Sexual Assault: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Investigations On Campus
Posted on: April 19, 2021 Time to read: 2 minutes
Sexual assault is a widespread problem, but in the past decade a spotlight has shined on assaults on college campuses. While prominent cases have captured headlines—including that of Chanel Miller who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner and only received six months in prison—there are millions of other individuals who have or will face what Miller did. In particular, college-aged women—18 through 24 years old—are at an elevated risk of sexual violence1.
This violence, which includes rape, is defined as “when consent is not obtained or freely given.”2 Individuals who experience sexual violence are faced with both physical and potential psychological consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.
Sexual violence is more prevalent on college campuses compared to other crimes, such as robbery.1 As administrations across campuses begin to better educate and inform their communities, credible training resources are a necessary component.
Title IX Training Resources
Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed in 1972 that protects from discrimination based on sex in any programs or activities.3 Within Title IX, there are Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) requirements. To help cover those requirements, Consent & Respect provides a detailed and informative training for staff, students, and faculty. In addition to the student and staff versions, there is also a Consent & Respect suite, which includes both courses plus a Campus Climate Survey course. Although each course is uniquely tailored to the needs of each community, all participants in the Consent & Respect Staff course will learn about trauma-informed care for survivors. This particular section has been a highlight for the thousands of individuals who have completed the course.
Trauma-informed care is an effective, evidence-based approach that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety.4 It’s important because it helps survivors rebuild their sense of self, control over their lives, and improve their overall wellbeing. Those who undergo trauma-informed training are able to understand the ways in which the brain and body work together and how they are both impacted during sexual violence.5
Taking a Trauma-Informed Approach
The trauma-informed approach in the Consent & Respect Staff course is guided by the principle that “healing happens in relationships.” This is achieved by dividing the course in the following four sections:
Recognizing the Impact of Trauma on Coping Strategies and Identifying Signs and Symptoms of Trauma. By better recognizing coping strategies—including substance abuse, withdrawal, aggression, and self-harm—of trauma, staff will become equipped to understand student responses and provide trauma-sensitive care. The course teaches participants ways to normalize and validate feelings, and to understand the role that trauma—often multiple instances—has played in the survivor’s life.
Creating a Safe Environment and Relationship Between Yourself and the Survivor. Instant trust between yourself and the survivor is unlikely, which is why the course provides participants with ways to create safe, trustworthy relationships that are consistent, predictable, nonviolent, and non blaming. The course also provides tips on how to create a safe physical environment, which is an important and often overlooked step to build trust. Some strategies include: meeting in a well-lit space, giving the student the option to lock the door, and posting the students’ rights in a visible place.
Empowering Survivors in Their Recovery Process. By empowering survivors, you can help them to achieve their goals and help them recover in a safe and effective way. The relationship should always be respectful and collaborative, while remembering that the survivor is the expert of their life and feelings, not you.
Supporting the Students’ Sense of Control and Maximizing Their Ability to Make Choices. Traumatic experiences can leave individuals feeling hopeless, fearful, and without control of their daily lives. To help students get back on track, staff are taught how to keep students informed about their care, use cultural-sensitive interventions, and maintain awareness and respect for basic human rights.