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Green Dot program aims to curb sexual assaults at LU

Green Dot program aims to curb sexual assaults at LU

December 17th, 2017 by Bob Watson in Local News

This Feb. 5, 2015, file photo shows a student crossing the pedestrian bridge near Page Library on the Lincoln University campus.

Photo by News Tribune /News Tribune.

For many, sexual assaults have become a common part of news and personal discussions.

Lincoln University graduate Brysen Russell, 23, has lived with being an assault victim since her high school days in Kansas, and she's working now to help others both prevent assaults and deal with their aftermath.

She came to Lincoln for its wellness program, and after graduating, she worked in Kansas for about a year.

She returned to Jefferson City so she could work as a Green Dot program coordinator at LU's Women's Resource Center, which opened in 2015.

The Green Dot program is "a bystander and intervention program that we use to try and prevent sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking on campus," she explained.

It encourages people to report situations when they see them.

In its first two years, she said, LU's Green Dot program has trained 113 students.

A 2014 peer-reviewed evaluation of the national program showed students who went through the training were less likely to be victims or perpetrators of sexual assault.

"We try and provide information that's open to everyone," Russell said. "We would like to be the one campus that (assault) doesn't apply to — but it still applies to us, as well.

"So it's extremely important for our college kids to be educated, to know what you can do in those situations, to help others — (and) we need to be a society that looks out for each other more, rather than trying to fight it once it's already gone downstream."

Russell noted many people are talking about assaults "because our society as a whole has a problem — especially on college campuses — when it comes to these issues of sexual assault and domestic violence."

Lincoln's police department has a booklet that details the definitions of assault and the school's "Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, & Stalking Processes and Procedures."

Russell said the starting point for determining assaults versus other kinds of intimate contact is consent — that is, the contact is OK only when both parties agree to it ahead of time.

"It's a very thin line, as I'm sure most people are aware," she explained. "It is super difficult, and we're lucky to have our Lincoln University police officers to do those investigations for us."

Police Chief Gary Hill told the Missouri House Special Committee on Urban Issues this month that increasing communications with students has helped by "passing through information that certain behaviors and certain decisions can ultimately lead to (troublesome) situations."

Hill, a former Cole County sheriff's deputy, has been LU's police chief for a year.

In that year, he told lawmakers, he's worked to train faculty and staff on how to report sexual assaults — and to get students, faculty and staff to feel more comfortable with officers' presence and the work they must do when assaults occur.

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"We tell them if you ever have a problem or you feel uncomfortable," he said, "by all means, please call LUPD."

Hill told lawmakers part of the credit for the improved communication goes to the Women's Resource Center.

Russell said Hill has worked hard ensure these cases are handled correctly.

When lawmakers this month questioned why Hill is so focused on communications, he said: "When we conduct an investigation, we begin asking (just) basic questions. A lot of investigations start out with just asking questions, and if we ask the right questions, we'll get answers even from people who don't want to report (an incident) or are reluctant to report it to us."

Russell and others with the Women's Resource Center — and those with Lincoln's separate Male Initiative program — give presentations to various on-campus groups about recognizing and handling sexual assaults.

"Where we're at as a society right now really opens up doors for us to have these conversations and to start figuring out what we're going to do when it comes to this issue," she said. "I believe we have to start giving definitions a lot earlier (in life) when it comes to sexual education (and) the definitions of consent. I think what's going on now is we've proven that although it seems to be an issue that should be discussed at home, a lot of people aren't getting that at home."

She acknowledged it's an issue that's always been difficult — some families through the years have been more open to sex education discussions than others.

And the Midwest, as a generality, may be more cautious about those discussions than other parts of the country.

"But when I say 'sex ed,'" Russell explained, "I don't mean going into a room full of second-graders and (the discussion) being like a college class. Just more so going over those definitions of consent and just having it be something that carries through with them."

During the House hearing this month, state Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City, questioned Hill's report of only six assaults on campus in 2016.

"It's ridiculous to think there were only six assaults in 2016," he said. "It means a whole bunch of stuff is not actually being reported."

Hill told lawmakers his investigators will do what they can to get information and when necessary turn it over to prosecutors.

But, Russell said, assault victims have the final choice in "everything when it comes to the way the case is handled. We leave it up to the victims and their comfort level."

Russell also said people shouldn't play a numbers game about whether assaults occur a lot or only a small amount of the time.

"Although it might not be a huge number, I think any number is big," she said. "It's a bigger problem to us that people don't really see it as a problem because it's a small number.

"It's a big issue because, if we have people on our campus who are sexually assaulting other students, it causes a problem for not only that student, but their learning while they're here and whether or not they're going to make it through college."

When they're willing, Russell said, victims' telling their own stories helps others understand the need for the resource center's work.

"Victims' stories are powerful, and they create probably the most change when it comes to getting people to listen," she said.