by Dana Cooper

You’d be hard pressed to turn on the TV or open a newspaper these days without seeing evidence that the bad guys are having their moment.

As a nation, we just endured the harrowing Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault by three women. Strictly limited by the White House in terms of both time and scope, the woefully inadequate FBI probe into Kavanaugh’s past yielded no evidence to derail his nomination. With a Republican- controlled House and Senate, there was little standing in the way of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Meanwhile, survivors everywhere are reliving their own trauma. They are re-traumatized when their president, an admitted and unabashed perpetrator of sexual assault, openly mocks Kavanaugh’s victims. They are re-traumatized when their families and friends take to social media to express doubt about the survivors’ stories. Fortunately, for every blow justice is dealt, there is growth in the number of organizations dedicated to righting these wrongs.

Enter the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Coalition, or SAPAC, at the University of Memphis. Abby Kindervater, the University’s Title IX prevention specialist, has been given the task of uniting the University’s efforts to increase the awareness and prevention of sexual violence. SAPAC is one of several student organizations geared toward stopping misconduct before it has a chance to start.

A Title IX office is mandated by the U.S. Department of Education for all institutions receiving federal aid. In short, Title IX guarantees all students protection from sex discrimination and sexual misconduct. At the University of Memphis, the Title IX office has long functioned as the response arm of the University’s efforts to curtail sexual assault among the student body. “We recognize that we’ve got to do more than address sexual assaults when they happen,” Kindervater said. “We’ve got to work on a prevention strategy for the entire campus.”

To address that effort, the University offered its students a two-part comprehensive interpersonal violence training program. Some students are also offered bystander intervention training through the University’s academic strategies courses (ACAD), which roughly half of first-time freshmen are enrolled in each semester. Research has proven this strategy to be a good one. “The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that there are a few things that have been really effective in reducing the incidence of interpersonal violence,” Kindervater said, “and bystander intervention is one of those things.”

Feedback from these training sessions shows that they have been successful in increasing knowledge and awareness in 87 percent of students who have received it thus far, but the program’s success is not by accident or luck. The team of faculty and student mentors who create and deliver the seminars have put together presentations that elicit a high level of participation.

“We feel like this is […] a sensitive topic for people to discuss, so we try to balance that with a presentation that is engaging,” Kindervater said. “Students are hearing from their classmates about what is normal, appropriate behavior in relationships and what can veer off into warning signs.”

Another one of CDC’s recommendations is reaching out to all communities to increase awareness efforts. “This is not an issue that affects just one part of our student body,” Kindervater said. “We know it goes well beyond just a women’s issue.” Several students who work with Stonewall Tigers, the University’s gender and sexuality alliance organization, also spend time volunteering with SAPAC and its sister organizations, according to Kindervater.

One such way the University and SAPAC have tried to engage the larger community is through events such as Walk A Mile In Her Shoes, a men’s march to show solidarity with survivors of rape, sexual assault and gender violence, and These Hands Don’t Hurt, which asks people to pledge to abstain from committing acts of sexual or interpersonal violence by leaving colorful hand prints along with a signature.

Because of the current socio- political climate, Kindervater said that she’s seeing an increase in the willingness of people to get involved, either as survivors or on a survivors’ behalf. “When this makes national headlines, these students are affected,” Kindervater said. “They want to do more – not just in terms of addressing things when they happen, but they want to do more to prevent. These national headlines are simply more fuel for the fire.”

For more information about the important work SAPAC does, follow the organization on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook under the name @UofMSAPAC. Students can also find more information through TigerZone, the University’s campus-wide student intranet.

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