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Sexual assault prevention effort draws national attention

A landmark Binghamton University initiative designed to curb violence against women  now serves as a model for schools around the country.

Binghamton’s 20:1 peer education group, formed in fall 2004, is one of the first to succeed in introducing sexual assault and violence prevention education to Greek life. The group’s name refers to the approximately 20 women per hour who are assaulted in the United States.

Founders Dara Picciano, staff social worker at the University Counseling Center; Juan Rosario, academic adviser for the Educational Opportunity Program; and Jack Causseaux, assistant director of Campus Life, run the Binghamton University Fraternity/Sorority Sexual Assault Prevention Education Program. It’s sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department in partnership with the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

On campus, the peer education group, run by five male students, holds workshops and meetings with fraternity members to create a dialogue about sexual consent.

One of the most successful tools used by the group is called “the consent game.” Instead of just talking about the definition of sexual assault and consent, students come face to face with their real feelings surrounding consent and myths about sexual assault through different scenarios in the game.

“It brings out meaningful discussions about consent that we wouldn’t be able to have with just lecture-style teaching,” Picciano said. “We’ve definitely seen a change in the men that we work with and their attitudes.”

Rosario said the group is working to improve and package the game for other campuses’ use.

In fact, the 20:1 group presented an online seminar to 60 universities last August as part of an effort to export the program to other schools. Group members are also writing an article about the initiative that will offer strategies to help other schools implement the program.

While the peer group and the University Counseling Center continue to work with students, Beth Riley, coordinator of sexual assault programs, is focusing her efforts on cooperation among campus groups.

“The campus community really wants to work together so students know where to go for help,” she said. “We want there to be communication, we want the police to come together with organizations like health services to have conversations.”

The Binghamton University Sexual Assault Response Protocol, which she hopes to see implemented in 2008, would put in place a unified plan to make communication more efficient. Although the process runs more smoothly now for victims than it did even five years ago, Riley said, there is still work to be done.

In addition to the push to unite campus organizations, both Riley and campus police investigator Matthew Rossie are members of the Sexual Assault Response Team, a county-wide assault response organization. In January, the organization implemented a strategic plan to assist victims of sexual assault, including University students who are attacked off campus. The protocol incorporates the University and keeps Riley and Rossie in touch with area organizations such as hospitals to make sure that there is a proper response for victims.

As part of the push to increase student awareness about assault and legal rights, the University published the Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights this summer, University Ombudsman Francine Montemurro said. The bill, which is adapted to a student’s perspective, is part of the information provided during orientation sessions, workshops and other outreach meetings.

Apart from the continual outreach work with high-risk student populations, the University Counseling Center also plans to launch a new Web site to allow more student input in its programming.

“We really work hard to treat every individual sensitively and to respect their wishes,” Riley said. “Our overreaching goal here is to help people talk about assault, because if it’s a taboo subject people usually will not come forward.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08