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Sexual Assault Awareness

Sexual Assault Awareness
How can society do a better job protecting women from sexual violence? We talk to violence prevention educators about basic risk reduction techniques, and why the role of the bystander is so important in preventing rape.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Even as young women break barrier after barrier towards full equality in our society, the threat of sexual assault continues to affect their lives. We read about it in our headlines. We hear about assaults at school, on dates, by friends, colleagues and strangers. Teenagers, and college students are being taught lessons in protecting themselves, colleges are trying to become safer and more transparent in the way they report sexual assaults and there are efforts now to shift at least a part of the burden of protecting young women from the girls themselves to the larger society, efforts to make us all more alert to the dangers around us. I’d like to introduce my guests for this discussion on protecting against sexual assault. Emelyn de la Pena is director of UC San Diego’s Women's Center and Western Regional Director of the R.A.D. Program. And, Emelyn, welcome to These Days.

EMELYN DE LA PENA (Director, UCSD’s Women’s Center): Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Kat Wager is Prevention Educator for the Center for Community Solutions. Kat, welcome.


KAT WAGER (Prevention Educator, Center for Community Solutions): Thank you. Thanks for having us.

CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you have a question about how society, all of us, really, can do a better job protecting women from sexual assault? Do you have a story about preventing an assault yourself? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. And I’d like to start out with a question to both of you, if I can. Emelyn, let me start with you. Since you work in the field of education and prevention of sexual assault, I’d like to get your take on the level of risk faced by young women today. Are instances of sexual assault going up or down?

DE LA PENA: It’s hard to say whether the instances themselves are going up or down. I know that we may seem like we have more instances of sexual assault because more people are coming forward. We have better definitions of what constitutes a sexual assault. According to the Department of Justice, college women are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted than their non-collegebound counterparts.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kat, what is your take on the level of risk being faced by young women today?

WAGER: Well, the level of risk has always been, you know, the same as well, and I think that I’d definitely agree with what Emelyn was saying about it’s difficult to say whether sexual assaults are increasing or decreasing and that also comes with reporting. I think that women are now aware and able to talk about it more than they have been in the past and that might increase their fear of being on a college campus more than normal because we’re talking about it more and we’re able to do more education than we ever have before.


CAVANAUGH: Does it increase their fear or does it empower them in some way to take precaution?

WAGER: I think it definitely gives them a sense of empowerment when we’re doing education, letting them know what we can do to protect ourselves, about our, you know, teaching them about assertiveness skills, and that’s the best way for somebody, anybody, to feel empowered, is learning how it is to be assertive, both verbally and physically and what that confidence means in being able to tell someone they’re uncomfortable with what they’re doing.

CAVANAUGH: Kat, tell me about the Center for Community Solutions. What does that – your organization do?

WAGER: The Center for Community Solutions is San Diego’s Rape Crisis Center. We’re also a dual agency with Domestic Violence. We help heal and prevent relationship violence and sexual assault. And we’ve been a nonprofit organization since 1969, and what we do is we do intervention as well as prevention for people who’ve been affected by relationship violence and sexual assault. And we also work with the Sexual Assault Response Team where we’re able to send out advocates to a forensics exam so that somebody who’s getting the forensic exam is able to have an advocate in the room and then they’re assigned somebody to be their liaison through the court process and to get them through crisis intervention. And then we also have our entire prevention department where we’re able to go into schools, into correctional facilities, all over the county and talk with little kids as well as older folks about sexual assault and consent and how to make sure that consent is given and received as well as dealing with healthy relationships and healthy communication.

CAVANAUGH: Kat, in reading about the Center for Community Solutions, one of the, I thought, very interesting parts of your program is called the Bystander Program. Tell us what that is.

WAGER: Well, I’m excited to talk about the No Bystander Program because it’s definitely one of my favorite programs that we get to do. It started a couple of years ago in collaboration with the City Attorney’s office and, specifically, the Neighborhood Prosecuting Unit as well as the San Diego Police Department. And what prompted the No Bystander Program was actually the assault case that happened in Mission Beach where some guys entered a house and they sexually assaulted and raped quite – a couple of the students that lived there as well. And it prompted that we have to do something to make our communities safer. So they contacted the Center for Community Solutions, since we were the Rape Crisis Center and decided, you know, you’ve been doing it, it’s education, let’s team up. And actually it started in the beach area, working with bars and entertainment establishments, working – What we’ve done is worked with the staff members to look at possible potential warning signs like people trying to get somebody extremely intoxicated or following somebody to the bathroom who’s extremely intoxicated and how they can safely intervene. And we got so excited about it we said, hey, let’s definitely get this into the Greek organizations and other organizations at our college campuses. So we were lucky enough to work with the Greek Life at San Diego State University and we worked really closely with them to train these Greek organizations because what we’re trying to say is, listen, we can go in and talk about sexual assault from a victim’s standpoint, we can talk about sexual assault from a perpetrator’s standpoint but what we really need to do is get everybody involved because all of us can prevent a sexual assault. All of us can see the warning signs. And so it’s up to us as a community to make it safer to be out.

CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about preventing sexual assault, making it safer for young women in San Diego. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Kat, let me be just clear about this. So kind of in the same way, let’s say, a bartender would look for signs as whether a patron was getting too drunk to stop, to basically cut off the alcohol supply. In this case people around would just be aware of what was going on with how people were interacting and if they saw anybody who looked at risk, what would they do?

WAGER: Well, that’s actually the fun part of our job, is that we get to get involved. And so what we do talk about—and if you don’t mind, I’m actually going to give you an example of one of the scenarios that we get to work with.


WAGER: So, for instance, on our training, what we say is, so you’re at a party and you hear your friend, your own friend, talking about how he’s really attracted to this female but she doesn’t seem to be interested. He keeps feeding her shots and says, laughing, now she says no but later tonight all she’s going to be saying to me is yes. So what we do is, we look at that scenario as a group and we talk about the warning signs. Well, the warning sign is that he knows that she’s not interested but in order to get her to consent, what he thinks is legal consent, which it’s not, is to get her drunk. And so what we’re asking them to do is that you have a spectrum of prevention here. You could, you know, we don’t want people to hurt themselves and we don’t want them to physically fight. That – you know, we get to call the police for things like that. But looking at a friend and saying, really? You think it’s okay to have sex with a drunk girl? Or looking at your friend and saying, dude, come on now, we don’t do that at our fraternity. Or, you know, getting the girl’s friends involved and saying, hey, I just want to let you know you might want to look out for your friend tonight because I heard some guy’s talking about how he wants to get her drunk because then she’ll say yes. So trying to look at them and give them some options so that it’s not just one little thing that they can do and, you know, a fight breaks out. We want…


WAGER: …them to be safe. And it’s really cool to be able to call each other out and just simply say that’s not all right, that’s not cool.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now what are the statistics, Kat, about how many assaults there are with acquaintances?

WAGER: We see basically about 80% of the time it’s acquaintance rape and that also can rise on college campuses, about 90% of the time on college campus it’s acquaintance rape. In Center for Community Solutions cases, in our past year we only had 21% that were assaulted by a stranger.

CAVANAUGH: Which brings me to Emelyn de la Pena. I’ve just been speaking, by the way, with Kat Wager. She’s is Prevention Educator for the Center for Community Solutions. Emelyn is Director of UC San Diego’s Women’s Center and Western Regional Director of the R.A.D. Program. What is the R.A.D. Program, Emelyn?

DE LA PENA: R.A.D. stands for Rape Aggression Defense. And the objective of the R.A.D. Program is to really develop and enhance a woman’s natural desire to resist aggression by giving her options of physical resistance, if she chooses to utilize physical resistance. But at the foundation of the program is really what Kat talked about in terms of personal empowerment. And so our program is based on empowering women through education by giving them both the physical as well as psychological and mental skills to resist aggression, helping her to make her own decisions about her personal safety and putting that reliance on yourself and helping women to realize, really, the depth of their physical power because a lot of women don’t realize how much power their bodies can generate.

CAVANAUGH: And so from your description of this, this sounds like more than the physical defense classes that women used to take on campus, let’s say, because they, you know, they wanted to learn, you know, how to perhaps flip a potential attacker or jab them in a certain way. It sounds like a more holistic approach, if you will.

DE LA PENA: Yes, absolutely. Really, what we try to do in the program is to tell women that self-defense begins with self-respect and self-empowerment. And so that 90% of your self defense comes before you even have to be in a physical confrontation.

CAVANAUGH: How is that? Tell us a little bit more about that.

DE LA PENA: Well, Kat talked a little bit about the assertiveness that you’re projecting, right? And so I think that so much of self defense education so far has been around what women shouldn’t do and how women should really restrict their freedom of movement, right, which is really quite unfortunate. And when you think about the fact that 80 to 90% of sexual assaults are with people who know each other, a lot of the traditional dos and don’ts of personal safety really don’t apply and so I think it’s important to note that, you know, awareness is important in both the dark parking lot or the alley or the park where you’re jogging as well as in your personal surroundings, in your residence hall, in a crowded party, in line at the pharmacy, and that your attitude matters. When you are projecting an image of assertiveness, when you have clarity around your personal boundaries that goes a long way into letting somebody know that you are setting boundaries around what’s okay and what’s not okay to do with your body and around you.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. We are taking your calls. We are talking about protecting against sexual assault. Taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call from Juliet, calling us from Poway. Good morning, Juliet. Welcome to These Days.

JULIET (Caller, Poway): Good morning. Thanks for having me. My comment goes more towards the sex offenders that are in – all over in our neighborhoods and just, for instance, the girl that was just kidnapped in Rancho Bernardo this week.


JULIET: And, you know, I’m just sick and tired of listening on the news that sex offenders are released from jail. They’re put back in our neighborhoods and they attack our kids. Something has to change in the law to make these people accountable for what they’re doing but not in the usual way, not putting them back to jail. They have to be execute (sic) just like they do in the Middle Eastern (sic). You know, they did commit a horrible crime, take them, put them away for life. What right do they have to be alive when they take a life of innocent children and women and – and they still out there (sic) running free.


JULIET: It’s absurd.

CAVANAUGH: Juliet, thank you so much for your call. And I want to point out, of course, that the suspect in the King case in Rancho Bernardo is just a suspect and we don’t know exactly what’s happened there yet because the full story has not emerged. But I want to ask you, Emelyn, we heard something from Juliet there, that frustration, that outrage, really, and I guess this is something that both you and Kat must be very familiar with and I want to ask you both for your reaction.

DE LA PENA: I think that whenever there’s something very public that happens, an assault that gets a lot of media attention or something as horrific as, you know, what happened in Poway with Chelsea, we get a lot of phone calls asking for when our self defense classes are going to start. And, unfortunately, we need to be having that education continuously because the majority of the time it’s not those stranger encounters. And so I think when we focus too closely on those few instances that get a lot media attention, we get a false sense of security when we think, well, I don’t go jogging in those places, I don’t walk alone at night. I always have my keys in my hand, and those kinds of things. And so I think it’s important to be angry about those kinds of things. I think it is a great tool to get people to increase their awareness about, you know, wherever they are but I also think that we need to put it in the context of knowing that 80 to 90% of the time it’s going to be the person who you invited into your home who’s going to assault you.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kat, your reaction.

WAGER: I just wanted to really thank Emelyn of what she’s saying about the media attention that gets called towards the stranger rape and things like that. And I understand why the caller was upset and we do hear that a lot. We also do know that the survivors we work with, they go through lots of different states. They go through anger, they go through sadness, they go through denial so it’s not just this anger phase that we often get. And I think the important thing is also looking at survivors of sexual assault and how empowered they are after an assault because they choose to go on a healing process and to gain back the power that they’ve lost. I also think that it’s important to remember that, yes, these assaults occur where people are taking us when we’re out but the chances of me being at a party and that somebody that I know and somebody that I do trust, and somebody I’m going to see again, that person is more likely to hurt me than me jogging. And so the anger part is not just locking people up, it’s looking at how we can educate people about equality and respect and that you don’t touch something that is not yours.

CAVANAUGH: I’m just interested, Kat, I know that your organization, Center for Community Solutions, has a sexual assault hotline. I’m interested in some of the situations that are reported by young women.

WAGER: Wonderful. So the hotline that you’re referring to is 1-888-385-4657, that’s our DV Links hotline. And we get quite a few calls. We do get calls with people saying that the assault just took place and that they need to get a safe place and they want somebody to be there with them. We do get phone calls from the police officers saying that they have a client that has just came (sic) to them and how we can meet them at the hospital. We also get many phone calls from people who the assault has taken place either six months ago or a year ago and they may just have heard about that they’re still able to get resources and so now they want to get help as well. And we were looking at some of the numbers from October until now, and they stay about the same for sexual assault phone calls, people either wanting to get counseling resources so they’re not in need of immediate help or people who are in need of a forensics exam or they want an advocate because they have a right to a free advocate to be with them.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Tanya is calling in Mira Mesa. Good morning, Tanya. Welcome to These Days.

TANYA (Caller, Mira Mesa): Good morning. I’m calling because it seems like at least once a month or once every three or four months you read about a sexual assault that took place near the San Diego State college area because of a woman who was given some drug and was assaulted. Unbeknownst to her, the party that she was attending near San Diego State wasn’t even a student run party but because it was near San Diego State, I think there’s an assumption that the party is given by students and for students. I was wondering whether there’s any kind of mechanism for people to identify where these parties occur so that women can avoid going to parties at those houses or facilities to prevent the drug-induced sexual assault that occurs.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that phone call. I don’t know if there are any actual ways that we can identify actual locations of parties but I’m going to toss the question to you, Emelyn, and maybe widen it a bit. What do college students need to know to keep themselves safe from sexual assault when they go to parties on or off campus?

DE LA PENA: I think that Kat hit it on the head earlier when she talked about the bystander intervention. I think you need to go in with a plan of how are we watching out for each other. You know, there are tips out there that are just common sense in terms of, you know, don’t leave your drink unattended or, you know, just to be aware of, you know, how lucid are you in this moment and what am I doing to prepare for how I’m going to leave this party? And to talk with your friends about, okay, we’re going to watch out for each other and we’re not going to let each other leave this place without the rest of our party, if that’s what you all decide that’s what you want to do. And I think you need to think about that before you’re in the moment.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kat, are there any outcomes that you know so far as a result of the bystander trainings? Do you have any stories to tell us?

WAGER: We do. We get to do evaluations and I was actually fortunate enough to have one of the young ladies that attended my first semester training, she also attended my second semester training because she was an officer in her sorority at that point. And she came up to us and discussed some things with us, some times that she has used it. And I think it’s important to also reiterate that with the Bystander Program, what we’re really trying to do is, first, shine a spotlight on something that could potentially be a sexual assault and check in with that person so it’s not, you know, me jumping on the person while they take them upstairs. It’s this whole shining a spotlight and talking to them and sometimes it’s little distractions. And so she had let us know that at one point they were at a party where there was just beer and they were having a good time but a guy who lived at that house said, you know, are you having fun? And somebody had mentioned, yeah, but we’re just, you know, the liquor’s kind of not so exciting. And he said, well, I have some hard liquor up in my room, come up here. And he took one of them. And the young lady that had attended my training, you know, gave her this look, like don’t do that, you know, and she tried to grab her but the girl kind of played it off, like don’t worry, I know him. He’s cool. He’s a good guy. And she had even wrote in the evaluation how she said, oh, this is what they were talking about. This is what they were talking about in their training. You know, my friend’s going to blow me off. And so what she did was what we use in our training, is distract her. So she looked at her friend, she said, hey, I just got a text from so-and-so downstairs, they need to get in, come help me let her in. And the young lady who was going to go into the room with the guy who was trying to get her to go into the room, she forgot all about it and walked back downstairs. And I was so proud of her and she even wrote, you know, I was quite proud of myself. And, you know, she had mentioned that, you know, what we do now is we go to the bathrooms together, we, you know, if somebody wants to go outside with a guy or if a guy’s trying to get, you know, somebody away from us, we just say, hey, come dance instead. You know, or they take a lot of pictures just to try to keep the party in a neutral area as opposed to going away with somebody.

CAVANAUGH: That sounds, Emelyn, what Kat’s describing, in one sense, sounds so simple.

DE LA PENA: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: But in another way it’s so crucial to keep people safe. You teach people to deescalate a potentially violent situation. How do you do that through the R.A.D. Program?

DE LA PENA: I think part of what we do is to practice assertive communication and, you know, I have an example. Yesterday I was in line at the pharmacy and I was witnessing a conversation of a man and a woman in front of me and you could tell that she was very uncomfortable with him making small talk with her. One word answers, nodding, looking away, and when she stepped out of the line to a different line, he started talking to me. And he got very close to my face and so I looked at him and I said, please don’t stand so close to me.


DE LA PENA: And that was the end of it. He apologized and he didn’t talk to me for the rest of the 15 minutes that we were in line. And so I think my attitude and my setting the boundaries and being assertive with this person to say, no, it’s not okay to cross my personal space…


DE LA PENA: …made a big difference in him saying, okay, I’m done. You’re not as easy as I thought that you were going to be in terms of trying to spark up a conversation with me.

CAVANAUGH: Your whole message is sometimes we don’t know our own power.


CAVANAUGH: I know that Kate (sic) Wager has to leave us and I just want to ask you really quickly, do you have a class coming up that people might want to sign up for, Kat?

WAGER: We do trainings all – like, I was saying earlier, we do training throughout the county, north, east and central as well. And like right now I’m actually off to go to a high school…


WAGER: …to do our four-week – or, our four-sessions. And so people can definitely call and do our education as well. They’re more than welcome to call us and tell us about the group that they have, whether it’s a classroom or a sorority or a Girl Scout troop or, you know, a fraternity, and we can definitely come in and do the education with them. I also wanted to say back with what Emelyn was saying, too, you know, when, Maureen, you were asking about what should students know and what can we do? And I was so glad that Emelyn was talking about, you know, talk to your friends before you go to parties. And I think if the parents that are listening to us right now can talk to their sons and talk to their daughters about what would you do if you saw this taking place, and not about the actual assault because most people are not going to see the assault take place but they’re going to see all those warning signs. And talking to the male students and the female students about when you see this go on, how does that make you feel? Do you feel okay with somebody taking the drunkest person away? Do you feel okay with that? And what can you say? Because if you practice talking about that before you get into a party situation, you’ve already prepared your body for this, you’ve already prepared your mind for it. So I would love to encourage and empower the parents or the aunties and uncles that are listening right now to talk to their, you know, youth in their life about this is taking place, what can you say to your friends that are trying to get people intoxicated? What can you say to your friends that are intoxicated that are leaving the party? And I would really encourage people to speak up about this.

CAVANAUGH: Kat Wager, Prevention Educator for the Center for Community Solutions, thank you so much. We have less than a minute left, Emelyn, and I want to give you a chance to tell us where listeners can get information about where they can take some R.A.D. classes.

DE LA PENA: There are active R.A.D. Programs at San Diego State University, UC San Diego, University of San Diego, Cal State San Marcos, and the San Diego Community College District. So San Diego is very well covered in terms of instructors for the R.A.D. program. Go to to find an instructor in your area.

CAVANAUGH: Emelyn de la Pena is Director of UC San Diego Women's Center and Western Regional Director of the R.A.D Program. Please, post your comments at You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.