$475,000 to fund research on dating violence, sexual assault, stalking

February 2, 2010

Dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are everybody's concern, and the resulting pain and shame that often occurs when one is victimized can be prevented when somebody — a friend or even a stranger — decides to act. Bystander intervention has proved effective time and again in thwarting an assault. Yet studies have found several reasons why people don't move to help stop or prevent such crimes. Such reasons include being unsure that help is needed, not knowing what to do help, and fear that one will be injured in some way if one steps in to intervene.

"We teach them how to safely intervene when they observe events that could lead to sexual assault or violence of any kind. And we provide them with examples and ask them: If that was your sister or mother, brother or father, how would you feel if someone just watched?" — Denise Hines, assistant research professor

A new program at Clark University aimed at education about and reducing dating violence, sexual assault and stalking on campus through bystander intervention training has received $474,992 in grant funding from both the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice.

"Our goal is to raise awareness of these issues on campus, so that students know that sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking can happen here, too, and if they witness such an event about to take place or talk with a friend or acquaintance who has been victimized, students will know how to safely intervene and help," says project co-director and Clark University research assistant professor of psychology Denise Hines.

Two separate grants were awarded. The DOJ granted $296,988 to fund the project titled, "Building Community to Foster Change on College Campuses: A Coordinated Multilevel Violence Prevention and Intervention Program," in effect from Oct. 2009 through Sept. 2012. The Dept. of Education award, titled "Preventing Sexual and Dating Violence on College Campuses: An Extension of the Bystander Program," totals $178,004, with another $180,833 authorized for the second phase. Those funding periods run from July 2009 until June 2011.

The combined federal funding will support what was launched at Clark in fall 2009 as the Clark Anti-Violence Education (CAVE) program. CAVE is a coordinated effort by several offices at Clark, including the dean of students, campus police, counseling services, health services, multicultural affairs, housing, athletics, student government and several student groups. Members meet regularly to discuss policies, procedures, and programming on campus related to issues of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Through education programs and campus campaigns, the team works to create a model of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking prevention and intervention programming for other schools in the region and ultimately across the nation.

Kathleen Palm, research assistant professor of psychology and co-director of the program, and doctoral students Amy Cameron and Hannah Richardson, are coordinating the program with Professor Hines.

Thus far at Clark, students have participated in "Bringing in the Bystander," a program in which incoming students were divided into same-sex groups to discuss what constitutes dating violence and sexual assault, and how to effectively intervene before, during, or after witnessing such an incident. They also responded to a survey about their history as bystanders and whether or not they had intervened to halt or prevent an assault.

"Through this program and others that we are instituting on campus, we hope to create an environment on campus where dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are not tolerated," Palm explains. "We also hope that all students, whether male or female, gay or straight, will become confident that our coordinated effort is here to help them if they or a friend are victimized, so that they will be comfortable coming forward and reporting the incident to people who can help."

And already, CAVE is seeing results. According to an anonymous survey that Hines and Palm administered to Clark students in both November of 2008 and 2009, the self-reported incidence of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking have gone down. In addition, the percent of students who said they were victimized by such incidents and sought help from campus authorities has increased.

CAVE has also been responsible for placing posters around campus suggesting how to intervene in cases of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and is currently working with the Daybreak Program, the Rape Crisis Center of Central Massachusetts, and New Hope, Inc., to bring pertinent theatrical performances and discussion groups to campus.

Daybreak, which is now part of the YWCA, is the most comprehensive domestic violence program in the Greater Worcester area and was founded over 30 years ago on the Clark University campus. CAVE also trains student peer educators through a seminar in the Psychology Department devoted to educating students on the scholarly literature related to dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and training students on how to be peer educators.

The role of the peer educator includes organizing the "Bringing in the Bystander" program at future student orientations and other bystander educational programming, contacting students with information about CAVE initiatives, and hosting informational tables in the student center.

The bystander program at Clark University "teaches students that even if the situation is ambiguous, they need to act," Hines says. "They cannot look to others for cues; they need to be the role model for what to do when they observe a crime. We teach them how to safely intervene when they observe events that could lead to sexual assault or violence of any kind. And we provide them with examples and ask them: If that was your sister or mother, brother or father, how would you feel if someone just watched?"