Stakeholders talk barriers, solutions at campus sexual assault roundtable in Concord

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    U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H. listens to discussion during a round table with students, teachers, sexual assault counselors, and women's advocates at WISE in Lebanon, N.H. Monday, June 27, 2016. Inspired by the statement of "Emily Doe," who was sexually assaulted at Stanford in 2015, Kuster spoke on the floor of the House last Thursday of her own experiences of being assaulted as a Dartmouth College student and a young Congressional staffer. "I'm not telling these stories because they are remarkable or unique," she said. "I'm telling them because they are all too common." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

Monitor staff
Published: 7/20/2016 12:35:36 AM

When new students step onto the Keene State College campus for freshman orientation, a frank discussion about sexual assault follows.

Every student must watch a show called “No Zebras, No Excuses,” a set of several skits acted out by fellow students. The skits address issues including what constitutes sexual assault and harassment, whether it’s taking advantage of someone who has had too much to drink at a party, disregarding a firm “no,” or harassing other students who are gay or transgender.

The program was started after three sexual campus assaults were publicly reported in 2009, and administrators and prevention advocates decided more needed to be done to drive home messages about consent.

Many of New Hampshire’s colleges and universities have been addressing the issue of sexual assault and sexual violence head-on for years, but the national conversation is far from over.

In the wake of several high-profile sexual assaults on campuses including Stanford, New York University and Florida State University, administrators and sexual violence prevention advocates from across New Hampshire convened at a roundtable hosted by U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster on Tuesday to discuss strategies and solutions.

Kuster hosted the meeting at the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord about a month after publicly revealing three separate sexual assaults she experienced as a young woman; one as a student at Dartmouth College, and two more as a young staffer on Capitol Hill – being groped by a guest of the congressional office she worked for and getting attacked and mugged on the walk home from a restaurant.

Kuster had stayed silent about her experiences for 40 years and decided to speak out after hearing about the case of Emily Doe, the victim of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner who wrote extensively about her own experience.

“I realized that this is what people are carrying through their lives,” Kuster said. “Going about school, going about work, raising their families. There’s nothing remarkable about my story.”

There is also nothing remarkable about Turner’s six-month sentence after being convicted of rape, advocates told the congresswoman on Tuesday.

Though Turner’s short sentence sparked national outrage, it “was quite ordinary for sexual assault cases,” according to Jane Stapleton, co-executive director of the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Research Center.

“I don’t think people should have been shocked at the sentence, because it happens all the time,” Stapleton said, adding that many sexual assault cases never even get to the point of court sentencing.

Advocates talked about the complex nature of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits any school that receives federal money from discriminating on the basis of sex.

While the federal law is very important, it also can create some barriers to getting sexual assault victims the kind of support they need, said Amy Culp, director of the University of New Hampshire’s nationally recognized Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program, also known as SHARPP.

Kulp said that she’s seen school officials so swept up in making sure they are following the letter of the law and avoiding the risk of fines that it feels at times like an interrogation of the victim, rather than a conversation about the incident that takes place in a safe space.

“It’s less about the survivor and what the survivor needs,” added Lisa Ciccotelli, direct services coordinator at SHARPP. “They still want to move on with their lives, they still want to go to class, they still want to go to their athletics, they still want a social life.”

Roundtable participants said it’s crucial to connect students with local crisis centers if they need it – but that can be an issue for some of the smaller colleges located in remote parts of the state.

Jill Bassett, Franklin Pierce University’s dean of student affairs, said she is just hoping for some on-campus resources like the ones UNH has.

“I want a SHARPP on campus, and we don’t have the money,” she said, adding that the Rindge campus shares its local crisis center with Keene State College.

Still, stakeholders are working on solutions that everyone in the state can use, including a smart phone app called U Safe NH that provides users with contact information for police and crisis centers and GPS directions to local hospitals in case a sexual assault occurs. The project is a collaboration between the state attorney general’s office and the New Hampshire Violence Against Women Campus Consortium.

“It’s going to be a lot in one app, but we hope it’s going to be successful,” said Kathy Kimball, who works in the attorney general’s New Hampshire Sexual Assault Resource Teams office.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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