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Health & Wellness Services Division of Student Affairs

Get the facts! Violence myths vs. reality

Inaccurate beliefs about sex- and gender-based violence are common. Let’s talk about some of these myths, and more importantly – let’s find out what’s really going on.

Myth: Violence like sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking doesn’t happen that often.

Reality: College students across the country experience violence every day, and many will experience violence before they even get to college.  

Myth: People make bad decisions and put themselves in situations where sexual assault might happen.

Reality: Someone is making a choice to harm another person who is vulnerable (if they’ve been drinking, for example). If you or someone you know experiences sex- and gender-based violence, know it’s not your fault and there are people on this campus and in our community who can help.

Myth: You can’t be victimized by your partner.

Reality: Sexual assault can happen within any relationship, whether people have been together for years or if they’ve just started seeing each other. Sex without consent is sexual assault, even if two people have had consensual sex in the past.

Myth: It’s unlikely that anyone I know would sexually assault someone.

Reality: Anyone, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, or other characteristics, can perpetrate violence. Sometimes they’re our friends, our family, or the people we sit next to in class.

Myth: Most people are sexually assaulted by strangers.

Reality: Sexual assault most often occurs between people who know each other. Situations involving strangers committing sexual assault do happen, but they’re rare on college campuses. Most of the time, sexual assault occurs between people who know each other, and in situations where people feel like they are safe (apartments, residence halls, houses, parties, etc.)

Myth: Violence is inevitable, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.

Reality: Everyone can do something to prevent violence! For example, you can:

Stay tuned this semester to learn more about how you can make our community safer. You can also subscribe to receive email updates about our collaborative prevention efforts.

5 ways to respond to offensive comments

By Nikki Finnestead and Amber Morczek

We’ve all been in situations where we overheard an offensive joke or hurtful comment and wondered how to respond. We often have to overcome personal barriers to taking action, just like we do in other situations that make us uncomfortable or concerned.

When it comes to hurtful language in particular, you might worry that the person didn’t mean to be offensive, that you won’t change anyone’s mind, or that you don’t know enough about the topic to challenge their view.

If you’re confronted with comments that make you feel uncomfortable and you want to speak up, you have many options for how to respond.

  1. Be direct. Speaking up doesn’t always mean taking a dramatic stand. Even something simple like, “Hey, that’s not funny,” or, “That’s not cool,” can have a big impact.
  2. Change the subject. Casually redirecting the conversation can stop offensive language in its tracks. “Hey, I totally bombed that midterm. What about you?” Or, “What are you doing over the holiday break?”
  3. Talk about it later. Even if you freeze in the moment, it’s never too late to make your feelings known. Talk to the person who made the harmful comment the next day, after you’ve had time to reflect on the situation and your response. You can even text them if you feel uncomfortable speaking up in person. There’s no harm in waiting to speak up!
  4. Ask someone else for help. Speak to a faculty member if another student in class said something offensive. Ask a friend for advice on what they would do in the situation.
  5. Take indirect action. If you’re uncomfortable confronting others in response to a specific comment, you can still let people know where you stand. You can post a video on Facebook about an issue you’re passionate about or retweet articles on topics that are important to you. Working to educate yourself and those around you can be more influential than you realize.

Remember: Chances are if you feel uncomfortable, someone else does too. It often takes just one person to step in to give other people permission to do the same.

Supporting health in the Greek community

Following their recent student-led moratorium, Greek leaders reached out to Health & Wellness Services staff for support and resources. Together we’re developing action plans tailored to each individual chapter to address public health concerns like violence, substance abuse, and mental health.

We worked with student leaders from individual chapters to survey their members and assess their attitudes and concerns around these issues. Over 2,900 Greek students responded to our survey on violence, and our survey on substance abuse is in progress.

After the surveys, our next step is to meet with each chapter to review their specific results and provide some initial educational information. So far, we’ve met with 39 chapters about violence prevention and continue to meet about substance abuse and mental health.

Why these specific topics? Research shows alcohol use, drug use, and mental health concerns can negatively affect college students’ academic performance in a variety of ways.

The surveys we conducted this semester show many Greek students are drinking to cope with stress. And according to the 2016 National College Health Assessment, 13.4 percent of Greek students experience academic difficulties due to alcohol.

Moving forward, we will provide each chapter leader with reports on survey results and suggestions for how they can promote healthy behaviors in their chapter.

Take action to prevent violence

group of students

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and WSU students are ready to take action to prevent violence!

According to 2016 climate assessment data, 67 percent of WSU students feel confident in their ability to take action to reduce interpersonal violence. When asked why they would take action, 78 percent said they feel it’s their responsibility to make people in their community safer.

We’re clearly committed to helping one another! But it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to taking concrete action. What can we do to help? How can we make a real difference?

At Health & Wellness Services, we believe that every single one of us can help make our community safer. One person can’t do everything, but we can all do something. Here are some simple ways you can get involved in addressing violence in our community this month (and throughout the rest of the year!)

  1. Read our blog post about how you can support survivors of sexual assault.
  2. Make sure you know WSU’s Executive Policy #15 prohibiting discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.
  3. Get familiar with the confidential and university resources
  4. Request a resource poster or print a message of support to hang in your hall, classroom, or Greek residence.
  5. Add Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse’s 24- hour emergency and support service phone number for survivors of family and sexual violence to your contacts: 1-877-334-2887.
  6. Visit the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs for tools and materials you can personalize and use for social media and events. Materials are available in four different languages!
  7. Check out #SAAM on your social media of choice to find info and resources you can share with friends and family.
  8. Follow Coug Health and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse on Facebook for more info on violence prevention efforts in our community.
  9. Attend a Green Dot bystander training and learn how to safely intervene in a potentially dangerous situation and prevent violence from happening.
  10. Sign up for updates on violence prevention and other health news and resources.

These are just a few ways each of us can take action, and get connected to helpful resources in our community. If we work together, we can put an end to violence and make our campus a safer place.

This post, originally published in April 2016, has been updated with new resources and information.

Cougs support survivors of violence

two students talking

Here at WSU, Cougs help Cougs. Our community cares deeply about supporting and encouraging one another in all areas of our lives. This way of thinking is especially important when it comes to supporting survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. How we respond to survivors can have a huge impact on how they feel about their experience and what actions they take as they heal.

When someone tells you about their experience, it can be incredibly tough to know what to say and do. If you find yourself in that situation, remember what matters most: listen, believe, and support.

Listen. The most important thing you can do is listen without judgment. Even asking too many detailed questions can feel critical. Let the survivor tell their story at their own pace, with the details they feel comfortable providing. For some survivors, sharing their story is an important part of healing. Listening non-judgmentally and offering empathy will help them to feel safe and cared for.

Believe. People rarely make up stories of violence. Believe the survivor. If they say they were hurt, then they were. Assure your friend that it’s not their fault, no matter what happened, and that you believe and want to support them.

Support. Survivors can experience a range of emotions that are all normal. Encourage your friend to access support services, but let them decide if and when they want to use the resources you offer. You can find a comprehensive list of confidential and university resources from the Office of Equal Opportunity. If you’re able to and feel comfortable, you can offer to go with them. Everyone responds differently, and survivors’ needs may change over time. Check in with your friend occasionally and offer support again.

These conversations can be incredibly difficult and emotional. After talking with a friend about their experience with violence, you may want to consider seeking resources or support for yourself as well.

Supporting survivors is just one way Cougs take action against sexual assault and interpersonal violence in our community. Check out this list of simple steps you can take to help prevent violence and make our campus a safer place.

Do you want more information on how to make our campus safer? Sign up to receive news and resources for preventing violence in our community.

This post, originally published in April 2016, has been updated with new resources and information.

Identifying abusive relationships

Identifying abusive relationships

We’re often in a good position to spot abusive behaviors in our friends’ relationships. But some of the signs of unhealthy relationships can look a lot like normal couple interactions. How can you tell the difference?

It can be hard to know for sure whether someone else is in a healthy relationship, but having a foundational understanding of abusive behaviors will help you notice potential warning signs and take action to help your friend if they need it.

First, let’s look at some examples of what normal couples experience.

Jealousy. It’s totally normal to feel a little upset it we see someone else flirting with our partner.

Conflict. It’s true – every relationship has conflict. We all have different perspectives and life experiences, and sometimes we clash.

Spending less time with friends. This is especially common early on in a relationship when you want to spend every waking minute together.

While these are often normal behaviors in a relationship, at what point might they be signs of abuse? Take a closer look. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do those feelings of jealousy pass after both people talk about how they’re feeling? Or do they lead one person to act possessive and controlling over their partner?
  • When conflict arises, do both people have an equal say, and do they both feel comfortable expressing how they truly feel? Or does one person hold back their feelings for fear of upsetting their partner?
  • Do both partners seem happy when they see each other? Do they both light up when they get millions of texts from their partner, or do they get frustrated, or even scared, when they get these messages?
  • Are partners spending all of their time together because they both want to? Or because one person demands it of the other?

Close friends are often in the best position to spot abusive behaviors in someone else’s relationship. The key is to pay attention and if you see or hear something that makes you uncomfortable – it’s time to check in. Start by just asking your friend, “How are things going in your relationship?”

Try and put yourself in your friend’s position. You would probably want someone to step in, offer support, and help you identify potential resources and options. You can be that person for your friend.

Everyone can do something to make our campus a safer place! To learn more about how you can help, sign up for a bystander training.

Get tools to help prevent violence

This semester, we’ll be posting regularly about the role you play in keeping our campus safe. Sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking impact members of our community every day, just like on other campuses across the country.

Right now, many of us look the other way when violence happens. We might not know how to help, or we might feel like it’s not our responsibility to intervene. But deciding to stay neutral is really a decision to do nothing, and ignoring a potentially dangerous situation allows the violence to continue.

By working together, we can take steps to bring the rates of violence down. It’s simple: when more Cougs take action, less violence happens.

Here’s what you can do right now:

Our posts this semester will focus on giving you the tools you need to stop violence before it happens. Stay tuned to learn about concrete steps you can take to help keep our community safe!

Direct, delegate or distract to prevent violence

We’ve all been there before – you’re walking across campus and you see another student in a situation where they might need some help. Maybe you overhear a couple arguing, or see someone who looks really upset about the phone call they just received.

Most of us want to help when we see a situation that concerns us, but we often feel unable to do something to help.

So what stops us from helping in these moments? We all face barriers that keep us from taking action, even when we really want to or think we should.

You may have experienced one of these common barriers:

  • There are other people around who will probably do something, so I don’t have to.
  • I don’t want to embarrass myself.
  • No one else noticed or is doing anything.
  • I don’t want to get hurt.
  • My friends will give me a hard time if I do something.
  • I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.
  • I’m shy.
  • I hate conflict.
  • It’s none of my business.
  • I don’t want to get involved.

These kinds of thoughts are completely normal. Depending on the specific situation and our individual preferences, we all experience different barriers to taking action.

But, there are many ways to intervene in a situation that concerns you. You may still be able to find a way to help that feels achievable.

Consider these three approaches, and think about which ones you might be able to use next time you see someone in an unsafe situation.

Direct – do something yourself.  Approach the person you’re concerned about and ask, “Hey, what’s going on here?” or “Are you okay?” or “Do you need help?”

Delegate – ask someone else for help. Ask a friend, residence hall advisor or mentor to step in. If necessary, call the police.

Distract – Diffuse the situation by diverting people’s attention. Pretend you are lost and ask for directions. Tell people there’s free food in the CUB. Start a conversation about an unrelated topic.

Interested in learning more about how you can take action to prevent violence? Request a workshop for your group, chapter, residence hall or department.

Your guide to verbal and non-verbal consent

When it comes to sex, consent should always be clear, knowing and voluntary. We’ve talked about this definition of consent in a previous post, but let’s talk specifically about what voluntary means.

Voluntary consent means everyone feels like they’re making their own choice, rather than someone else making it for them. If someone says “yes” because they’re too afraid to say “no”, they’re not giving voluntary consent.

Coercion is the opposite of voluntary consent. Coercion can mean pressuring someone to do something they don’t want to, making threats, using force, or blackmailing someone into having sex.

People communicate about sex in different ways. While some of us are candid and direct, some of us are more indirect. If you aren’t sure if you have voluntary consent, listen for some of the key words and phrases outlined below.

Consent sounds likeNon-consent sounds like
YesNo
I’'m sureI'’m not sure
I knowI don'’t know
Don'’t stopStop
I want to…I want to, but…...
I'’m not worriedI feel worried about…
I want you/it/thatThat hurts
Can you please do (whatever)Maybe
I still want toI love you/this, but
That feels goodI want to do this, but not right now…
I want to do this right nowI don'’t know how I feel about this
I feel good about thisI don'’t want to do this anymore
I want to keep doing thisThis feels wrong

People can also communicate non-verbally with their actions and body language. Look for some of these behaviors:

Possible non-verbal signs of consentPossible non-verbal signs of non-consent
Direct eye contactAvoiding eye contact
Initiating sexual activityNot initiating any sexual activity
Pulling someone closerPushing someone away
Actively touching someoneAvoiding touch
Nodding yesShaking head no
Laughter or smilingCrying and/or looking sad or fearful
“Open” body language: relaxed, loose and open expressions, turning toward someone “Closed” body language: tense, stiff, or closed expressions, turning away from someone
Sounds of enjoymentSilence
An active body“Just lying there”

Adapted from Partners in Social Change

If you’re not 100 percent confident that everyone agrees to what is happening ­­– then stop. Check in, and ask the other person how they’re doing. Ask “do you want to stop?” or “do you want to keep going?”

Interested in learning more about consent? Request a workshop for your group, chapter, residence hall or department.

Sexual assault within relationships

Sex should always be a positive, healthy and consensual experience for everyone involved. Remember: sex without consent is sexual assault.

Sexual assault is common on college campuses. In most instances, the two people involved know each other. Victims may even be in a relationship with the person who is taking advantage of them.

It’s not always easy to identify sexual assault within the context of a relationship. When we think about sexual assault, we tend to think about behaviors that are obviously violent or forceful. But sexual assault in a relationship doesn’t always appear this way. Plus, it’s hard to imagine our partner would hurt us.

So what does sexual assault within a relationship look like? Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether this might be happening to you or someone you care about.

Has your partner ever…

  • Pressured you to engage in sexual acts you weren’t comfortable with?
  • Had sex with you when you were unable to voluntarily consent after drinking?
  • Made you watch or imitate pornography without your consent?
  • Asked repeatedly to have sex even when you’ve told them no?
  • Acted annoyed or whiny when you turn down sex?
  • Called you selfish or made you feel guilty for not wanting sex?
  • Threatened to cheat on you if you refuse sex?
  • Become verbally or physically abusive if you don’t want to have sex?
  • Refused to use condoms, or blocked access to contraception?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may be seeing signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Keep in mind that sexual assault is prohibited at WSU, and there are many resources available to help if you or someone you know needs them.

Remember, consent must be present every time sexual activity occurs, even in relationships.

You should never feel obligated or pressured to engage in any sexual activity. It’s not your fault if someone hurts you. It’s normal to feel betrayed, hurt, angry and confused.

Everyone has the right to feel safe and supported in a relationship. For more information on creating and maintaining healthy relationships, request a workshop for your group.