Coalition fights campus sexual assault

By: Nick Bergeman ~Staff Writer~

Councilmember Sittenfeld
Photo courtesy of | City Coucilmember Sittenfeld (center) spoke out against sexual violence.

Sexual and gender-based violence have long been pervasive on college campuses, but Cincinnati wants to change that.

City Councilmember P. G. Sittenfeld announced at a press conference on Sept. 15 that he is teaming with area universities, Women Helping Women and area law enforcement to establish the Cincinnati Task Force to Reduce Campus Gender-Based Violence.

In June 2015, The Washington Post-Kaiser Foundation national survey found that one in five women and one in 20 men report being sexually assaulted in college since 2011. The study elaborated that many of these cases go unreported, with even smaller amounts being prosecuted.

“Gender-based violence is far too common, complex and consequential to be addressed, eliminated or prevented by any one program or by any one community partner. Instead, like any other public health epidemic — and this is a public health epidemic — it requires a collaborative response to create true culture change,” said Kristin Shrimplin, executive director of Women Helping Women.

The task force represents a new type of collective commitment to fighting campus gender- based violence, which unifies efforts across the city.

“In all of our research, this is one of the very first citywide efforts across the entire country to confront this confront this problem with a comprehensive, cross-sector collective impact approach,” said Sittenfeld.

Thirteen organizations are represented on the task force, including the city of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Police Department, University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, Norwood Police Department, Women Helping Women and the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, among others.

The consortium represents the sources that may have the greatest impact on campus gender- based violence, with a focus on advocacy groups, colleges and law enforcement.

Kate Lawson, Title IX coordinator at Xavier University, and Shrimplin are serving as the co-chairs for the task force and have invited any other community groups to join.

Over the next eight months, the task force will meet and work to launch a public awareness campaign, create a comprehensive web portal for victim resources, examine the policies and procedures that handle campus gender-based violence and publish a report of the best practices to combat the violence. The task force aims to create more individualized attention that draws support from different channels, while identifying solutions and preventing further assaults, Lawson said.

Lawson and Shrimplin are focused on further developing the culture in the city toward one that is unfriendly to campus gender- based violence and encourages victims to seek the assistance available to them. The services offered to victims range from counseling to education about myths that pervade college campuses, such as that sexual violence only comes from strangers in the middle of the night. In reality, the majority of violence comes from someone that the victim knows. Lawson and Shrimplin said that the first step in developing this system is increasing reports of the violence and removing the stigma from victims.

Though the process will be difficult, Sittenfeld and the task force are committed to finding lasting solutions that impact Cincinnati’s culture. In conjunction with the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign, which encourages bystander intervention to prevent and fight sexual violence, the task force is launching a campaign called “It’s On Us – Cincinnati.”

The campaign and task force ask individuals to get involved and help stop sexual violence from occurring, especially on college campuses.

“It is on Xavier to be more than bystanders,” said Megan Bowling, the president of Bystander Intervention at Xavier.