On-campus assaults lead to “It’s on Us” reminder

(Photo credit: Megan Zendek/Fourth Estate)

After Interim Police Chief Thomas Longo sent out an email to the Mason Community Feb. 8 regarding two recent sexual assaults, Student Body President Khushboo Bhatia reminded the community of the It’s on Us campaign.

It’s on Us is a national campaign that was started by President Obama in September 2014. Speaking of the campaign during a press conference that month, Obama said, “It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what’s unacceptable.”

According to the It’s on Us website, their pledge “is a personal commitment to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault. It is a promise not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution.”

The It’s on Us pledge involves four steps: recognizing that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, identifying situations in which sexual assault may occur, intervening in situations where consent has not or cannot be given and creating an environment where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

It’s on Us partners with nearly 100 organizations, from Snapchat to the United States Olympic Committee and the White House. The campaign sponsors a week of action every year during November.

The incidents of which Longo informed students via email occurred on Jan. 24 and Feb. 7 in student residence halls. In both cases, a female student was assaulted after meeting a male student online.

Longo’s email included information about “sexual violence risk reduction” as well as how to report sexual violence on campus and confidential resources for victims of sexual assault. One resource mentioned by Longo was also mentioned by Bhatia: the 24-Hour Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Crisis Line.

The hotline is a 24-hour crisis line that is manned by trained employees in the Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education and Services (WAVES) office as well as trained student advocates. According to senior Olivia Gardner, a student advocate, there are fewer than 10 student volunteers in addition to the trained faculty. Students can apply for this position through WAVES and, if accepted after an interview process, undergo a weekend of training along with additional education in-services twice a month, Gardner said.

Gardner said that while students call the hotline to seek help for themselves, students also call about friends, asking what they can do to help them. Gardner also said that the hotline receives calls from the police department about students seeking an advocate.

According to Gardner, advocates support students throughout the entire process of an investigation if they choose to report their assault, and they also help survivors who do not wish to report their assault to police.

“If they go to the hospital, the nurses and the doctors are there to take care of any physical issues … But our job is really just to provide support and resources, and we can sort of answer questions about the way that things happen and what to expect and to help prepare the survivor for what they may be encountering,” Gardner said.

Gardiner said that students have a federal right to an advocate under Title IX. According to the Justice Department, Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.”

The hotline is an entirely confidential resource, and Gardner said students can call for assistance without having to make an official report, although if the assault happened on campus, WAVES is forced to make a report to the police department under Title IX. However, the victim’s name will not be mentioned. Gardner said that those who call the hotline and are a danger to themselves or to others have to be reported to health professionals.

Gardner said that there is no time limit to the amount of time that WAVES works with students who call for assistance through the hotline.

“We obviously hope to get to the point for the student where we’re no longer needed. That’s the ultimate goal,” Gardner said.

Gardner said that WAVES supports the It’s on Us campaign, but they also do a number of programs that are their own, including supporting Mason’s specific pledge against sexual assault.

Mason’s pledge states, “I pledge to end sexual violence in order to begin the real practice of freedom and learning at George Mason University.”

Mason’s pledge also tells those who sign that they are agreeing to listen to and believe survivors, to not make “rape” or “stalking” jokes, to know what resources Mason offers for survivors, to help work toward making Mason a safer campus and, last of all, to recognize that “non-consensual sex IS sexual assault.”

Gardner also mentioned that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and that WAVES will have many programs to educate and inform students during that time.