Earlier this week, the Fort Collins community and Colorado State University hosted the first statewide summit of its kind in the nation, focused on involving Colorado communities in ending sexual assault and sexual violence. Serving as a national model for other states, initial steps in a plan to address sexual violence across the state emerged from the summit’s exchange of ideas and expertise, with a goal to shift community-wide thinking and efforts toward prevention.
Part of the It’s On Us movement, the summit on Monday provided innovative ideas and best practices for Colorado campuses, universities and municipalities to help entire communities identify ways to prevent sexual assault. Momentum from the day led to the creation of an initial, action-oriented, statewide team through the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to investigate forming a Colorado It’s On Us committee to serve as a sexual assault and violence prevention and education resource to communities of all sizes across the state.
It’s On Us involves everyone in change
Initiated by the White House under Joe Biden, It’s On Us advocates that everyone has a role in preventing sexual assault and can be empowered by identifying situations in which sexual assaults may occur, learning skills to intervene, and creating an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported. Attendees represented more than 20 entities, including elected officials, municipal staff, university staff and student leaders, first responders, victim’s advocacy services, and state government staff.
“Sexual assault is an incredibly personal topic, and a great deal of work is already being done at CSU and in Fort Collins,” said CSU President Tony Frank. “However, as a society, we are failing, and we’ve created an environment that has allowed sexual assault and violence to persist. In the end, or in the beginning, depending on how you view it, it will be on each of us to do what we can to make a difference.”
At the summit, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced that her office would be funding Haven, a sexual assault, stalking, relationship violence awareness and educational online program for students, for all Colorado college campuses. Colorado State University implemented Haven several years ago as a requirement for all new students.
“The State of Colorado, the City of Fort Collins, and CSU are known for being progressive and forward thinking already,” said Lea Hanson, program director for the It’s On Us Fort Collins initiative. “This is a new way we can lead our peers around the nation to tackle hard-but important-issues. I see the future being an exciting and continual growth and expansion of both individual commitment and community action to ending sexual violence and ridding our communities of rape supportive culture.”
Fort Collins, CSU creating national model
Last summer Fort Collins was the first city in the nation to be declared an It’s On Us community by the White House, under the leadership of city council member Gino Campana, who worked directly with Vice President Biden during the Obama administration, and Hanson. The local efforts focus involve the city, SAVA – the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center, CSU, and others.
“I like to describe our work with the following analogy: most work to date has revolved around survivor support which is like an airbag of a car,” said Campana. “An airbag doesn’t prevent the crash but mitigates the damages. But prevention through a societal shift of empowerment is like the new braking sensors on cars that prevent the accident from happening in the first place.”
Education is key component of future success
One potential focus of the statewide committee’s work will be providing education to bystanders about specific strategies that people can use in their everyday lives to prevent sexual violence, such as ways to intervene appropriately in situations that may escalate or indicate interpersonal violence, and make a cultural shift away from blaming the victim.
“Many people care deeply about these issues,” said Monica Rivera, director of the Women and Gender Advocacy Center on CSU’s campus, a thought leader in changing the way campus communities talk about and engage in sexual assault prevention. “That doesn’t always mean that they know how to talk about sexual violence and assault in meaningful ways within their spheres of influence, or how to talk to their kid’s teachers about the issue, or ask important questions of law enforcement or elected officials to find out how we can support accountability in our communities.”
The university’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center launched the REFRAME initiative last year. REFRAME is a research-based curriculum and communications campaign that changes the conversation about interpersonal violence among campus students, faculty and staff. It teaches about sexual consent, skills for intervening, and how to respond to language and behaviors that perpetuate an environment where sexual assault is acceptable and often perceived as the victim’s fault. Through the REFRAME campaign and other efforts, CSU works in conjunction with the city to make sure that both the REFRAME and It’s On Us initiatives have messaging that supports rather than competes with the other.
“This makes Fort Collins and CSU even more unique because we each have our own population-specific initiatives, but both of those initiatives work closely together to help educate and inspire the campus and broader Fort Collins community,” Rivera said.
CSU Sexual Assault Awareness Month Events
- Healing and Self-Care After Trauma, 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13, LSC Rooms 328-330
- Sandra Kim, keynote speaker, Building an Intersectional and Inclusive Movement to End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault 7 p.m. Monday, April 17, LSC Theater
- R.E.D. Open House, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday, April 24, LSC Woman and Gender Advocacy Office, Room 234
- Consent Turns Me On Carnival, 6 -8 p.m., Monday, April 24, Durrell Center
- Take Back the Night, 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Monfort Quad