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UM Launches Online Training to Prevent Sexual Violence

Harnessing the talents of its faculty, staff and students, The University of Montana has created a new online tutorial to educate students about sexual violence issues.

The training is titled Personal Empowerment Through Self-Awareness. PETSA consists of short, informative videos and a quiz and takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. All UM students are required to complete the training starting this fall, and they must complete it before registering for spring semester classes. The videos can be seen at http://www.umt.edu/petsa.

“Sexual violence of any type will not be tolerated on our campus, and those who engage in this predatory behavior will be held accountable,” UM President Royce Engstrom says in an introductory video. “We are strategically working toward a violence-free campus, and this online course is one critical component.”

Subjects addressed in the videos include the law, consent, predatory behavior, myths and facts, personal empowerment, how to intervene and to get help. The tutorial abounds with information or advice such as:

  • The overwhelming majority of assaults (82 percent) are perpetrated by acquaintances, friends or family members who use coercion to assault.
  • According to Montana law, a person cannot give consent if they are mentally disabled or incapacitated, physically helpless for any reason (including alcohol or drug intoxication) or overcome by deception, coercion or surprise.
  • Get involved if you believe someone is at risk. If you see someone in trouble or someone pressuring another person, don’t be afraid to intervene.

The videos are concise and hard-hitting. A prominent message at the start of the tutorial states: If this tutorial feels uncomfortable, STOP and contact SARC (Student Assault Resource Center) for support. You can reach them at 406-243-6559.

“We really wanted to educate our students about Montana law and their responsibilities,” said Danielle Wozniak, a UM social work associate professor and one of the driving forces behind the creation of PETSA. “I don’t ever want to hear of one of our students standing in front of the dean of students or a police officer saying, ‘I didn’t know that was rape. I didn’t know I had to have consent.’ Because the bottom line with this tutorial is you will know.”

Wozniak chairs the University Council on Student Assault, a presidential committee that recommended educating all students about how to reduce their risk of being assaulted and reduce their risk of committing personal violence. Provost Perry Brown and Vice President for Student Affairs Teresa Branch assembled a team of faculty and staff to consider several ways to reduce sexual violence and to discuss how an online training could be done.

Wozniak said they searched for trainings already designed and in use by other universities, but nothing met their standards.

“We wanted something tailored to our needs and something based on the most current   literature in sexual assault reduction and prevention – something that really spoke to our students personally,” she said. “Nothing we found was professional or heavy-hitting enough. Many spoke about risk reduction aimed largely at women while failing to include any educational piece on how to help young men reduce their risk of committing sexual violence. There also is a section on bystander intervention that offers ways peers can help.

“I think what we have achieved has set a new national standard for this type of training,” she said.

Wozniak surveyed the literature and then met with campus and community groups seeking solutions for the assault issue. Then she and Elizabeth Hubble, co-director of UM’s women and gender studies program, spent hours writing the video scripts. Working collaboratively with Robert Squires, director of UMOnline, and Professor Rick Hughes, chair of UM’s School of Media Arts, the team took the scripts and began producing videos.

 “Rick and Robert assembled this brilliant team of UM students to begin creating the videos,” Wozniak said. “It was really them who gave pictures to our words. I need to stress what a brilliant collaborative team effort this was across campus. We saw a need, and people jumped in to address it by doing what we do best – educating our students.”

Other essential collaborations included the narrators, William Marcus, director of the Broadcast Media Center, and Annie Sondag, a health and human performance professor. UMOnline helped address accessibility and build the videos in Moodle, the University’s online learning management system. Eight UM faculty and staff members also have speaking roles in the videos.

The training has been tested with several student groups, and Wozniak said initial reactions have been overwhelmingly positive and generated healthy discussion.

“I appreciate that the PETSA videos remind students that sexual assault and harassment is not something they have to stay silent about or just ‘grin and bear’ until graduation,” said Micah Nielsen, a UM student and Associated Students of UM executive. “It’s a relief to finally have a definitive series dedicated to powering past the laid-back acceptance of this destructive problem.”

Wozniak said a comprehensive notification campaign has been prepared to alert UM students to the need to complete the PETSA training. Besides online alerts, all incoming students will be notified at Orientations, residence hall assistants will spread the word and provide reminders and assistance, and academic advisers will offer reminders before spring semester enrollment.

“Students often come to college with preconceived ideas about gender relations, power and sexuality that don’t serve them well when they begin to date,” Wozniak said. “Developmentally they often have a difficult time talking about intimacy in their relationships. This training is designed to create the opportunity for dialogue and discussion and to make sure we are not silent about these issues.

“We know that this training can evoke strong feelings on the part of men and women,” she said. “It is a very personal as well as a public issue. But it’s important to talk about these feelings and to create an opportunity for dialogue.”

Wozniak said plans are being made to follow this training up with face-to-face campus discussion forums during autumn semester.

“We expect that this will be challenging learning process and want to encourage discussion,” she said. “This will allow students to check in, ask questions and explore what these videos mean for them. Our previews with students groups tell us that students deeply care about this issue, and we are prepared to process the experience with them.”