Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sexual assault prevention program ‘Empower AU’ piloted during Welcome Week

Sexual assault prevention program ‘Empower AU’ piloted during Welcome Week

AU students protest sexual assault in 2014.

Empower AU, a program designed to educate incoming freshmen and transfer students about sexual assault prevention during Welcome Week, was launched for the first time this school year.

Based on a recommendation from Students Against Sexual Violence, a student-led group on campus, the Student Government Task Force on Sexual Assault and Prevention presented the idea to the Office of Campus Life last fall. This past spring, The Eagle reported that AU would pilot the program for fall 2015 with a $20,000 budget funded by SG.

“The main idea behind Empower AU was to create a positive, skills-based consent-focused sexual assault prevention program,” Sara Yzaguirre, the coordinator for victim advocacy services, said in an email.“We wanted to give people not only knowledge regarding relevant University policies, but also actual skills they can use when communicating with their partners.”

The Wellness Center organized the program, and members of pre-existing programs, including the Wellness Crew, PEERS, Step Up! and Peer Health Exchange, administer the sessions. Students attend one mandatory 90-minute session with these leaders.

According to Yzaguirre, groups of about 40 students are engaged in discussions about consent, communication, boundaries and bystander intervention. By the end of the session, students should leave with the ability to analyze different meanings of “hooking up,” understand the Student Conduct Code’s definition of consent, recognize when a partner is unable to give consent, explore and communicate their boundaries and use various strategies for intervention if they observe predatory behavior.

Empower AU is one the newest programs designed to inform students about consent and leading healthy sex lives, Yzaguirre said.

“Research shows that attitudinal and behavioral change is most likely when students are exposed to early, repeated, and reinforced interventions/programming,” Yzaguirre said in the email. “Thus, we introduce consent in our Eagle Summit presentation (‘What Would You Do’), reinforce with Think About It (online), and follow up with Empower AU during Welcome Week. These programs are further reinforced with additional programming throughout the school year.”

Attendance by freshmen at Empower AU is monitored by comparing rosters and sign-in sheets. Students were made aware of the program by email and by their RAs.

The Wellness Center had 47 sessions scheduled for Welcome Week and will plan make-up sessions for those who could not attend initially, according to Yzaguirre’s email on Aug 26. In the end, the Wellness Center aims to educate 2,400 students through this effort.

Going forward, AU plans to continue to run Empower AU. According to Gail Hanson, the vice president of campus life, the cost of the program will be paid for by the Office of Campus Life’s budget.

Feedback that will be collected from student surveys will be used to enhance next year’s programming, according to Yzaguirre, but AU is already receiving a positive response from students.

“The truth is most students don't want sexual assault to be a problem on our campus, so a lot of the freshmen rose to the occasion and really interacted with topics like bystander intervention, resources for survivors on campus and how to ask for and respect consent,” said Amanda Gould, a junior executive board member of Students Against Sexual Violence and a PEERS educator who has taught sessions for Empower AU.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in five college-aged women reported being sexually assaulted between 1995 and 2013, and 80 percent of those women knew their attacker. Additionally, college-aged men accounted for 17 percent of reported victimizations.

“Hardly anyone I know hasn't had their life affected by sexual violence in some way, whether it has happened to them or someone they care about,” Gould said. “I want to not only ensure that survivors of sexual assault get the resources and support they need to heal, but I want to stop sexual assault from happening in the first place so no one has to go through that pain.”

With Empower AU, Yzaguirre and Gould hope to see a shift in campus culture against sexual violence and make a difference in this nationwide issue.

“Personally, I am aiming to exceed best practices,” Yzaguirre said in the email. “I want other schools to look at AU as a model of comprehensive prevention and response. Empower AU is a part of that.”

jodonohoe@theeagleonline.com


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