Erin Burrows

Edwin Qian, managing information systems and economics senior, left, biology junior Ellen Cocanougher and accounting junior William Herbst are the founding members of the University’s chapter of Not On My Campus.
Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

Over the course of the last week, Not On My Campus, a student-led sexual assault prevention movement, garnered national attention and earned 1,400 signatures on a petition to stop sexual violence on UT’s campus. 

The social media movement, adapted from a program that originated at SMU, is dedicated to starting conversations about sexual violence. Three UT students — Edwin Qian, managing information systems and economics senior, biology junior Ellen Cocanougher and accounting junior William Herbst — launched the local campaign in advance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which begins Wednesday. 

The campaign quickly gained momentum, as participants wrote “Not On My Campus” on their palms and posted photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

Sexual assault is a prevalent issue on college campuses across the country, and the full scope of the problem at any given university is often hard to determine, according to Erin Burrows, interpersonal violence prevention specialist for Voices Against Violence. 

According to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, 80 percent of Texans who are raped never report the incident to law enforcement. Many national studies have found that nearly one in five college women are sexually assaulted over the course of their college experience, according to a report released by the organization. 

Not On My Campus UT launched an online pledge asking signers to support and empower assault survivors, work with campus resources to promote safety and engage in practices of bystander intervention. Qian said signing the pledge amounts to a public declaration to stand up against sexual assault, which he hopes is the first step in putting sexual violence prevention into practice. 

The movement has not been limited to students — President William Powers Jr. and former football head coach Mack Brown both participated in the social media campaign last week. Members of Not On My Campus said they hope support from alumni and faculty will help their message trickle down to the entire community. UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the campaign helps promote a no-nonsense attitude toward sexual assault prevention on campus. 

“By participating in the #NotOnMyCampusUT campaign, [Powers] is trying to help our students spread that message,” Susswein said. “He is so proud of the stances that our students have taken.”  

In addition to a social media campaign, the group members plan to establish a campus organization and expand outreach through various prevention programs. 

“We don’t just want to be an initiative,” Herbst said. “We also want to be a continuous, strong organization here on campus and be an intermediary source between the student body and the administration.” 

The group plans to conduct bystander-intervention training, hold self-defense classes and work with incoming freshmen to provide survivors with the help and support they need. 

“We know a lot of freshmen are terrified when they come in and experience this type of culture for the first time,” Cocanougher said. “We want to be able to bring awareness about it and educate people about the resources on campus.” 

Burrows, who has advised Not On My Campus since the fall, said reaching over 50,000 students with any campaign is challenging and social media can be an effective way to spread the simple message of consent. 

Burrows said she is glad fraternity and sorority leaders are making a vocal stand about sexual assault on college campuses. According to a 2013 study conducted by researchers at Oklahoma State University, men in fraternities are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault, while women in sororities are more likely to be assault survivors.

“When people are talking about the issue of sexual assault, they talk about the prevalence rates in Greek community, and that is true,” Burrows said. “But it’s not a problem specific to Greek community — it’s a problem in all communities.” 

Since the launch of the campaign on March 23, campus leaders from St. Edwards and University of North Texas have contacted the group seeking advice on how to establish Not On My Campus initiatives at their schools. 

“By bringing it here, it’s going to be the kick-starter that spreads it across campuses,” Herbst said. “If we have a successful program here, it’s going to spread across to other schools.”

Interested in how you can prevent sexual assault on campus? Full event listings for Sexual Violence Prevention Month at UT can be found here.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

As Austin City Council plans to declare February Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month on Thursday, the University and Austin organizations are working to raise awareness about domestic violence and provide resources for victims.

Barri Rosenbluth, SafePlace’s Expect Respect program director, said she will be there to accept the proclamation from City Council. SafePlace, a resource center for victims of sexual and domestic violence, has worked to raise awareness about dating violence every February since 2010.

At the University, Voices Against Violence will continue to be a resource for students in abusive relationships, according to Erin Burrows, Voices Against Violence’s prevention and outreach specialist.

“Voices Against Violence supports people whether they choose to report and can also help [people] make that decision with [an] advocacy meeting,” Burrows said. “We support students where they’re at from a counseling perspective and raise awareness and prevent the issue on campus.”

University officials reported 21 instances of dating violence, 25 instances of domestic violence and 44 instances of stalking in the 2014 Annual Campus Security Report. The report defines dating violence as “violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim.” 

The report, filed in October of last year, is the first annual report to specifically list dating violence, domestic violence and stalking offenses, as required by a federal law passed in 2013.

Seventy-five percent of 16–24-year-olds have either experienced dating violence or known someone who has, according to a survey the Texas Council on Family Violence conducted in 2006. 

“We all know someone whose life has been touched by an unhealthy relationship,” Burrows said. “It’s something we know happens frequently in society, but it’s not something we talk about all the time. [Voices Against Violence’s] definition of a healthy relationship is one in which everyone feels safe to be themselves.”

Nutrition sophomore Riddhi Patodia said dating violence is a major societal issue that often goes unnoticed. 

“When you’re in a relationship, you don’t want people to know your problems,” Patodia said. “But what happens behind closed doors could be detrimental or even deadly or harmful. It happens all the time. I’ve never been a victim, [but] I know friends who have been through stuff like that, and they’re not themselves.”

A 2011 survey conducted by a German-based research firm, Knowledge Networks, found that 43 percent of “dating” college women experience some form of dating abuse. Burrows emphasized that violence can even happen outside of the term “dating.”

“We’re here for dating violence or even hook-ups,” Burrows said. “Dating can be an antiquated term. Some people don’t even call what they’re doing dating. We want to make sure all our resources are really relevant for whatever someone’s situation is.”

Rosenbluth said it is difficult to define an abusive relationship.

“What is it that makes you feel good, feel strong, helps you feel supported and reach your goals?” Rosenbluth said. “It’s important that everyone finds that for themselves and looks for relationships that meet that standard.”

The launch of a national campaign Friday addressing sexual assault prevention on college campuses highlights University efforts to tackle sexual violence, according to a University health official. 

President Barack Obama announced the “It’s On Us” campaign, the latest effort from an ongoing White House initiative to reduce the number of sexual assaults among college students. The campaign encourages bystander intervention, particularly from men, through public service announcements featured nationwide.

According to Obama, about one in five women is sexually assaulted during college, but only 12 percent of victims report the assault. 

Erin Burrows, health education coordinator at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, or CMHC, said the “It’s On Us” campaign can start conversations about the role of students in sexual assault prevention.

“This campaign is really about what students can do at the grassroots level to take action,” Burrows said.

The University program BeVocal, which launched in April, addresses tactics students can use to prevent violence, such as sexual assault, suicide and domestic violence. 

Jane Morgan Bost, the associate director of Prevention and Outreach Services at the CMHC, said the BeVocal program was created to promote a student culture that stands against violence.

“We want to create culture change and say Longhorns care for Longhorns,” Bost said. “We don’t just stand by and watch something happen to another Longhorn.”

Burrows said BeVocal provides student organizations with intervention training that presents direct and indirect ways students can engage a high-risk situation.

“There is no hierarchy in intervention,” Burrows said. “Depending on what the circumstances are in the situation, you really need to figure out how to best use the tools that you have.”

Bost said students often will not act in a case of sexual assault because of “groupthink” mentality.

“If a person sees there’s a problem going on, but no one is doing anything about it, that person might think, ‘I must be wrong. No one here is responding.’” Bost said.

Burrows said indirect methods of intervention can be an effective way for individuals to counteract the pressure of intervening. 

“For example, if there’s a stranger-based situation down on Sixth Street, and you don’t know what the deal is, then it might be your best bet to get other people involved like the bouncer or the bartender,” Burrows said.  

Public health junior Liliana Vasquez said she hopes to see more men take responsibility for sexual assault prevention because, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, almost 99 percent of sexual assault offenders are male. 

“If you look at a lot of the violence prevention work, it’s mostly headed by women, which, in fact, it shouldn’t be,” Vazquez said. “It should be the other way around or a lot more balanced so that people are working together to shift culture.”

Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

Voices Against Violence, a student organization, will be hosting multiple events throughout April to promote Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

Take Back the Night, the biggest event of the month, will take place on Wednesday on the Main Mall and will offer the public a chance to hear from keynote speaker Luz Guerra, a human rights activist who has worked against violence for the past 30 years.

Participants can also watch performances, enjoy art installments and take advantage of free food, while learning about various resources the University offers. Observed by different groups around the country, Take Back the Night serves as a protest and rally against sexual violence. 

Though different in form, all of the events have common purposes: to challenge barriers, give power back to survivors and ultimately promote prevention. Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist for Voices Against Violence, said two of the most important ways to challenge mind-sets toward violence are starting conversations and redefining consent. 

“We all come from different cultures and backgrounds where talking about sex at all is taboo and talking about sexual violence is especially taboo,” Burrows said. “I really do believe every time we have a conversation about sexual violence we are moving toward prevention.” 

According to Burrows, properly defining consent is also key. Violence is not reported out of fear or shame, or because many victims would not define their experience as abuse. According to the Counseling and Mental Health Center, consent is “an active agreement to engage in a certain act or be exposed to a certain situation.” 

Clarifying that survivors are not victims is also a significant part of the program. The organization is hosting a workshop a few days before Take Back the Night to help prepare survivors who want to speak and share their stories at the event. The workshop will help participants process what they experienced and decide what they want others to know. If survivors want to tell their stories but aren’t ready to speak in front of others, they can write on notecards that will be hanging at the event.  

Burrows said the organization has shifted toward a focus on prevention and strives to raise awareness and have conversations now, instead of when it’s too late. 

Voices Against Violence was first created in 2001 by Jane Bost, associate director at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, to meet the needs of an ever-growing awareness of on-campus violence. Before the organization was created, the mental health center estimated it only received 10 reports of sexual violence per year. Since it was established, the center has had roughly 900 cases. Bost said the programs have been successful in creating a more open and friendly environment in which students feel safe to report such crimes. 

“We’re trying to reach and prevent these kinds of issues way before you get to the point where you’re calling the police,” Bost said. “So we have conversations now about healthy relationships. We have reached thousands and thousands together with the Theatre for Dialogue and Get Sexy. Get Consent.”

Burrows, who first wanted to be involved with sexual violence after her close friends was a victim of it, suggests students remember the acronym BLOG when they confront violence. It stands for believe, listen, offer options and get support. Although offering options is significant, listening to and believing in someone’s story is the most important method of support, according to Burrows.

“Even just knowing that there’s efforts going on on this campus to not only address sexual violence, not only to get resources in the hands of those who need it most, but to have the foresight to prevent sexual violence,” Burrows said. “We want everyone to feel safe here and connected here, and one way to do that is to ensure that we’re having honest conversations about real issues.”

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Voices Against Violence — a program run by the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center — is partnering with other student organizations to heighten awareness of dating violence.

At the “Blurred Lines” event Tuesday, hosted by Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority, speakers from Voices Against Violence and Travis County Counseling and Education Services discussed the prevalence of domestic abuse among young people in relationships. 

Gretta Gardner, family violence director for the Travis County Counseling and Education Services, said there is no clear definition of domestic violence.

“There is no prototype; it depends solely on the individual who is experiencing it,” Gardner said. 

Erin Burrows, health education coordinator for Voices Against Violence, said gender stereotypes often keep men from reaching out for help.

“While women experience domestic violence at a higher rate, an astronomical number of men experience it too, and that’s rarely talked about,” Burrows said.

Chelsea Tijerina, undergraduates studies senior and vice president of marketing for Sigma Lambda Gamma, said she thinks relationship violence awareness is especially important for college students.

“We wanted to do this event to release the tension and give a voice to those who maybe have experienced abuse or know someone who has experienced it, or even those who just feel passionate about it,” Tijerina said. “A lot of students who first come to college just feel kind of lost, and I feel like too many of them are unaware of the dangers of abuse.”

Burrows said Voices Against Violence has hosted events every October on the UT campus for about 10 years, but the tone has changed this year.

“This year we have shifted quite a bit to focus on solutions, as well as what it looks like to prevent dating violence,” Burrows said. “We are trying to put a spotlight on the value of healthy relationships and trying to get everyone in relationships to think about how we are treating each other.”

Other Domestic Violence Awareness Month events include “Breaking the Silence Speak-Out” on Oct. 17, “Crime After Crime” on Oct. 22 and the “Young Women’s Day of Action” luncheon on Oct. 30.

Corrected: QSA member Devon Howard helps run Wednesday’s workshop on maintaining healthy relationships. The workshop was administered by Erin Burrows, who regularly speaks on the topic and relationship health in the LGBTQ  community.

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

UT’s Queer Students Alliance began National Domestic Violence Awareness Month with a seminar focusing on defining healthy relationships Wednesday.

“No two relationships look the same, so domestic violence can be difficult to define, but it comes down to power and control,” said Erin Burrows, health education coordinator for Voices Against Violence, who led the presentation. “Domestic violence comes down to anytime you feel afraid of your partner, no matter the cause.” 

About 40 students worked in groups to answer questions such as, “What does healthy communication look/sound like?” and “How do you take care of yourself in a relationship?” 

English senior Tianhe “Zen” Ren, vice director of the alliance, said the goal of the event was to raise awareness about domestic violence within the LGBTQ community.

“A lot of domestic violence awareness focuses on heteronormative relationships,” Ren said. “We have to learn to recognize the signs of violence in LGBTQ relationships as well.” 

Burrows said domestic violence within LGBTQ relationships can be difficult to define.

“Especially if someone hasn’t come out to their family yet, their partner may use their sexual orientation against them with homophobia, transphobia, etc.,” she said. 

Burrows said physical or sexual violence is “just the tip” of the domestic violence iceberg, while verbal and emotional abuse often go unseen.

Ren said one step to reducing domestic violence would be to have more allies within the LGBTQ community promoting education and awareness. 

“People feel uncomfortable coming to the Gender Studies Center or to QSA meetings because they feel others will assume they’re LGBTQ,” she said. “We just want more people to be aware and become allies for students who are LGBTQ.” 

The group’s treasurer Rogelio Meza said an ally is anyone who personally supports the LGBTQ community.

“We want to educate people and bring awareness to the community,” Meza said. “It makes me happy to see non-LGBTQ students at our meetings supporting us and being willing to learn more.”

Meza said support is about more than just acceptance — it also means becoming more educated. He said sex education in schools often focuses only on heterosexual relationships.

“We want to bring LGBTQ awareness to the general populace as well as to LGBTQ students themselves,” he said. “Not everyone is the same and that’s a beautiful thing.”

“Save This Seat” is an initiative, launched by Voices Against Violence from the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center and the UT student organizations Out Against Abuse and Breaking the Silence, that took place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday in various classrooms.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Seats in the campus’ crowded lecture halls were left open all day Monday to memorialize victims of relationship violence.

The Counseling and Mental Health Center’s Voices Against Violence teamed with UT student organizations Out Against Abuse and Breaking the Silence to kick off Relationship Violence Awareness Month with Save This Seat. Save This Seat lasted through the scheduled class day campus-wide. Students posted a sign on vacant classroom seats for every female killed by a domestic partner in Texas during the last four years. Signs were also posted in the lobbies of the Flawn Academic Center and the Student Activity Center to honor these women.

Biology sophomore Kenera Colley, president of Breaking the Silence, said the group delivered signs to classes. Each sign told the story of a woman that was killed by an intimate partner.

“The signs were very moving,” Colley said. “These were stories from Dallas, Houston, from all over Texas. Each woman could have been sitting there in that seat if it weren’t for their husband or boyfriend who took their life.”

Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist for Voices Against Violence, said the organization began the Save This Seat event years ago to shed light on domestic and relationship violence and what the UT community can do to stop it.

“A student can learn more about how to support a friend, how to recognize red flags of abusive behavior and resources on campus,” Burrows said. “Interpersonal violence is a community problem, and we have community solutions.”

Burrows said relationship violence is especially common among young people.

“In Texas, 75 percent of people aged 16 to 24 reported either knowing someone or having personally experienced relationship violence,” she said. “More than one in three women and one in four men in the U.S. are or will be survivors of violence, including rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner.”

The Texas Council on Family Violence and the National Dating Abuse Helpline are also working to educate Austin residents about relationship violence. TCFV works with organizations across the state and advocates funds to help victims of dating violence. The council also participates in educational activities on college campuses.

Angela Hale, spokesperson for TCFV, said there are key warning signs that separate healthy relationships from unhealthy relationships.

“Many students don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like when they are new to dating,” Hale said. “We think it is important to educate students about healthy and unhealthy relationships, this way students can avoid getting in a long term relationship or marriage that may be abusive in the future.”

A complete calendar of events for Relationship Violence Awareness Month can be found on the Counseling and Mental Health Center’s website at www.cmhc.utexas.edu. Information about relationship violence and warning signs of an unhealthy relationship can be found at www.loveisrespect.org.

Printed on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 as: Seats saved for victims