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Sexual violence peer hotline launches

Cameron Copeland ’08, an integrated business and engineering program major, is taking a stand against sexual violence.

“If men stand by and do nothing to educate our peers about issues of sexual assault and rape,” he says, “we send the wrong message.”

Sexual violence, says Christina Diggs ‘07, a political science and religion studies major, is a reality on college campuses, and Lehigh is no exception.

“There are so many people who are affected by sexual violence, whether they have directly experienced sexual assault, or have a friend or relative who has,” Diggs says. “Lehigh has taken many steps in the past few years to make our campus a safer place and to offer resources to those who are affected by sexual assault, and we are getting better each day. However, there is still much to be done in order to effectively address the issue of sexual violence on our campus.”

Copeland, Diggs and 18 other Lehigh students are members of the “Break the Silence” peer educator group, a project established by the Lehigh University’s Women’s Center in the spring of 2004. Made up entirely of highly trained Lehigh student volunteers, and advised by the center’s sexual violence prevention coordinator, the group works to create a dialogue about sexual violence on campus by educating their peers through a variety of programs.

Empowering students

This fall, the “Break the Silence” members began a secondary role beyond presenting peer education programs—volunteering to staff Lehigh’s new Break the Silence Sexual Violence Peer Hotline.

A peer crisis hotline was a key recommendation made by the Sexual Assault Review Committee (SARC) in December 2004. SARC, a group of Student Affairs administrators chaired by Kristin Handler, director of the Women’s Center, found that students were more likely to disclose a sexual assault to a peer than to a campus administrator.

The committee researched and identified the best practices of student-run hotlines at peer institutions such as Johns Hopkins, Tufts and Boston College. Based on these practices, SARC outlined specific guidelines about hotline training, confidentiality, record keeping, budgeting and day-to-day operations.

The Break the Silence Sexual Violence Peer Hotline was launched in August. Students complete 30 hours of training in order to become hotline volunteers, and they monitor the crisis line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during the fall and spring semesters.

“I think the hotline is a crucial service on this campus, “says Nayla Raad ‘07, a sociology, social psychology and cognitive science major. “The peer hotline is important because it facilitates the process of students locating services. We are there to help them help themselves, which means we provide them with options and, thus, empower them.”

Students who have experienced or have questions about sexual violence-related issues are encouraged to call the Break the Silence Sexual Violence Peer Hotline at 4-HOPE from a campus phone or (610) 974-4673). Callers remain anonymous and information disclosed is confidential.

“The hotline,” says Steve McAllister, sexual violence prevention coordinator at the Women’s Center, “will offer students a single access point to support services and provide initial support for students who experienced or have questions about sexual violence-related issues such as sexual assault/rape, relationship abuse, stalking, and harassment.”

Student hotline volunteers will provide callers with information about resources available to them on-campus and in the community, and if warranted, assist callers in contacting these resources. Volunteers will work closely with the Dean of Students Sexual Assault Advocates.

“I volunteer because it's very, very important to me that students realize that they aren't alone on this campus and that there's a group of us just a phone call away, waiting to help them 24/7,” Raad says. “Really, what it comes down to is that we're here to help because we really care about making a difference on this campus. It's important to me that all students realize that we're there for them.”

The “Break the Silence” Sexual Violence Peer Hotline represents the latest effort in a bold Lehigh plan to confront and address critical campus life issues proactively by raising awareness, changing environments, building coalitions, and creating partnerships with community and regional groups.

The sexual violence peer education and peer hotline initiatives are supported by a three-year grant from the Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust, titled “Building Campus and Community Bridges: A Model to Reduce Sexual Assault on College Campuses,” which was initiated in 2003. These efforts complement Lehigh’s successful “A Matter of Degree” (AMOD) program, which worked to reduce alcohol use on campus in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The AMOD program concluded in August.

Lehigh has partnered with Lehigh Valley Hospital, the City of Bethlehem and experts in women’s health to develop an effective and replicable model to increase awareness of the problem of sexual assault, and develop strategies to reduce or prevent its occurrence on campus.

For more information on the “Break the Silence” Sexual Violence Peer Hotline or to get involved, contact the Women’s Center at (610) 758-6484 or visit the Women’s Center Website.

--Sarah Cooke

Posted on Monday, October 03, 2005

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