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COMMENTARY: Students should take the #iSPEAK campus climate survey

Society is becoming more aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and dating violence on campus. Part of this growing awareness is credited to campus climate surveys designed to measure on-campus sexual assault and domestic violence. Around the nation, these surveys estimate that approximately 20 percent of women and 6 percent of men experience sexual violence while in college

Additionally, these surveys are providing universities with information for how violence on campus can be effectively addressed as they provide information on the contexts in which these incidents are occurring. One of the biggest myths about sexual assault is that it is most often committed by a stranger. But, campus climate surveys have found that approximately 80 percent of survivors knew their attacker personally. Given this information, when violence happens at a university, student survivors can run into their attacker quite often within common spaces such as recreation centers, dining areas and residence halls. So when a student comes forward about their assault, actions must be taken to ensure student safety and fair punitive measures. Because of this, campus climate surveys also include questions to measure student perceptions of how their university responds to violence. 

Rutgers proudly considers itself to be ahead of the curve in ending sexual assault and dating violence on campus. Since 1991, the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) has worked to ensure survivors are receiving the care that they need, and connecting students to their legal and medical options. VPVA features free counseling for both survivors and their loved ones, trained advocates that meet with survivors at hospitals and police stations to walk them through their options, court advocates to be present with the survivor during hearings and University programming to raise awareness toward interpersonal violence on campus. 

Still, no campus can guarantee student safety. Rutgers is aware of these issues, and is continuing efforts to face this problem head on. In 2014, the White House and the Office of Violence Against Women called on Rutgers to administer its first campus climate survey, #iSPEAK. The results of #iSPEAK helped to expand the resources available to students and other Rutgers affiliates. Both the Newark and Camden campuses have opened their own offices for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance to serve all students at Rutgers. Additionally, the 2014 #iSPEAK survey results found that 77 percent of student survivors who told someone about their assault told a close friend. To ensure that Rutgers students know how to properly respond to a friend who has been assaulted, VPVA created the Rutgers C.A.R.E.S. program. The program is designed to inform students of the effects of trauma, and what to say to a survivor of violence. There is more work to be done, though, and we need your help.

#iSPEAK is back, and now it is your turn to take the survey. 

The #iSPEAK survey is open to all Rutgers—New Brunswick undergraduate and graduate students until the end of the semester. Students who complete the survey are automatically entered into a raffle for a cash prize. You can find it on my.rutgers.edu, or follow https://rebrand.ly/iSPEAK2018 to take the survey. It takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and your survey answers are completely anonymous. The 2014 survey was crucial to creating the resources that are available today, and your survey answers are equally crucial to ensuring tomorrow’s survivors have access to the best resources available. 

Rutgers cannot continue to grow without input from students. Administrators need to hear your voice to figure out how to make our campus safer, and how to improve their response when a student experiences violence. We all have a part to play in ending this epidemic, and taking just 10 minutes to complete #iSPEAK will go a long way in working toward a safer campus. If you are interested in getting more involved, you can check out the events hosted by VPVA or learn about becoming a crisis response advocate at vpva.rutgers.edu. You can also get involved with VPVA’s SCREAM Theater, where members raise awareness toward violence through theater. Additionally, Rutgers NO MORE is another student-led advocacy group whose vision is to end sexual assault and domestic violence on campus. 

Please email campusclimatesurvey@rutgers.edu for questions, and check out weRhere.rutgers.edu for more information about the resources available to survivors of violence at Rutgers. 

Mariel Didato is currently serving as a research assistant at the Rutgers School of Social Work Center on Violence Against Women and Children.

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