SASA provides guidance for sexual assault victims

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When a person on DePauw’s campus is sexually assaulted, one of the first people they speak to are Sexual Assault Survivor Advocates, or SASA.

The director of SASA, Sarah Ryan, is often the first contact a survivor makes after the incident. Her goal is to help students in whatever way she can, and guide them in the path to recovery that they chose.

Ryan is the director of both SASA and the Women’s Center, along with working as a SASA advocate herself. SASA advocates are available 24 hours, seven days a week by phone, and are trained to listen to survivors and share information on local resources to help victims decide the best path to take after an assault. They can be reached at (765) 658-4650.

After her sexual assault, first-year Angel Torres was encouraged to call SASA by the Public Safety officer who reported to the scene. “We chatted until, like, 3 a.m,” Torres said, “I had my SASA, so that was a good process to go through. To have someone to guide you throughout that kind of thing.”

When giving information to students affected by sexual violence, domestic violence or stalking, SASA advocates are trained to run the gamut of resources available, both in and outside of the University. This includes the Greencastle police department and other organizations within the community. SASA is also not only for students; advocates will take calls from faculty, staff and Greencastle community members as well.

SASA is specific to DePauw, and SASA advocates are all trained in mediation, trauma and well versed in the resources DePauw provides victims of sexual assault, stalking or domestic violence. All SASA advocates are faculty or staff, in order to maintain the privacy of the students who call. “Having a professionalized advocacy program was something we decided to do,” Ryan said.

Ryan said SASA was started 12 years ago by a group of students and was then put in place by the University as an official program. Even though students are no longer in the advocacy role of SASA, Ryan praised student organizations such as Green Dot and Code Teal for the work of spreading the word and preventing sexual assault on campus.

Ryan emphasized the importance of student organizations and their impact on campus culture toward issues of sexual violence, domestic violence and stalking, and said students who are involved in these programs “play an enormous role in changing the culture of our campus, getting the word out about resources on our campus, and what to do if an assault occurs.”

When it comes to seeking the help of SASA, Ryan said students who have experienced sexual violence can receive accommodations from the University without filing a report of any kind. “They don’t have to make a report to public safety or Title IX,” Ryan said. Accommodations could be everything from changing class schedules, extensions on school work, or moving residence halls of either the victim or the accused perpetrator.

If a student does wish to file a report with the University, they can go through the Title IX office, where the case will go through an investigation and the University's judicial process. If Public Safety is called, they will conduct a formal investigation and hand their findings to both Title IX and the Putnam County Prosecutor.

“We are accredited at the same standard as the Greencastle police,” said Director of Public Safety, Angie Nally. If a student wishes to go through the Greencastle police department, county sheriff or the Indiana state police, Public Safety will assist in the process.

Public Safety will share information with the county prosecutor's office, but not all campus resources can. “If a person reported a sexual assault and it goes to Title IX, they will not make a report to law enforcement on behalf of a student, but they will give them the resources of how to do that,” said Nally, because it is the student’s choice.

Students also have the opportunity to take part in a Sexaul Assault Nurse Exam (SANE). Students can do this at the Wellness Center. Nurses and medical practitioners who are trained in SANE take care of survivors of sexual assault or battery in two parts. First, they care for the individual's possible injuries and work to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. The second thing they do is collect biological evidence that can be used in the court of law.

Ryan said that when going through the University’s judicial process, “DNA evidence is not something we need to hold someone accountable.” This is because individuals accused of sexual violence, especially on college campuses, sometimes claim that the sexual activity was consensual as opposed to it not taking place at all, said Ryan. If an individual wants to go to court, DNA evidence is more necessary.

SASA gets calls not just from victims of sexual violence, but also from friends and peers who want help when it comes to comforting a friend. When caring for a friend who has experienced sexual trauma, Ryan said to let the victim know that talking to someone about it is the right thing to do, let them know you believe them, support them, but don’t push them, let them know there are resources and to check on them.

“When someone has been sexually assaulted, a really important decision has been taken away from them,” Ryan said. When it comes to being a sexual assault advocate, Ryan said her job is “to be there, to listen, to believe and to let someone know that what happened is not their fault.”

Sophomore Joshua Selke is an intern at the Women’s Center, and is a strong advocate for the SASA program and other campus resources. “It gives students access to other materials than Title IX and also can be reached immediately at any time,” Selke said.  “You can contact any of the SASA’s at any time, giving people 24-hour access to confidential support.”

As the weekend gets closer, Ryan said it’s important for students to be aware of the resources available to them. “We are always ready for the phone to ring,” said Ryan.

**The DePauw’s series on sexual assault has been extended. This has been the third part of a four part series.