greater cultural concern.

“We do a lot of presenting — in the sense of the people that are hearing us are probably going to be the true first responders in those cases,” Meredith said. “We want them to know that they do not have to solve it all. They do not have to do the investigation. They do not have to have all the answers. We want them to know that there are places that they can point this person to and get them to the right place.”

Meredith also said that CARE focuses on bystander intervention, prevention and education.

“We certainly do not discredit risk reduction,” Meredith said. “The programs that talk about self-defense — watch your drink or the buddy system — I think those can be really helpful tools. But if we really want to actually prevent sexual violence, we cannot be just focusing on risk reduction strategies. We really have to start shifting the culture — getting people to understand that the behaviors themselves are not okay.”

Meredith said that UC Davis community members should know that services and reporting options are available and talked about the most common way in which sexual violence is reported.  

“One of the things that we know is that if somebody experiences sexual violence, whether it is sexual assault, dating violence or stalking, the vast majority of the time the person the survivor is going to go to is not usually law enforcement right away,” Meredith said. “It is not really even an advocate [they go to] right away. It is usually somebody who is close to them — a friend, their roommate and maybe a close family member. [A person] they already know and they trust, usually those are the people that they go to first.”

Allyanna Pittman, an education and outreach specialist at CARE and a UC Davis alumni spoke about the sexual violence prevention program which starts when students first arrive on campus.

“I feel like we capture a lot in orientation — we present to 10,000 students [each year],” Pittman said. “What I have been noticing more recently is our student volunteers and the folks who are connected with our office have been a really awesome source of outreach because they are talking to their friends about [the orientation]. I feel like having our students, and the fact that they are spreading the word, have been a really big help with our outreach because they are connected to other organizations other than ours.”

Meredith spoke about examining one’s own behavior as part of the work toward sexual violence prevention.

“Without sounding completely flippant about it, the first thing I would say to somebody is to really think about their own behavior first,” Meredith said. “If they really want to prevent sexual violence, sexual assault, dating or domestic violence or stalking, the first thing I would tell somebody is: analyze and assess your own behavior. What would you like in your relationship? Do you ask for consent? Is that something that you prioritize? And how do you then model that to your peers?”

Meredith added that the issues facing graduate students and staff take on a different level of importance when talking about prevention with their own children.

“For graduate students or for staff, a lot of the times what we will talk to them about are how often [they are] talking to your kids about consent, about bodily autonomy and about healthy relationships,” Meredith said. “If we really want to talk about true prevention, that really starts with us acknowledging our own behaviors and how we are with our relationships. But also, how do we talk with the children in our lives about their bodily autonomy? Are we forcing them to hug and kiss their relatives when they really do not want to? And then what kind of message does that send for them long-term that they really do not have the right to say no or set boundaries for themselves?”

Meredith spoke about intervention in a range of different situations, from potentially dangerous situations to derogatory posts on social media.

“The other thing I would say is that there are sometimes opportunities to intervene in situations where it is not [what] we would consider a high-risk situation,” Meredith said. “By standard intervention, it does not have to be a situation where I see somebody who is really incapacitated, far too drunk and somebody else seems to be escorting them upstairs. That might be a high-risk situation where hopefully somebody will intervene in that situation. But there might also be opportunities to intervene in situations where somebody posts something really derogatory about a particular gender on their Facebook account and that might be an opportunity to intervene.”

Esther Grace Pillitiere, a third-year psychology major at UC Davis and a student volunteer at CARE, spoke about what brought her to join the program.

“They did the VIP talk at orientation and I was there and I really enjoyed it,” Pillitiere said. “And the thing I loved about the talk is that they were talking about prevention and usually when people talk about prevention for sexual violence they talk about the buddy system, always be with a friend, carry your keys and do not go in dark places. And I remember [Meredith] saying those are good, but that is not prevention. If you want to prevent sexual violence, then do not have non-consensual sex. I really appreciated that, because that is so right. Basically, I was really struck by their approach. I thought it was really genuine, direct and awesome, so I asked if I can volunteer for an internship.”

Pillitiere spoke about how volunteering at CARE has changed her.

“My language and approach have changed,” Pillitiere said. “A lot of the times when people […] talk about these issues, it is binary — like they kind of picture that a man who is a stranger who is hiding in the shadows who attacks a woman who is walking by herself and they do not know each other. That is not true. Oftentimes, usually, it is an acquaintance.”

Pillitiere also added that sexual violence affects people of marginalized communities the most and that “anyone can experience sexual violence.” She said that it’s important to realize that “folks with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA community, minorities and other marginalized communities experience sexual violence at much higher rates.”

Additionally, Pittman discussed a challenge of providing prevention education to the large demographic of students on campus, from “different parts of California,” the United States and the world.

“Especially for international students, this is a topic that is completely new for them,” Pittman said. “I do not think even nationally that [sexual violence prevention] is taught in high schools a lot of times. Especially when we are talking about prevention — trying to work on empowering students — that is why we do bystander intervention [training], trying to normalize and instill that into the culture and really send the message that this is how it is done here. This is UC Davis.”



Written by: George Liao — campus@theaggie.org


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