Responding to Sexual Harassment at Service Sites

The November 14th, Conversation on Community-Engaged Scholarship was about gender-based harassment or assault in the context of service sites. Several faculty have recently had students express discomfort from experiencing unwanted attention while at their service-site. This Conversation was intended to be the first of many discussions about how to respond and how to proactively prepare students to feel more comfortable communicating their boundaries, particularly in the context of the service relationship.

The Conversation began with two speakers, who provided resources and responded to questions. Most of the resources shared are available through Haven.

Christina Franzino ([email protected]), is the Assistant Director for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (Response Coordinator) in GW’s Title IX office. She conducts consultations with students, faculty and staff to inform individuals of available resources both on- and off-campus. Christina can assist individuals with obtaining interim support measures, such as academic support, campus-housing adjustments, and no contact orders. Additionally, Christina manages GW's Sexual Assault Response Consultation (SARC) Team, a 24/7 hotline resource.

Tamara Washington is GW's Victim Services Specialist. She advocates for and supports persons affected by any form of crime. Ms. Washington’s provides confidential services, helping members of the GW community learn about resources on and off campus, as well as about their rights and reporting options.

Both speakers indicated their availability to speak with concerned faculty, or to schedule presentations to classes. They coordinate training for all incoming students but are happy to facilitate a more specific conversation in any of our courses.

Some of the points raised in the subsequent discussion include:

  • Concern about how few GW staff are available to serve the campus population, given the statistic that 1 in 4 college women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual assault. 
    • It was acknowledged that the GW community is experiencing a recent increase in such resources and staffing, but many faculty expressed that more is needed.
  • Concern that many students believe silently accepting harassment is the way to avoid a situation that might escalate. 
    • Faculty can and should have a role in discussing with students ways to make their boundaries clear without putting themselves at further risk
  • Gender-based harassment at service sites
    • The importance of strong relationships between faculty and community partners, so conversations about how to respond begin from a place of trust
    • Complexity when the source of harassment is a client of the organization, someone in need of their services. Can this person receive help while being distanced from volunteers? Can the organization staff, who likely know the client better, intervene? What are the options?
    •  It is also helpful to know the gender-based harassment policies of the service-site organization
    • Preparing students to respond to/de-escalate when they are in the context of serving in the community. 
    • We emphasize the need to have empathy, patience, and respect for those we serve. We also emphasize the cultural differences that should lead students to expect differences in norms of behavior. These messages need to go alongside messages that students should feel empowered to maintain their own boundaries of comfort. Students may find these to be complex messages to communicate.
    • Training for faculty may be needed, to help them facilitate this discussion in class as a part of other course content that prepares students to enter the community.   
  • The need to address the shifting of culture, in addition to responding to individual issues. 
    • Training needs to not just focus on how to respond to harassment or assault, but how to help students recognize when they are being perpetrators of unwanted and inappropriate attention
    • At the Honey W. Nashman Center, we have made our goal to address the culture of racism explicit. There is a need at GW to address rape culture in a similar way
    • Opportunities for training and discussion of this culture were considered
      • The Nashman Center’s Institute for Citizen Leaders will include training related to gender-based harassment and assault in future.
      • A discussion of these issues may also occur at Chavez-Huerta-Itliong Day as well
  • Franzino and Washington indicated that they are frequently asked about how to influence culture shifts. They believe some important shaping experience happen long before students arrive at college. 
    • Teaching young children that their bodies are their own – that they do not have to hug someone they do not want to. When children say stop tickling, grown-ups should stop. 
    • Our students can contribute to this shift in culture is through their own service with children. GW service-learning students often describe discomfort with the way children hug/grip, climb on them. Students can use this teachable moment to demonstrate to children how to communicate about the boundaries they want to have where their own bodies are concerned. 
    • Faculty can play a role in removing the taboo on discussing issues of gender and sex. 

The Conversation concluded with important clarification on GW’s new policy that includes instructors as “responsible employees,” meaning they have a responsibility to inform the Title IX office whenever they become aware that a member of the GW community has experienced gender-based harassment or assault. The result of this notification is that the student will receive, via email, information about the supports and resources available to them. The student is not required to respond to this email and the perpetrator of the harassment is not contacted (unless there are multiple reports about the same person, indicating the GW community is at risk). It was suggested that having the student be involved when we notify Title IX (or at least letting them know that we are contacting Title IX in order to get information about resources) would help the student feel more comfortable with the process.

The resources shared with students are also available through Haven and include contact information for medical care, legal support, and reporting information, but most importantly, a trained person to talk to about the experience through the Sexual Assault Response and Consultation Team (SARC). 

GW's policies on Title XI are outlined on the GW Compliance website.