By Hailey Murphy
Research conducted by students in human services 404 has raised questions regarding the effectiveness of the online Sexual Assault Prevention training program formerly known as Haven, which all students are required to take upon coming to Western.
Students said the training has shortcomings because it’s an online, short-term program that teaches reactionary measures without breaking down the societal norms that perpetuate assault.
Brett Coleman, professor of human services, also said the training doesn’t break down the root causes of sexual assault.
“It doesn’t address patriarchy and toxic masculinity,” Coleman said. “It frames things as if everyone is at equal risk, and so let’s just give everyone this training and that’ll solve the problem. Which is absurd. Not everyone is at equal risk.”
The Sexual Assault Prevention training is mandatory for all incoming freshmen, transfer and graduate students in order to register for their second quarter of classes. The training is made by EverFi, an organization that creates digital trainings to improve campus inclusivity across the country, according to their website.
EverFi is also the creator of Haven, the online prevention training that was given to students prior to this year. The new training, called Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates or Sexual Assault Prevention for Graduate Students, appears to cover the same content such as gender stereotypes, red flags in relationships and the definition of consent, though the delivery of the content has been updated.
Elva Munro, director of Prevention and Wellness Services, said in an email that no single training can prevent sexual assault and that this training is just one piece of prevention at Western. Others include programming, events, cuuriculuum infusion, attention to the safety of the physical environment and routine review of Western’s policies and procedures. Other pieces of prevention that Munro mentioned in the email were “events, curriculum, recognition of the intersectionality of sexual violence,” and “availability and accessibility of trauma-informed services for survivors of sexual violence.”
“This initial piece provides an environmental/community-wide level of intervention,” Munro said in the email, “creating a student population who has all received the same core information and skill training.”
A report generated by EverFi in fall 2017 indicates that the training is having a significant impact on the student body, with 82 percent of those surveyed saying they knew more about consent and the characteristics of unhealthy relationships than they did before.
As shown in the report, 187 students took the post-training survey that generated these percentages, while 5,043 students took the pre-training survey.
However, according to research conducted by human services students, this training is not having a lasting effect on students.
Human services students last spring stood in Red Square and asked students what they remembered from the Haven training, said Nicole Wood, human services major and co-lead of Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (SASHA). Students wrote their answers on sticky notes, which were color-coded according to gender (female, male, and nonbinary), then put these sticky notes on a poster.
While many remembered nothing from the training, women and non-binary people remembered more than men did, as shown in a report provided by Coleman. About 37 percent of the 41 males surveyed either didn’t remember taking the training or didn’t know what it was at all, compared to 25 percent of the 60 surveyed females. Approximately 63 percent of men knew what the training was “to some extent”, while only 39 percent knew it was about sexual assault.
In comparison, 75 percent of women surveyed, as well as both non-binary people surveyed, knew the training was about sexual assault, the report shows.
The report also shows that, in a survey conducted by human services students in winter 20188, most students who took the training did it because it was required for registration and not because they wanted to learn more about assault prevention.
“People didn’t really remember that much because it’s just this hoop you have to jump through, and it’s not a particularly impactful experience for people,” Coleman said. “The way I think the university thinks is, this is a great program. People take this training and that will reduce the amount of sexual assault that occurs. And maybe that’s true, but it completely ignores all these other important pieces of the problem of sexual assault holistically.”
One issue students have mentioned with the training is that not everyone is equally invested in the issue of assault, and because the training is given online, those who aren’t invested can just click through.
Aracelli Samano, a human services major who took the training three years ago and is now in human services 404, said she wasn’t invested at the time.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was half-asleep taking it, just clicking through it because it wouldn’t let me register for classes.” Samano said. “So it was really easy to continue to just go through, get it done. And I don’t remember anything on it. I just remember that I needed to click through it and be done with it.”
Another mentioned flaw of the training is that it teaches potential victims how to protect themselves, but doesn’t break down victim-blaming narratives or hold perpetrators responsible.
“I remember feeling like I’m at this really unsafe part of my life right now where one in four women are going to experience sexual assault in the next four years,” Wood said. “I’m on this campus now and I have to do everything I can in my power to prevent that from happening to me, and if I don’t do that, it’s my fault that it happens to me.”
While the prevention training does explicitly state that assault is never the victim’s fault, Wood said the focus on bystander intervention doesn’t teach potential perpetrators about consequences or the thought-processes behind their actions.
In a 2016 survey conducted by the Council of Presidents, over 150 Western students recommended more in-person training for sexual assault prevention, either in addition to or instead of the online program, according to the report. Many students recommended a GUR about sexual violence or increased trainings in the residence halls.
Students currently in the human services 404 class said they’re working to get the explicit definition of sexual assault from the student code of conduct onto the housing contract and course syllabi to try and hold perpetrators more accountable.
These efforts are part of the action phase in 404’s ongoing participatory action research project. Human services 404 is a community systems class which employs the use of participatory action research to examine Western’s handling of sexual violence.
Participatory action research is a method in which people within a community conduct research, then using data from that research, act against a problem, Coleman said. This methodology values the knowledge of those within the community, as opposed to only valuing the knowledge of an outside academic perspective.
“It’s based on this idea, if you want to understand something try to change it. Even if you fail at changing it, you learn a lot about the thing,” Coleman said. “So we’re trying to change the systems, and in the process, whether we succeed or not, the goal of the class is to learn about systems.
Coleman started using the participatory action research model in winter 2018 as a way to teach about community systems. That initial cohort of students voted to research sexual assault on campus, and now each quarter a new group of students continues the research.