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Speak up and stand up for one another to prevent sexual assault, researcher says at BYU lecture

Published April 14, 2017 8:54 am

Lindsay Orchowski tells BYU audience that tackling a mountainous problem on campus requires communication, courage to intervene.
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Provo • Lindsay Orchowski likens sexual-assault prevention on college campuses to digging at a mountain with spoons.

"We all want that mountain to fall," said Orchowski, a researcher who designs sexual-assault prevention programs. But, she asked, "how do we work together to tackle something so large?"

The answer? It takes everyone to make a comprehensive difference — and students, especially, need to be involved.

"We have to understand our students and what our students want and need," she said Thursday at Brigham Young University for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Without student input, they "won't feel invited … [or] they may want to come but not know how to get there."

Orchowski is a deputy Title IX coordinator for Brown University's Alpert Medical School. Under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination on campus, universities must swiftly respond to and resolve complaints of sexual violence and provide services to students.

Her discussion comes nearly six months after BYU announced an overhaul of how it responds to sexual assault complaints, saying it planned to follow 23 recommendations put forth by an internal advisory council. Orchowski spent time on BYU's campus last year, working with that council.

The university has implemented or is in the process of implementing those recommendations. For example, it created a new physical space to separate the Title IX and Honor Code offices, and it hired a new Title IX coordinator and victim advocate.

On Thursday, Orchowski highlighted bystander intervention — the act of stepping in to prevent sexual assault — as an effective means to make a difference on campus.

"When we see things, we can label them as a problem and have the courage to feel responsible for doing something about it," she said.

Stepping in has broad and positive implications: It can lead to an attitude correction in the perpetrator, she said, and can encourage others to speak up if they see something that makes them uncomfortable.

If others do not follow suit, intervening can cause social anxiety, she added, and that's why it is important to thank someone who speaks up in the face of sexual misconduct.

Orchowski also pointed to the importance of equipping students with the means to talk among their friends about consent.

To be able to consent to sexual activity, a person must have clear judgment, she said, and be equally free to act. If the person says no, she added, the one time should be sufficient.

But researchers have found that the concept of consent is skewed for many college students, she said, increasing those conversations' importance.

BYU drew scrutiny last April, when then-student Madi Barney called for the Honor Code Office to stop investigating the conduct of students who report sexual assaults. The Honor Code at BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, forbids consumption of alcohol and coffee, restricts contact between male and female students, imposes a dress code and bans expressions of romantic affection between people of the same gender.

Granting amnesty to victims who disclose Honor Code violations at or near the time of an alleged assault was a major recommendation by the advisory council.

The university has not approved such an amnesty policy, but it says it has adopted that practice.

BYU is one of three Utah colleges — including the University of Utah and Westminster College — being investigated by federal officials for the schools' handling of sexual-assault complaints.







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