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This new sexual assault resource app may not benefit students

<p>Photo Illustration | The U ASK app claims to have resources that sexual assault victims can use, but Rutgers administrators said using on-campus resources is faster.</p>

Photo Illustration | The U ASK app claims to have resources that sexual assault victims can use, but Rutgers administrators said using on-campus resources is faster.

The University Assault, Services, Knowledge (U ASK) is a college-based app created to provide both victims and bystanders with numerous support resources when needed.

Jean Semelfort, a prevention education coordinator for Rutgers, is concerned that the app is too broad, rather than pointing university students to nearby services.

“I think it could be helpful but I’m not certain to what extent it would be beneficial for Rutgers students because of the specific resources," he said. "Would it give them local information or generalize things and work as yet another step towards getting help?”

Users of the app should question whether the resources listed on U ASK are accurate and the best options for the Rutgers students, said Laura Luciano, interim director at the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA).

“I hadn’t really heard of the app until it was recently brought to my attention. If the creators of the app want it to be widely known, they need to advertise better,” said Jessa Bedser, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

Resources at Rutgers University to help victims include Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, Counseling and Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Programs and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD), Semelfort said.

Individuals from RUPD and CAPS are trained to handle these situations, he said.

“A lot of individuals from RUPD are mindful of language and know how to address victims or survivors of sexual assault. CAPS has been working on training clinicians to be trauma-informed specifically when it comes to sexual violence and interpersonal violence. At VPVA, we offer advocacy services,” he said.

VPVA is one of the the most involved campus resources in terms of sexual assault and sexual violence because it was designed specifically for such issues, Luciano said.

It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support and advocate for victims who call the office. RUPD and the Title IX Office can also be contacted to report sexual assault, she said.

Rutgers is not currently working on an application like U ASK because its other resources are working just the same, if not better than the app, Semelfort said.

“We have the 'End Sexual Violence' website which has a plethora of information as far as off campus resources, resources on campus, etc. You can access the website on your phone with ease. And once again, VPVA has always been there for students,” he said.

Statistics involving sexual assault are a combination of both the University setting and number of students, Luciano said.

VPVA works to change views about sexual assault, touching base on topics such as victim shaming, toxic masculinity and the campus culture of sexual assault, Semelfort said.

“If we go purely by numbers, obviously campuses with more students would have higher numbers because there are more people," she said. "At Rutgers, we focus on this issue and creating an atmosphere where we care about each other and encourage bystander intervention.”

Bedser agrees, and believes that even misunderstandings of simple words can create large issues on campus.

“I think that the University should do everything possible to raise awareness of sexual assault, and seek to truly define what sexual assault and consent is, to provide a clear and concrete understanding,” Bedser said.

More often than not, Semelfort said society teaches its members the wrong values, which carry on from childhood to adulthood. Proper education in this area is important so people coming to college understand what is acceptable, Semelfort said.

Each year, formal policies become more in tune with the concerns and issues that Rutgers students face, Luciano said.

This year, a major focus for VPVA is on interpersonal violence and men's engagement, Semelfort said.

VPVA members hope more students will learn bystander and preventative methods to help themselves and their peers, he said.

“We encourage students to reach out, get involved, attend the programs, ask questions and challenge some of their own conventional ideas or problematic ideas," he said. "Not only that, but be involved. Use your voice. All of us need to speak as far as challenging the community.”

Looking towards the future, Luciano said VPVA hopes to continue to aid victims that need help and comfort.

“Rutgers does a great job, but there is always more we can do. I spend all of my energy focusing on supporting survivors on our campus," she said. "I want students to know that we are here if they experience sexual violence or dating violence."

Nicole Osztrogonacz is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Find her on Twitter @nikki_osz for more.

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