Calling it a critical component of creating a violence-free campus, the University of Montana this week unveiled a first-of-its-kind tutorial aimed at addressing sexual violence and personal behavior.
All students attending the university will be required to watch the tutorial and pass a quiz with a score of 100 percent before registering for second semester classes.
“Evidence suggests that a one-time shot, like a lecture or a program, has an impact, but the impact reduces over time,” said Danielle Wozniak, an associate professor in the School of Social Work. “This tutorial is more than a one-time lecture. We really wanted to create a dialogue around this because that, too, becomes part of the intervention.”
Dubbed “Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness,” or PETSA, the new tutorial marks a bold move for a university looking to end lingering myths on gender interaction and stem sexual violence by changing cultural behavior one person at a time.
Seated in her small basement office in Jeannette Rankin Hall, Wozniak played the seven short videos included in the tutorial. They focus on Montana law as it relates to rape and sexual assault, the legal definition of consent, sexual predators and America’s “rape-prone culture.”
“Many scholars warn of a rape-prone culture, where prevalent attitudes, norms and behaviors excuse, minimize and even encourage sexual violence,” the video says. “This environment creates stereotypes and beliefs about women, men, sexuality and power.”
The video also looks to stem one’s risk of being assaulted. It tells students how to speak out to protect their friends – or keep friends from making poor decisions. It shares the many options students have if they’re sexually assaulted, and it looks to debunk lingering myths surrounding rape.
“People often lie about sexual assault,” one myth suggests. The tutorial counters that the vast majority of sexual assault reports are true. Not believing a survivor can be emotionally damaging and may prevent others from coming forward.
The videos also look at the myth suggesting that provocative clothing serves as a risk factor – the “she asked for it” excuse. Wozniak said studies of predators have found that their victim’s clothing played little to no factor in the attack.
“Whether you’re wearing a short skirt or snow pants, the only risk factor is the presence of a rapist,” the video says. “Whatever the reason behind a person’s choice of a wardrobe, no one dresses to encourage an attack.”
The University Council on Student Assault, which Wozniak chairs, recommended in 2011 the need to educate all UM students on reducing their risk of being assaulted, or of committing “personal violence.”
Provost Perry Brown and vice president for student affairs Teresa Branch assembled a team of faculty and staff to explore new tools to tackle the subject.
Other universities had created their own training on the subject, but Wozniak said none met UM’s needs or standards.
She and Beth Hubble, co-chair of the Women and Gender Studies program, began writing the script and worked it over with a campus-wide team.
“We wanted something tailored to our needs and something based on the most current literature in sexual assault reduction and prevention,” Wozniak said. “I think what we’ve achieved has set a new national standard for this type of training.”
Not only will every UM student be required to watch the tutorial and take the quiz, but faculty and students will find room at the University Center to discuss the subjects presented in the video, which Wozniak admits will generate debate.
“We know this video can evoke strong feelings on the part of men and women,” she said. “This training is designed to create the opportunity for dialogue and discussion and to make sure we’re not silent about these issues.”
The program doesn’t mince words or shy away from the issue of sexual violence. The video comes with a warning to viewers saying, “If this tutorial feels uncomfortable, STOP and contact the Student Assault Resource Center for support.”
“The subject matter discussed in these videos could be difficult for some,” Wozniak said, citing federal statistics suggesting that one in four college women have been raped or have survived an attempted rape since their 14th birthday.
In a sternly delivered message opening the video, UM President Royce Engstrom warned students that anyone who engages in predatory behavior on campus will be held accountable.
“This online course addresses one of those risks – personal violence,” Engstrom said in the video. “This includes sexual assault, rape, partner violence, stalking and sexual harassment. These crimes can happen on any campus, and they have happened on ours. It’s a tough topic to address, but it’s an important one.”
According to the tutorial, 82 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, including student peers, friends, acquaintances or family members.
Alcohol is the leading date-rape drug. Consent, the video adds, cannot be given by someone who is mentally disabled, incapacitated or physically helpless for any reason, including from alcohol, drugs, deception or coercion.
“Most of the time we think of consent in the negative,” the video says. “She didn’t say ‘no,’ scream, punch or kick. It’s more important to understand that consent is more about saying ‘yes’ than it is about saying ‘no.’ ”