Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault
By MICHAEL WINERIP
FEB. 7, 2014
BYSTANDER INTERVENTION is so easy to grasp, even by the most inexperienced college freshman, that the program may well be the best hope for reducing sexual assaults on campuses. Mostly it is common sense: If a drunk young man at a party is pawing a drunk young woman, then someone nearby (the bystander) needs to step in (intervene) and get one of them out of there. Of course, that can be tricky at times.
Jane Stapleton, a University of New Hampshire researcher who runs bystander intervention programs at colleges around the country and in Europe, tells students they’ll need to be creative about outmaneuvering aggressors. Among the diversions she discusses: suddenly turning on the lights at a party or turning off the music; accidentally spilling a drink on the guy; forming a conga line and pulling him away from the woman he’s bothering and onto the dance floor. One of her favorites came from a young woman who approached her drunken girlfriend and said, loudly, “Here’s the tampon you asked for.”
A definite mood killer, says Ms. Stapleton.
The goal is to stop bad behavior before it crosses the line from drunken partying to sexual assault. “We’re definitely not looking to create Captain Bystander here,” Ms. Stapleton says. In the best of circumstances, a drunken aggressor won’t realize he’s been had.
Men as well as women are being called upon to make it work. While the public discussion on sexual violence has primarily focused on the physical and emotional damage done to women, it is also true that getting arrested for sexual assault can mark a young man for life.
Sgt. Richard Cournoyer, a Connecticut state trooper, has investigated a dozen sexual assault cases in the last few years involving University of Connecticut students. “These aren’t people jumping out of the bushes,” he says. “For the most part, they’re boys who had too much to drink and have done something stupid. When we show up to question them, you can see the terror in their eyes.”
On Jan. 22, at a White House meeting on sexual violence, President Obama released a report that cited the need for men to intervene: “Bystanders must be taught and emboldened to step in and stop it.”
The hope is that bystander programs will have the same impact on campus culture that the designated driver campaign has had in reducing drunken driving deaths (to 9,878 in 2011 from 15,827 in 1991). And that it can be inculcated in a relatively short time; Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980 and within a decade was making a difference.
Both take the same tack: Drinking to excess can’t be stopped but the collateral damage can.
At a bystander training session for the University of New Hampshire football team last fall, Daniel Rowe, a sophomore, told his teammates that he would use whatever trickery it took to keep them out of trouble.
“Maybe you don’t get the girl,” he said, “but you’ll keep your scholarship and still be on the team.”
He has watched a drunken teammate pressuring a woman at a party and pulled him aside. “I said, ‘You know she doesn’t want to talk to you, but there’s this other girl downstairs who really likes you.’ ”
There was no girl downstairs.
Sometimes, at a big party, Mr. Rowe won’t drink, essentially making himself the designated interventionist.
Lena Ngor, a University of Massachusetts senior, says that at about half a dozen parties a semester she has girlfriends who get drunk and need rescuing. At one party, a guy was all over her friend, so Ms. Ngor put an arm around her and told him, “She’s mine, you can’t have her.” When he suggested a threesome, she declined. “No way you can handle all this,” she said.
David E. Sullivan, a district attorney in western Massachusetts, prosecutes about a dozen sex crimes a year at five area campuses, including the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College. He is also the father of three daughters, and it scares him to think that, as numerous researchers have documented, nearly one of five women is sexually assaulted during her college years. “Can you imagine if you told parents there was a one in five chance that their daughter would be hit by a bus? No one would send their kid to college.”
With several high-profile rapes roiling campuses and an enforcement push by the Obama administration, public attention has been focused on sexual assault in a way not seen since a generation of feminists first raised these issues in the 1980s. In just the past few months, victims of sexual assault from Amherst College, the University of Connecticut and Vanderbilt have filed federal complaints faulting their schools for inadequate responses.
For everyone involved, says David Lisak, a longtime researcher on campus rape, “It is a murky mess.” That includes the young women who are filing complaints, the young men being accused and the outdated campus judicial systems trying to affix innocence or guilt. “All these colleges are struggling independently to figure this out,” Mr. Lisak says. “They’re all scared.”
At last month’s meeting on sexual violence, President Obama announced the creation of a task force to coordinate a federal response to campus rape, including ensuring that colleges comply with the law and develop effective policies, and he pledged to offer more support.
Some of the frustration for colleges can be traced to April 2011, when the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued what has come to be known as the “Dear Colleague” letter. It warned that under the 1972 Title IX legislation (until then used primarily to assure parity between men’s and women’s athletics) colleges were mandated to have a comprehensive system in place for dealing with sexual violence complaints. Failure to do so could result in a university losing tens of millions of dollars in federal funding.
In a few instances the Dear Colleague letter provided specific guidelines; mostly it left universities to figure out how to carry out the mandate. For this reason, Dartmouth is inviting representatives from two dozen universities to meet this summer to begin putting together a system of best practices for campus tribunals.
Many colleges have also responded by developing violence prevention campaigns around the bystander intervention model. Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, which pioneered bystander training 20 years ago, has seen a marked uptick in demand. As Jarrod Chin, its director of training, says, “There is nothing like the threat of losing money to get people’s attention.”
In the last year, with financial support from District Attorney Sullivan’s office, the University of Massachusetts has created an extensive campaign to promote awareness. Posters with messages like “Be a Man, Show Me Respect,” “Don’t Be a Passive Bystander” and “Do Something” are all over campus, in libraries, locker rooms, even on the sides of buses. All 450 resident assistants have been given bystander training. Several public service videos featuring students, including one narrated by the chancellor, Kumble R. Subbaswamy, are being used as teaching tools. At a midsummer orientation for freshmen, and again the first weekend of school, a university theater group, the Not Ready for Bedtime Players, presented skits about assault and intervention.
Incoming freshmen are the primary target. A study by United Educators, an insurance company owned by more than 1,200 member colleges and universities, found that 63 percent of accusers in sexual assault cases are first-year students.
Enku Gelaye, a vice chancellor overseeing the campaign, says that as with the designated driver, the hope is that by giving the intervention a formal name and linking it to a prescribed set of responses, when something goes wrong a light bulb will go off in students’ heads, they will recognize what they are seeing and will remember what to do. “It takes it away from being a fluffy and amorphous idea,” she says.
The training may have played a role in catching a rapist on the UMass campus at the start of the fall semester. According to a police report and interviews with prosecutors, at 1:16 a.m. on Labor Day, an 18-year-old freshman stopped a young woman heading home alone from a party. Both had been drinking. He pinned her against a tree and began kissing and biting her neck. “I remember his grip around my neck making it harder to breathe,” she told the police. “I was trying to yell but I couldn’t because of the way he had his hands.” After 10 minutes, she was thrown to the ground, her legs “forced open,” her underwear “moved to the side,” and raped.
In the midst of this, two groups of students — a total of eight bystanders, a combination of freshmen and juniors, five women and three men — intervened. (While they have not been identified, it is known that the freshman class had attended a presentation on bystander intervention that holiday weekend and that one of the juniors had been a resident assistant.)
According to the report, one witness used her smartphone to take photos of “a male party, which appeared to be naked from the waist down, on top of a female party,” while others assisted the woman off the ground and out of the immediate area. After making sure she was safe, they called for help and stayed with her until the police arrived and arrested the man.
Patrick Durocher, 18, has been charged with felony rape. He has pleaded not guilty.
The University of New Hampshire has developed one of the most comprehensive research, training and prevention programs in the country and it was spurred, in part, by an equally brutal campus rape back in 1987 when no one intervened.
According to an account in New England Monthly at the time, an extremely drunk freshman was led into a Stoke Hall dorm room by three drunk sophomores who took turns having sex with her. One went into the hallway and bragged that they had a train going, high-fiving his friends. Several students, including the resident assistant, knew what was going on but did not put an end to it. Nor did the roommate intervene as the three boys tried to pressure the girl into saying it was consensual.
The next morning the woman was too drunk to remember, but a few days later, after piecing it together, she filed a complaint with the university. After four nights of hearings before a campus tribunal at a 170-seat lecture hall that was open to the public, two of the boys were found in violation of a university rule called Respect for Others and were suspended for the fall semester. In criminal court, they pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and spent two months in jail. The third was cleared.
Women on campus, including Ms. Stapleton, the researcher, led protest marches, occupied a dean’s office and at one point surrounded him, linked arms and refused to let him go until he responded to their demands. It took months, but eventually the administration started making the changes that are in place today.
A rape treatment crisis center has been funded and is well staffed; a team of 12 professors and researchers have formed a center for evaluating and implementing bystander programs; and the athletic department holds mandatory sessions for all varsity athletes.
It appears to have had an impact. Shortly after the 1987 rape, 37 percent of female students reported experiencing unwanted intercourse or other sexual contact; by 2006, it was 21 percent, and by 2012, 16 percent.
On most campuses, athletes commit a disproportionate number of sex crimes; the United Educators study found that they make up between 10 and 15 percent of the student population but account for 25 percent of assaults. Not at the University of New Hampshire.
In 2007, the athletic department revamped its public health program, requiring all freshman varsity athletes to take seminars on hazing and bullying; alcohol and drug use; sexual responsibility and consent; and diversity. Last semester, a mandatory session on bystander intervention was added for sophomores. The results are significant. In 2013, seven athletes had cases before the judicial affairs office compared with 75 in 2007.
College men use two words to describe when a man gets in the way of another man’s business, and it is not “bystander intervention.” For the purposes of a family newspaper, call it “shot blocking.”
This was on Matt Martel’s mind during a taxi ride home with a friend and a very drunk woman they’d met at a UMass party. “The two of them were touching, cuddling, it was obvious she was down for whatever,” says Mr. Martel, a junior. “She’d lost her inhibitions to the point that it really seemed like a good idea for her to go home with this guy she hardly knew.”
Mr. Martel got between them to take her back to her dorm. “I said, ‘Dude, come on, she’s hammered,’ ” he recalls. His friend was angry. “It was outright awkward,” Mr. Martel says. The next day the girl thanked him, but Mr. Martel didn’t take a lot of pleasure from it. “I could tell she didn’t remember what she was thanking me for,” he says, “but someone told her she should, so she did.”
More than 60 percent of claims involving sexual violence handled by United Educators from 2005 to 2010 involved young women who were so drunk they had no clear memory of the assault.
College officials have come to realize that campus tribunals are ill-equipped to handle the growing volume of these cases, which often devolve into a he said/she said battle. Honor codes were designed to investigate plagiarism, fighting, alcohol and drug use, not rape. Campus tribunals are made up of students, faculty and administrators. “They’re amateurs,” says Robb Jones, senior vice president of United Educators.
In the past, colleges have resisted cooperating with local prosecutors for fear of drawing attention to campus crime. But tougher enforcement of federal laws, demanding more transparency, is changing that. For a year now, District Attorney Sullivan’s office has been holding monthly meetings with representatives from the University of Massachusetts and other nearby colleges to review sexual assault cases. “Anything that’s reported on campuses, we want to see,” says Jennifer Suhl, a sex crimes prosecutor in Mr. Sullivan’s office. “We don’t want them to screen anything out.”
A year and a half ago, Xavier University of Ohio resisted cooperating with the local prosecutor and learned a hard lesson.
In July 2012, a female student reported to the campus police that Dez Wells, a star basketball player, had raped her. Mr. Wells acknowledged having sex with the woman but said it was consensual and he used a condom. That night, according to legal papers filed by Mr. Wells, the two plus several friends gathered in a dorm room to play truth or dare. Many of the dares, Mr. Wells said, were sexual — at one point the woman gave him a lap dance; at another, she exposed her breasts. Afterward, they went back to her dorm room and had sex. Several hours later the woman reported to the police that she had been raped.
Joseph T. Deters, the Hamilton County prosecuting attorney based in Cincinnati, says that he put two of his best assistants on the case, including the head of the criminal division. They were convinced no rape had occurred. “It wasn’t close,” he says. They presented it to a grand jury, which did not indict.
Mr. Deters says he repeatedly tried speaking with Xavier officials, but they did not respond. Instead, the university brought the case before its tribunal.
When Mr. Deters read the transcript of that hearing, he says: “It shocked me. There were students on that conduct board, looking at rape kits; they’d say, ‘I don’t know what I’m looking at.’ ”
The tribunal found Mr. Wells “responsible for rape” and expelled him. Soon after, he enrolled at the University of Maryland. The N.C.A.A. requires transfers to sit out a year but made a rare exception in Mr. Wells’s case after consulting with Mr. Deters.
“I told them he was a really good kid, he’d never been in trouble with the law and I didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong,” Mr. Deters says.
Xavier now refers all assault cases to his office.
As for Mr. Wells, several times last season at away games, including one at Duke when he scored 30 points, fans taunted him about being a rapist, shouting, “No means no.” He is suing Xavier for his expulsion.
IT IS MOSTLY WOMEN who have spearheaded the fight against sexual assault, founded the rape prevention centers, staffed the hotlines, dominated the research in the field, led the Take Back the Night marches and organized the sexual consent campaigns. And it is men who commit most of the world’s violence.
While true, put this way, men feel like the enemy. “What I hear from men,” says Ms. Gelaye, the University of Massachusetts vice chancellor, “is they feel like they’re the targets, they’re the problem.”
The fact is, most aren’t. Research by Mr. Lisak indicates that about 3 percent of college men account for 90 to 95 percent of rapes. What Ms. Gelaye likes about bystander intervention is that it asks the other 97 percent of men to come into the room and help with the problem.
Jackson Katz, who created the bystander program for men at Northeastern, opened a 2012 Ted Talk by saying sexual assault has been seen as a woman’s issue that some good men help out with. “I don’t accept that,” he said. “I’m going to argue these are men’s issues.”
Academic research is still in the early stages but is promising. A University of New Hampshire study exposed a group of young men to a bystander intervention campaign like the one at UMass. At the end of several weeks, 38 percent of the men reported having intervened in a sexual assault compared with 12 percent of the group that had not seen the campaign.
At Ohio University, a group of male students took bystander training sessions and were asked four months later if they’d perpetrated a sexual assault; 1.5 percent said they had, compared with 6.7 percent for a control group that had no training.
Enlightened self-interest is a powerful motivator. Several male athletes at a training session last month seemed to feel that bystander intervention was as much about protecting a buddy from getting into trouble as saving a woman from harm.
Andrew Chaput, a member of the U.N.H. soccer team, told a story about getting a text from a friend saying a teammate of his was hanging outside her door and wouldn’t leave. “I didn’t want him causing trouble, so I took him home,” Mr. Chaput said.
The coaches repeatedly pound into their heads that a woman not saying no is not the same as a woman saying yes. “If there is 1 percent doubt in my mind,” Mr. Rowe said, “it’s not worth doing it. Unless she gives consent, she can say, ‘I was raped,’ and it’s your word against hers.”
“If a girl wants to have sex,” he continued, “you’ll know it. She has that look in her eyes. She’s been talking to you, she bothers you, she walks by you all night, the whole thing, you talk, you let it evolve.”
Mr. Chaput looked like he had something to say but wasn’t sure he should. Finally, in a quiet voice, he said, “I waited until a girl asked me.”
Source: NY Times