The Magazine of The University of Montana
A NEW CULTURE
UM Works with Missoula Community to Improve Sexual-Assault Prevention and Response
By Bess Pallares
Photos by Todd Goodrich
Mari Holms, left, and Tom Visser demonstrate self-defense techniques during a Sexual Assault Awareness Seminar hosted by UM Public Safety. The two-hour self-defense workshop serves as the final session in the four-week seminar.
A community relations position with UM Public Safety was created, with an office in Jesse Hall. Associated Students of UM senators sat down together to take the new, required sexual-assault prevention tutorial. Stickers proclaiming “It’s Your Call – 911” framed the face of every student and employee who looked into a bathroom mirror on campus. Everywhere, people discussed sexual-assault prevention, bystander intervention, consent, legal consequences, and victim resources. A once taboo topic became a centerpiece of education and understanding in Missoula.
This intensified focus on sexual assault and prevention was spurred last spring after reports of sexual assault perpetrated by UM students came to light, including high-profile accusations involving Grizzly athletes, and after an independent report commissioned by the University stated, “UM has a problem with sexual assault on and off campus and needs to take steps to address it.” The University administration took action.
Following the implementation last spring of a new Student-Athlete Conduct Code and mandatory reporting by all UM employees of alleged sexual assaults, new programs were introduced this past semester to further educate and protect the UM and Missoula communities. All UM students on campus were required to take the tutorial called PETSA [Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness] before they could register for spring classes. New UM Public Safety Community Relations Officer Casey Gunter ran four different free sessions of Sexual Assault Awareness Seminars. UM partnered with the City of Missoula to roll out the “It’s Your Call” campaign, and the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women awarded UM nearly $300,000 to improve evaluation and implementation of a comprehensive student-assault response and prevention program.
PETSA clearly has had the biggest impact on what can be considered a new culture of sexual-assault awareness at UM. The program—consisting of sixteen minutes of video tutorials, a quiz that must be passed with a 100-percent score, and additional resources for students—was developed by faculty and staff in the School of Social Work, the Women’s and Gender Studies program, UMOnline, the School of Media Arts, the Department of Psychology, and more. Students from many disciplines also contributed.
Danielle Wozniak, associate professor and director of UM’s undergraduate social work program; Elizabeth Hubble, adjunct assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; and Christine Fiore, professor of psychology and a UM Leadership Fellow, headed up development of the tutorial, starting in March 2012. Media arts students created the graphics used in the innovative videos, and countless members of the faculty, community, and administration worked through the summer on the project. At the start of the semester, students were encouraged by their professors, resident assistants, and University leadership to not only take the tutorial, but also to complete it in the grueling first six weeks of school.
“Women in the first six weeks of college are at the highest risk for sexual assault,” Fiore says. The implementation of PETSA was sudden and jolting for some, but Fiore and Wozniak assert that PETSA is not just a response to the assault crisis of last year; it is an important step in educating and protecting members of the UM community.
Christine Fiore, left, and Danielle Wozniak worked with departments across campus to create the PETSA sexual-assault prevention tutorial.
The tutorial, which can be viewed by anyone, addresses Montana’s sexual-assault laws, consent, bystander intervention, myths and facts about rape, and more. UM President Royce Engstrom delivers remarks in introductory and closing videos, emphasizing the importance of education for student safety.
Since implementing PETSA, UM has been contacted by dozens of colleges and universities around the country interested in developing similar tutorials, and the Montana University System is looking into customizing the information for each institution in the state.
“National sources are looking at us as a leader in sexual-assault education,” says Wozniak. All new UM students will be required to take the PETSA tutorial in their first semester on campus, joining the 13,400 who completed it by the end of December.
The free Sexual Assault Awareness Seminars, hosted by Gunter and Missoula Police Department Detective Jamie Merifield, offered female students a small-group setting to explore the legal aspects of sexual assault and rape, as well as the chance to learn some self-defense techniques.
During one session in October, five young women, including two students taking notes for class and one pair of college- and high-school-aged sisters, asked the police officers their own questions, such as “How long are date-rape drugs detectable in my system?” or “What happens if I am raped and I file a police report?”
The two-hour evening seminars, held on campus for four weeks in October and November, were intended to help women in Missoula learn to trust their instincts, get out of dangerous situations, and understand their options when seeking help.
At the end of each seminar, attendees learned a few self-defense moves from local martial arts instructors. The final seminar consisted of a self-defense workshop, where students could gleefully experience full-contact instruction with a padded “attacker.” Students didn’t leave the seminars with a black belt, but they did walk away empowered to defend themselves and know when to seek appropriate medical and legal assistance should they ever need it.
Aside from these new initiatives, UM has many programs and resources that help address sexual assault by increasing awareness and addressing prevention. John Sommers-Flanagan, professor in the Department of Counselor Education and principal investigator for the Office on Violence Against Women grant, looks forward to helping on-campus services make UM safer.
“This funding provides us with the ability to have more resources and a better focus on the issue of student assault,” Sommers-Flanagan says. “The grant is not just for sexual assault; it covers domestic violence, stalking, intimate partner violence—any kind of assault students can experience on college campuses.”
Funds will support further education and development of programs, training of administrators, campus safety personnel, and Missoula law enforcement, along with the possible hiring of a director of student-assault prevention programming.
In addition, longstanding campus services such as the Student Assault Resource Center, Curry Health Center, and Counseling and Psychological Services continue to provide their traditional support to students alongside the new programs.
Next fall, Gunter will host a new series of Sexual Assault Awareness Seminars, and changes may be coming to enhance PETSA based on what was learned about student needs.
“We intend to emerge from this challenge as the campus that recognized the situation, confronted it head on, and took proactive measures to ensure the safety and integrity of our campus,” Engstrom says. “From the beginning our priority has been the safety and well-being of our students. We haven’t wavered from that, and we won’t.”