New Advocate and Educator is Shining a Light on Sexual Violence
By Margaret Chantung
More than a year after the White House launched its first report of the Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, a new study of college students finds that nearly one in four say that they have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact.
Today, Christa Wencl, CSUSM’s new sexual violence advocate and educator, is part of the University’s efforts to shine a spotlight on the darkness of these issues, support and advocate for survivors, and help build a stronger and healthier community both on campus and off.
“When a survivor comes forward, the common inclination is to question and even blame him or her for what happened,” she said. “My role is to be a confidential advocate, someone who can be there in a crisis, listen, provide referrals to resources, discuss options and even accompany that individual to medical appointments, and university Title IX and legal proceedings.”
Her position was born out of a California State University initiative to appoint advocates for victims of sexual assault on all 23 of its campuses—a move that may spur other colleges around the nation to take similar action.
Bystander Intervention: Helping a Friend
Wencl works closely with Cathy Nguyen, a health educator, who oversees initiatives that help students develop healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices. One of those programs is S.T.A.R.S.—Students Talking About Relationships and Sex—a sex-positive peer education and prevention program that uses interactive theater and dialogue to transform individual behaviors and create positive social change. Other initiatives include the It’s On Us and Red Flag campaigns.
“First year students in particular are vulnerable to sexual assault because they are in a brand new environment, exploring themselves and often testing boundaries,” said Nguyen. “What we are trying to do is create a community based on the values of respect while giving students the tools to be positive, active bystanders.”
Bystander intervention is a violence prevention strategy that encourages individuals to safely interrupt a potentially harmful situation. For students that could mean making sure a friend makes it home from a party safely. But it also can mean expressing disapproval when someone makes inappropriate sexual innuendo, tells a joke about rape or touches someone in a sexual manner.
Yes Means Yes Means Asking for Genuine Consent
In addition, Wencl and Nguyen are among those at CSUSM spreading the message about California’s “Yes Means Yes” law. The law, signed by Governor Brown in September 2014, made California the first in the nation to require affirmative consent.
“The problem with the ‘no means no’ standard was that it wasn’t always accurate—lack of protest, resistance or just silence does not mean consent,” said Wencl. “I like this new definition because it goes beyond hearing the word yes and puts the onus on both partners to genuinely agree with what’s happening versus responsibility solely on the victim/survivor to say no.”
Four years ago, Nguyen and a group of S.T.A.R.S. students produced a video titled “Consent is Sexy.” The video is shown to all CSUSM students as part of orientation.
"The only way to be positive your partner is consenting is to check in with them along the way, listen to their responses and act accordingly," she said. "Ask your partner what she or he wants! And ask again if you're not sure. Really respect their wishes. And good sex, sex you will not regret later, is all about respect. "
A Resource for Friends and Families
Family and friends of people who have experienced sexual assault can also struggle with distressing feelings.
“I’m here to be a resource for loved ones too,” said Wencl. “If someone you care about has gone through a traumatic experience, you might be wondering what you can do to help. Oftentimes both survivors and their supporters struggle with overwhelming feelings and need help learning how best to respond.”
What’s her number one piece of advice for anyone who wants to help a survivor?
“Listen, don’t blame,” she said. “The only question you should ask is, ‘how can I help you?’”
Contact Christa Wencl at the Student Health and Counseling Services Center: 760-750-4910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Reporting Options
In addition to receiving advocacy and support through Student Health and Counseling Services and CSUSM’s Sexual Violence Advocate and Educator, victims/survivors may report to the University’s Title IX Coordinator any incident of sex discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct.
Contact CSUSM Title IX Coordinator Bridget Blanshan at email@example.com or call 760-750-4056. Students may also call the Deputy Title IX Coordinator Dilcie Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 760-750-4935.
To file a criminal report, you may contact the University Police Department at 760-750-4567 or 911 from a campus phone.
More information about sexual assault is available online.
Learn More about the Issues
Several events this month continue the conversation about ending campus sexual assaults. Learn more about the issues by attending one or more of these special events:
Film Screening of “Tough Guise 2” - Monday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m.
University Village Apartments Classroom
Watch Tough Guise 2, a film that argues that men aren’t naturally violent but that our culture teaches them to be so. Following the screening will be a discussion about men and masculinity.
It’s on US Advocacy Tabling - Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 20-21, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
University Student Union Arcade
Sign a pledge and make a personal commitment to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault.
Film Screening of “The Hunting Grounds” - Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 6 p.m.
University Student Union Ballroom
The Hunting Grounds is a documentary that exposes sexual violence as a prevalent problem on campuses of higher education across the country. Weaving together verité footage and first-person testimonies, the film foregrounds the efforts of survivors as they attempt to pursue—despite incredible pushback, harassment and traumatic aftermath—both their education and justice.
A Discussion about Dating Violence - Wednesday, Oct. 21 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
University Hall, Room 100
Speakers include Caitlin Dahlin, a survivor of dating violence and speaker for the non-profit Break the Silence against Domestic Violence, and Terry Josiah of Music.Life.Change, a business that that seeks to change the world through music, healthy lifestyles and product and apparel awareness.
Ask the SEXperts: Healthy Relationships - Thursday, Oct. 22 from noon to 1 p.m.
Markstein Hall, Room 101
No More.org Donut Day - Friday, October 23 from 8 to 9 a.m.
Sign a pledge against sexual violence and help yourself to a free donut and coffee!