Friday, September 12, 2014

No More Silence in the Dark: A Panel Discussion on Reducing Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Alaska

From the UAA Justice Center Blog

Event coordinators and panelists smile for a photo at the 'No More Silence in the Dark' event.

On March 19, 2014, the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Omega Xi chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society, hosted “No More Silence in the Dark.” The event was part of National Criminal Justice Month 2014 and “UAA Says No More” week, and drew a crowd of 150 students, faculty, staff and members of the community to the UAA/APU Consortium Library. Listen to the panel discussion on the UAA Justice Center blog here.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Reporting sexual harassment and sexual assault at UAA

1. To whom should I report that I’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted?
Sexual harassment and acts of sexual violence should be reported to the Title IX coordinators or university police.

2. I’ve already gone to the police, so why do I need to go to the Title IX coordinator?

Sexual harassment and sexual violence are potential crimes, but they are also violations of Title IX and UAA policy. Sometimes, specific conduct may not constitute a crime, but may be a violation of Title IX and UAA policy. UAA is committed to addressing and preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence, regardless of whether such activity constitutes a crime.

3. If I reported being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted to the Title IX team, do I still need to go to the police?
If you believe you have been sexually assaulted or are a victim of any other crime, you should contact the university police.

4. Will my complaint remain confidential?
The privacy of the parties is a priority to UAA. However, sometimes, limited information must be disclosed in order to fully investigate a complaint or protect the campus community. If you are concerned about confidentiality, discuss this issue with the Title IX coordinator.

5. What if I want to remain anonymous?
Your confidentiality will be protected to the maximum extent possible, but anonymity may hinder an investigation into your complaint.

6. Do I have to identify the alleged perpetrator?
Yes. In order to conduct a thorough investigation, the alleged perpetrator must be identified.

7. I’m concerned that reporting might make matters worse. Should I still file a complaint?
Yes. If you have concern for your safety, UAA can provide escort services and take other steps to assist you. In addition, UAA has a strong anti-retaliation policy that is aggressively enforced if a complainant or a witness is retaliated against for participating in a Title IX investigation.

8. My friend told me he or she was assaulted. What can I do to help?
Be supportive—listen to what she or he has to say and then encourage your friend to report the incident to the police or to the Title IX coordinator. You should also consider reporting the incident yourself. You may suggest they contact UAA’s student counseling services.

9. Do I have to report to UAA? Is there someone outside the university I can report to?

You may also report to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. However, UAA is committed to addressing and preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence. UAA is best able to do that when it is made aware of possible violations.

Monday, August 25, 2014

UAA students' work to fight domestic violence, sexual assault attracts JBER attention

When journalist Brooke Gladstone of National Public Radio’s “On the Media” was in town for a public talk in late February, she told the Wendy Williamson audience that about 80 percent of American voters have “checked out.”
 Simona Gerdts and Kristen Speyerer helped launch 'UAA Says No More.            Phillip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage
She referred to the book “Changing Minds or Changing Channels,” which contends, “Essentially huge numbers of voters are opting out of the conversation entirely, because they think they have better things to do.”

Considering the complex decisions facing Alaska, and the struggles of many Alaskans, abandonment feels dangerous. I know Gladstone spoke in national numbers but hey, what was the voter turnout in Anchorage’s last election? Just 28 percent.

That check-out rate nagged me. It was on my mind when I sat down with Simona Gerdts and Kristen Speyerer, two UAA spring graduates with fresh degrees in justice.

Last semester, these two and a handful of others launched a rebuttal to domestic violence and sexual assault at UAA, called “UAA Says NO MORE.” It snowballed from:
Ultimately, Gerdts and Speyerer helped forge a working relationship between UAA and its Justice Center and the United States Army Alaska over domestic violence and sexual assault issues.
Captain Danyelle Kimp , center, nominated Gerdts and Speyerer for a Victims for Justice Media award. (Photo courtesy of Simona Gerdts)
Why? Because “We have the same demographic,” said Lt. Col. Alan Brown, U.S. Army Alaska spokesman. “We’re 70-80 percent male, ages 18-25. It makes sense to look and find commonalities between campus and military installations.”

Another military leader from the U.S. Air Force, Command Chief Master Sergeant Jose A. Barraza, learned of their efforts and came over to UAA to attend their information panel. Barraza gives similar informational sessions in the military and saw his presence at UAA as a way to support the work off-base.

“I wanted to come out and support them. We’re all in this together, the military and the community. I wanted to show that,” he said.

We know Alaska statistics are the worst in the nation. Out of every 100 Alaska women, 59 have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual assault or both.

From pain to involvement

But this column isn’t about those numbers, alarming as they are. What I wanted to know is: How and why does a passive bystander decide to step up and do something? How did two busy seniors switch from a modest donation drive to a campus movement that eventually reached into JBER? Is there a lesson here for the “checked-out”?

Kristen Speyerer, who floundered and dropped out of UAA in 2004, went to work at FedEx for 10 years, climbing the corporate ladder. “But that wasn’t what I really wanted to do,” she says. In 2011, she tried out a paralegal class at UAA and learned about an array of social problems, including domestic violence and sexual assault. “People close to me have had that experience,” she said. “It resonated.”

For Simona Gerdts, the story is longer and more painful. As a toddler in Florida, she watched her father beat her mother, including the dark day her mother grabbed her and her brothers’ hands and fled forever. Gerdts was 5.
'UAA Says No More' is supported by the national movement.    
She resented growing up poor. She lionized her distant father and impugned her mother for the family’s poverty. At 15, she got pregnant but kept her baby and partner, Alan. Together they graduated from high school a year early and married. Alan joined the Air Force, and, along with a second son, Aydan, the family eventually reported for duty in Alaska. As Aydan turned 5, Gerdts decided to study for a paralegal certificate at UAA.

As in Speyerer’s case, justice classes, research and professors opened her eyes.

“If you would have asked me a year ago if I see myself in an advocacy role, I would be, ‘What are you talking about?’ But then we started this research project. We took that number (60 percent experience rate for Alaska women). That is six out of every 10 women you walk by, every day. You can put names and faces to it. It’s really hard not to want to stop it.”
The UAA Says No More campaign donated high heels to the Port Heiden "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes." (Photo Courtesy of Sarah Anderson)
So they went to work. Perhaps most inspiring is the story of a UAA journalism student, Sarah Anderson, who drew support from UAA’s NO MORE movement to return to the village of Port Heiden where she’d been raped years earlier. She told her story in public there, and even led a “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” with men and boys in the village, complete with 10 sets of high heels donated by UAA’s NO MORE. Of course, the pictures are on Facebook.

Next up: marital rape

Gerdts and Speyerer, degrees in hand, aren’t done. Next up? Working to remove an Alaska statute that, in certain circumstances, offers a defense in the case of marital rape.

“It’s our goal,” Speyerer said, “even if we have to co-author the bill.”

What does it take to reach the “checked-out”? Information. Commitment. Pain.

A version of this story by Kathleen McCoy appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, now the Alaska Dispatch News, on Sunday, May 25.

Friday, August 22, 2014

12 questions and answers on Title IX

University of Alaska Anchorage Title IX Investigator Jerry Trew supplied the questions and answers regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault, as well as resources for those who may have experienced these things.

1. What is sexual violence?
Sexual violence includes: sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual coercion. All such acts are forms of sexual harassment and covered under Title IX.

2.    How do I know if I’ve been sexually assaulted?

Generally, sexual assault is any unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact against any individual by another. Sexual assault can occur either forcibly (against a person’s will) or when a person cannot give consent (under the age of consent, intoxicated, developmentally disabled, mentally/physically unable to consent, etc.).

3. How do I know if I’ve been sexually harassed?

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or verbal/physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
  • Submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition or employment, student status or participation in university activities.
  • Such conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive that it substantially interferes with an individual’s education, employment or participation in university activities; or
  • Such conduct is intentionally directed toward a specific individual and unreasonably interferes with that individual’s education, employment or participation in university activities.

 Examples of sexual harassment include:
  • Displays of sexually suggestive materials or content
  •  Sexual jokes or innuendos
  • Sexual touching
  • Unwelcome flirting or advances
  • Pressuring an individual for sex
  • Repeated requests for dates
  • Persistent email or social network communications
  • Requiring sexual favors in exchange for a grade
  • A favor or some other benefit, sexual contact or sexual assault

4. What is the University of Alaska Anchorage policy regarding sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination and is prohibited by the University of Alaska Board of Regents policy. You can read the University of Alaska Board of Regents policy here.

5. What should I do if I think I’ve been sexually harassed or victimized?
Contact the Title IX Coordinators office at (907) 786-4680, by email, or come by our office located at:
University Lake Building
Suite 108
3890 University Lake Drive
Anchorage, AK 99508

6. Are women the only victims of sexual harassment or sexual violence?
No. Both females and males can be victims of sexual harassment and/or sexual violence. For more information regarding sexual assaults on males, please visit the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) information page regarding male sexual assault.

7. Is it possible to be sexually harassed/assaulted by someone of the same gender?

Yes. If you have been subjected to unwanted sexual contact or sexual harassment, your gender and the gender of the alleged perpetrator are irrelevant. Such conduct is prohibited by Title IX and UAA policy.

8. If I think I’ve been victimized and I don’t feel safe, what can I do?

Find a safe place away from the assailant and call the police.
The Title IX Coordinator/Team can also coordinate other assistance including no-contact orders, escort services, relocation of the individuals involved and reassignment of schedules if the victim and the accused have similar schedules.

9. The definition of sexual assault says it can occur either forcibly (against a person’s will) or when a person cannot give consent. What does “when a person cannot give consent” mean?
In certain situations, a person does not have the capacity to agree to participate in consensual sex. Examples include individuals who are under the age of consent, intoxicated, developmentally disabled or mentally/physically unable to consent, etc.

Anyone engaging in sexual contact with someone who is unable to give consent may be committing sexual assault.

10. If an incident of sexual violence occurs off campus, can the university investigate?

Yes. If the incident has sufficient ties to UAA, then the university can investigate and provide resolution.
  • If the incident occurs at a UAA event
  • If the incident involves a UAA student, staff or faculty member

11. If an incident occurred at a party and I was drinking, will I get in trouble?

UAA’s priority is to prevent sexual harassment or violence. While the specifics of the situation will be considered, UAA’s primary focus will be to address the sexual harassment or violence.

UAA does not want the involvement of alcohol or drugs to prevent the reporting of such serious misconduct. Also, the use of alcohol or drugs will not excuse sexual violence or harassment.

12. Someone has filed a complaint against me, what do I do?

Do not contact the alleged victim through any means—in person, by phone, mail, email, social media, some other form of electronic communication or through someone else.
  • Familiarize yourself with UAA’s policy/process for investigating complaints of sexual harassment so you know what to expect.
  •  If you have questions about the investigative process, contact the Title IX coordinator.
  • If you need support, contact UAA Student Counseling Services.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Title IX: Growing a culture that doesn't tolerate sexual violence

Imagine going out for the evening, accepting a drink from a friend of a friend at a local bar then, later, regaining consciousness to find the person’s roommate—a star athlete—forcing himself on you.

Or attending a frat party, drinking too much and ending the evening as a rape victim.

These two incidents have four things in common: The victims were students who reported what happened to their respective Lower 48 universities. Those universities failed to properly investigate and resolve their allegations. The accused attackers remained in school, with no disciplinary action taken against them. The accusers found themselves shunned, retaliated against and accused of lying.
Horror stories like those have galvanized Marva Watson, director of UAA’s Office of Campus Diversity & Compliance and the two investigators who help receive, investigate and resolve complaints about incidents of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and sexual violence. Since August 2011, UAA (including its community campuses in Mat-Su, Valdez, Kodiak and the Kenai Peninsula) has received 146 complaints of sexual harassment, she said.
Marva Watson coordinates UAA’s Title IX compliance efforts.
(Photo by Ted Kincaid, University of Alaska Anchorage)

“It’s a responsibility every one of us have,” Watson said. “We want people to feel safe, help people have a stronger awareness of behaviors that are unacceptable and that they’ve come to a living and work environment that’s not going to be part of a culture of discrimination or harassment.”

Getting information out there

Watson oversees a variety of UAA initiatives that reach out to people who need help in some way.

The most prominent of these initiatives is raising awareness about a 42-year-old federal law known as “Title IX.” Title IX is one of the educational amendments of 1972—which were attached to the 1964 Civil Rights Act—and it dramatically transformed the world of college athletics.

Watson, UAA’s Title IX coordinator, spends much of her time these days focusing on educating as many people as she can about Title IX’s 37 words, which state: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Many people believe Title IX is just about providing equal facilities, equipment and athletic scholarship opportunities for both men and women participating in a university’s sports programs.

But it’s much more.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in all programs and activities at a university. It offers protection to anyone who’s been raped, touched inappropriately, harassed for dates or trapped in a situation where a much-needed scholarship or good grades might hinge on whether a student submits to sexual pressure from a coach, instructor or anyone else who can influence the course of their educational experience.

Training about Title IX has been happening at UAA for close to two years, Watson said, but ramped up in May after the U.S. Department of Education disclosed the names of 55 colleges under investigation for possibly violating federal rules aimed at stopping sexual harassment. The Department then announced it would add the University of Alaska System and 11 other educational institutions to its list of those being audited to determine how they responded to reports of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual violence.

The Department of Education stated that being on the list doesn’t mean the universities violated the law, just that they are under investigation. The Department did not state exactly why they chose to add those universities to the list—whether it was in response to a compliance review or due to a complaint.

Each UA campus must compile a report that includes documentation of incidents of sexual harassment, as well as information from student groups and employee and student handbooks. The final version of the report is due July 30 and the OCR will schedule campus visits sometime this fall.

“The UA System welcomes this review,” an announcement in the UA System’s “The Statewide Voice” said. “We look forward to strengthening awareness, educational campaigns, services, policies and procedures if they are lacking in any way…The UA System will work closely with our universities and community campuses to ensure the details of these site visits are broadly known, to ensure that everyone has opportunities to participate.”

UAA and other campuses in the UA System are presenting a series of online, video, video-conferencing, audio and in-person training sessions designed to help all students, faculty and employees better understand Title IX. All employees must complete the training by early fall. Overall, more than 900 people at UAA have received Title IX training, with 509 people receiving their training between June 16 and July 10, Watson said. Faculty will be coming back on contract in August and new-student orientation is ahead as well, so more waves of training are coming up. There are a total of 19,000 students attending classes at UAA’s main campus and its community campuses.

“This training is another way of empowering our constituents to let us know if there is a problem, in that they know we want them to speak up,” Watson said. “They have to further know they won’t be retaliated against for speaking up. Once they speak up, we are going to do something about it. It will be addressed.”

Helping victims, being fair

Watson has been coordinating these efforts at UAA, with assistance from Dr. Dewain Lee, UAA’s Title IX deputy coordinator, and Title IX investigators Jerry Trew and Stephanie Whaley, compliance specialist Mandee Mlcek and Michael Votava, director of student conduct and ethical development. A Title IX steering committee meets weekly.
Stephanie Whaley, Jerry Trew, UAA’s Title IX investigators.
(Photo by Ted Kincaid/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Each of UAA’s 3,000 employees—regular and temporary—must sign up and attend one of the Title IX training sessions. The sessions include information about sexual harassment and assault, various types of offenders, and videos—one of which vividly illustrates various things bystanders can do to help derail a disturbing situation before it devolves into a sexual assault.

“It’s pretty emotional training,” Trew said. “With one in four women being raped in college, we try to come up with training that’s real. We worry about victims. It’s not ‘check the box off’ training. We want to help victims remain in control of their destiny. Our goal is to get them healthy, keep them moving along with their education, ensure they’re getting all the resources available to them.”

Reports they receive, Watson said, involve harassment and instances of people who inappropriately speak to or touch someone. Sometimes even an item as seemingly trivial as a poster can convey an intimidating or offensive message. Each complaint must be investigated within 60 days, and a remedy devised if a victim experienced harm. Consequences could involve a variety of possible outcomes, ranging from counseling to expulsion of a student or termination of an employee.

“People don’t know what they don’t know,” Watson said. “If you do not realize your behavior is victimizing someone, you need to know, and more importantly, you need to know to stop it. If you also think you’re in a work or living environment that doesn’t want to know, then you need to know conversely, we do want to know, to speak up.”

Watson says investigations are prompt, impartial and take in accounts from both sides, to protect the rights of people who are accused but might be innocent. If the victim decides to notify police, Watson said, campus investigators stay out of their way while continuing their Title IX inquiry.

“We need to assure due process,” she said. “We’ve got to find out what the facts are.”

Some of the most notorious cases of campus-related sexual violence that have hit the headlines in the Lower 48 have featured prominent college athletes.

Watson says Title IX training has been integrated into UAA athletes’ Seawolf Start orientation. UAA Athletic Director Keith Hackett said he’s striving to have 100 percent of his staff trained before the start of the academic year, Watson noted.

“And he followed up,” Watson said. “He himself has been to two of the sessions. There’s going to be a culture here that doesn’t tolerate any form of sexual harassment and there will be consequences. No one deserves to be victimized.”

Read UAA’s 2013 Campus Security and Fire Safety Report to see campus crime statistics from 2010-2012 and learn institutional policies not only about what to do after a sexual assault has occurred, but also about campus security awareness, alcohol and drug education and crime and fire prevention. The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities to publish an annual security report by Oct. 1, maintain a publicly available log of each crime and its disposition and issue warnings about crimes that pose a serious or ongoing threat to students and employees. UAA’s 2014 report will be available Sept. 20.

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement

Monday, August 18, 2014

What is Title IX?

A little history…
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

On June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed into law Title IX of the Educational Amendments, an unprecedented civil rights act prohibiting federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students and employees based on sex. This landmark law changed the educational landscape across the country, and now, 42 years later, Title IX again has the country’s focus, as universities across the country are reporting cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Title IX today
Although Title IX is most often associated with athletics, requiring that all educational institutions receiving federal aid provide girls with equal athletic opportunities, the law stretches far beyond the basketball courts and football fields. The law covers every aspect of a school’s educational system.

Title IX is a law that benefits both men and women and for the past 42 years, has been an anchor in securing gender equality in educational institutions across the country.

Title IX’s national news coverage has shifted focus from equal opportunities in athletics to the growing number of reported cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault across university campuses. Many universities are taking serious action to educate, provide resources and support to their university students, faculty and staff, as well as taking proactive measures to prevent these crimes against women and men in the first place—and UAA is no exception.

Title IX and UAA
The University of Alaska Anchorage is committed to creating a positive, welcoming and safe academic environment for all of its students, faculty and staff across all UAA campuses and affiliates.

Currently the university has implemented a systemwide mandatory Title IX training for all of its staff and faculty. UAA is focusing on educating its employees on sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, on campus and providing them with the tools and resources to handle these situations.

This focus is part of a larger national concern of sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses. UAA is committed to creating a safe and open environment where students, faculty and staff can educate, report and help prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault on our campus.