North Texas Daily

Committee tackles sexual assault, violence

Committee tackles sexual assault, violence

September 29
23:56 2014

Rhiannon Saegert / Senior Staff Writer

Students, faculty and staff met Sept. 23 to discuss sexual assault and intimate partner violence to try to find ways to raise awareness, educate students and advocate for victims and survivors.

Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness said the UNT Prevention and Education on Sexual Assault and Intimate Partner Violence Committee was formed in June 2013. The task force evaluated all existing UNT programs and education efforts, ensuring they complied with the Violence Against Women Act and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. Creating a committee was not part of their recommendation, but grew out of the evaluation.

After meeting with the Student Government Association, McGuinness began contacting student and campus organizations and deans. The committee first met in June.

Since it was formed, the committee has worked together to plan various awareness campaigns, charity drives and other efforts slated for this semester.

For the first time, UNT will participate in the international Red Flag campaign, which is designed to bring attention to the “red flags” indicating dating violence that onlookers may ignore or dismiss. 

“It’s the bystander piece,” McGuinness said. “How can I, and how can we, train our neighbors on, ‘If they see something, say something?’ Even if that’s a bystander, how do we train a bystander to pay attention to red flags and speak out?”

For Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, students can donate old cellphones to be refurbished by Verizon and distributed to victims of domestic violence.

UNT will also participate in Take Back the Night, another international campaign, which seeks to shed light on all forms of sexual violence, according to takebackthenight.org.

The committee also discussed the Campus Accountability Safety Act, a national bill introduced in August.  If the act passes, every university will be required by law to have a full-time confidential informant on staff to assist victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence, advise them on how to proceed and connect them with necessary resources.

McGuinness said she serves as that resource right now.

She said she would continue to serve on the committee, focusing on outreach and raising awareness, if the college added the new position. 

Hillarye Hightower, director of community education violence intervention and prevention program with Denton Friends of the Family, said her role in the committee is to spread the word about the services available from her organization, in addition to the medical and counseling services available to students through UNT. 

She said Denton Friends of the Family is a leading expert in dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault. When McGuinness contacted her last spring, they began brainstorming about what needs the committee should meet.

Hightower also works with Texas Woman’s University. She said TWU has had a dual grant with Denton Friends of the Family that allows them to keep a full-time counselor and educator who deals with intimate partner violence and sexual assault for about 10 years now.

“They are much further ahead of other universities,” Hightower said. “TWU was doing it before it was required.”

Victory Hall residence assistant Cora Lee Davis said she wishes more resident assistants would attend, because the issues discussed there are especially relevant to them.

Davis said RAs are trained on the legal protocol. They’re trained on correctly filling out forms and who to report an assault to, but aren’t trained on how to comfort victims and offer immediate support.

“I don’t want to be the only one from housing here, and I’m going to, between today and the next meeting, encourage more RAs to be present,” Davis said. “This is our job, to work with students who face a lot of the things we talked about today. I think I would like to see more training on how to handle the situation.”

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