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Vaden surveys students for $500K project

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Last week, e-mail requests from Ira Friedman, director of the Vaden Health Center, hit student inboxes, asking students to answer a questionnaire on relationship abuse on campus. The survey, which has more than 50 questions and enters participants into a raffle to win an iPad, is part of a $500K project initiated three years ago.

Wellness and Health Promotion Services at Vaden is working with a Palo Alto non-profit to enhance campus support against sexual violence and for its survivors. (MICHAEL LIU/The Stanford Daily)

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Justice, marks the second round of funding devoted to this collaborative effort between the University’s Wellness and Health Promotion Services (HPS) and the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness (CRAA), a Palo Alto-based nonprofit. The first cycle, which lasted two years, ended in 2008 and amounted to $300,000.
Both phases sought to achieve the same three goals, said HPS director Carole Pertofsky, who also supervises the partnership—response, training and education.
Several steps have already been taken to accomplish the first two goals. Strong ties with YWCA have been established, giving victims access to a campus office and a 24/7 hotline as they decide how to approach the situation.
“Students have complete control,” Pertofsky said. “They decide whether to proceed and file a Judicial Affairs charge or even file a criminal charge.”
The partnership has also garnered an army of students to join the fight against sexual violence, including 20 student interns at CRAA to help with outreach efforts at dorms and Greek houses as well as a number of student organizations like Men Against Abuse Now (MAAN).
“I wasn’t here before the grant,” said CRAA intern and two-year MAAN president Ted Westling ’12. “But from what I heard, there wasn’t as much open and thoughtful discussions about it. There weren’t as many projects or supporting victims of violence.”
MAAN, a 12-member all-male group, meets weekly to discuss issues and facilitates student education efforts by putting on events like film screenings and panels.
This is not to say that education was completely non-existent on campus—HPS addresses these issues in “The Real World: Stanford,” a student production performed during New Student Orientation. But there’s much more that can be done, Pertofsky explained.
“We also realize that we don’t really know, we don’t have good data on what are the beliefs and attitudes in terms of the general student body about sexual violence,” she said.
Most of the statistics that HPS uses comes from national averages, which, according to Pertofsky, is not always exemplary of campus culture because Stanford represents a very sophisticated demographic. She noted that many students are already committed to ending sexual violence, citing the high attendance at “Take Back the Night,” the annual candlelight procession in the spring.
“I think what we really need to do is to understand where to target our education efforts,” Pertofsky added. “So that we’re not talking to students about issues they’re already aware of but hitting on what’s important to [them]. The purpose of the survey is to really get a very detailed understanding of what our campus needs are in terms of education.”
One of the attitudes that the partnership is working to change involves tendencies to first question what the victim of sexual violence has done to provoke the perpetrator. A large part of the education endeavors is to “stop asking that as the first question, and start asking: he made a choice, how is he made accountable for committing a crime,” Pertofsky said.
But it doesn’t end there. Transforming the cultural norms of such a large community takes time, which is why a second round of funding was needed.
“There are a number [of cases] reported to the Stanford Police every year,” Westling said. “Only about 40 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported so there are probably far more happening than we have documentation of.”
Pertofsky said HPS and CRAA are looking into establishing additional resources, details of which are yet to be disclosed. But she confirms that, although she doesn’t have exact numbers, the survey has been receiving the desired response rate.