Compiled by Taylor DeVille, Associate Arts & Life Editor
Kailah Carden is a sexual violence prevention educator at Towson University. She sat down with The Towerlight to discuss sexual violence and how we can prevent it.
Q: What forms of sexual violence are there that people might not initially recognize as sexual violence?
K: Our Towson Sexual Misconduct Policy has six different definitions of prohibited behavior. That includes sexual assault, there’s actually two sub-definitions of sexual assault — non-consensual intercourse and non-consensual touching. That in itself is a broader definition than I think most people have. In addition to sexual assault, relationship violence is prohibited. Sexual exploitation — on college campuses, the most common form of that would be non-consensual distribution of sexually-explicit photos or videos. Sexual intimidation — that could be threatening someone — that also includes indecent exposure and stalking is prohibited and sexual harassment. Those are all the things I’m thinking about when I talk about sexual violence.
Q: You mentioned relationship violence, and that’s something I wanted to talk about, signs of abusive relationships.
K: Yeah, relationship violence, statistically, is the most common form of sexual violence that college students will experience. So relationship violence can be a range of behaviors between people who are or used to be in a relationship. It can be lots of different things — It can be physical abuse. It can be verbal abuse. It can be emotional abuse. It can be financial abuse, controlling someone’s finances.
Q: What are some signs?
K: One of the main signs of relationship violence that can make it so hard for others to see is isolating someone from their friends, their family, bringing them away from others who might be able to see that abuse. That’s part of how perpetrators of relationship violence can continue to perpetrate it. Another reason relationship violence can be so hard to spot is because relationship violence happens in a cycle. Often when we think about relationship violence, we think about the bad part of the cycle—someone hitting someone else, yelling, being controlling. But really the reason relationship violence can continue is because there will be an explosion of some sort of violence, and then there will be a reconciliation. The reconciliation part is how the person stays in that relationship. The reconciliation can be getting someone flowers, telling them, “I love you,” saying “I’m sorry,” the make up part. That part, even those it’s “nice behaviors,” if it wasn’t for those behaviors, the violence couldn’t continue. It can be hard to see because you might just see the good parts and the bad parts might be hidden. It can also be hard for other people to see because they might see their friend going back to someone over and over again, and so it can be like, “Why are they doing that? Why are they agreeing to this?” but that’s actually part of the cycle of abuse.
Q: What should someone do if they start to see that cycle?
K: I think it’s really important, if you have a gut feeling that something’s not right, even if your friend in the unhealthy relationship is saying it’s okay, really just make sure to bring in other people that can help you, whether that be other friends or professionals on campus or off campus, and really supporting your friend even if they’re making decisions that you might not make.
Q: Can you give me more examples of emotional abuse?
K: Emotional abuse can be a range of things — all forms of sexual violence are about power and control. It’s not about sex. It’s about exerting control over someone else and taking away their power. That can happen through emotional abuse and manipulation. Gaslighting someone, making someone question their own thoughts and perception of reality, telling someone their feelings aren’t valid or they’re overreacting or making them question their relationships with other friends, trying to weaken their relationships as a form of isolating. It typically ties in and overlaps with verbal abuse.
Q: What resources do students have on campus when they or someone they know has been on the receiving end of sexual violence?
K: There are confidential resources that students can go to, those are the Counseling Center, which provides free counseling to students, and the Health Center is another place to go if there are physical needs related to either relationship violence or other forms of sexual violence. The Health Center doesn’t report names to the University, but they do report numbers to the University. We also have a really great resource off-campus that we work with called Turnaround. They have a 24-hour hotline that people can call at any time [443-279-0379]. They also have free counseling in groups. They also have advocates, who will accompany someone to a police station, a doctor’s office, a court room, or even university proceedings. Students also have the option of a Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) exam, if someone has been sexually assaulted and they want to collect forensic evidence. If it’s within a certain window of time and there’s still evidence—like someone hasn’t showered and removed the evidence—then those are free and confidential and a way to collect evidence to be used in a court case. Those are confidential resources we have available. We also have the Office of Institutional Equity and the Title IX coordinator.
Q: So what’s the Title IX Coordinator?
K: That’s the office, if someone is experiencing sexual violence, they can go to that office and they can get resources, initiate an investigation and also receive interim measures. So let’s say someone lives in the same hall as someone that they’re in an abusive relationship with. The Office of IE can help arrange housing so that person doesn’t have to live in the same hall as their abuser. Or let’s say that person is your lab partner, they can help be the intermediary between professors and others to help that person make sure they feel that they can continue their education. What’s important to know is that you don’t need to go forward with an investigation to receive interim measures.Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. Under Title IX, our school has a responsibility to make sure that our students have an equal access to education regardless of experiencing sexual violence, because that’s a form of sex discrimination. So you don’t have to go forward with an investigation, because you’re guaranteed that right to have equal access to education. You can choose to go forward with an investigation, but it’s not a requirement.
Q: Could you walk me through the steps of what happens if you choose to report someone for sexual violence?
K: There are different ways you can report. We have a great new website we launched last summer, towson.edu/XOutSexualViolence. Anyone can report online using the website. That’s one option. Another option is calling, emailing or showing up at the Office of Institutional Equity — that’s where the reports go. But that’s not a crisis response resource, if someone’s in crisis I recommend that they call the Turnaround 24-hour hotline or the police, depending on what their needs are. Essentially, once someone makes a report, you’ll get an email from the Office of IE. It’s your choice if or when you want to respond to that email. There’s no time limit, as long as you’re a Towson student. If you choose to respond, you’d meet with someone from the Office of IE, they would explain the resources available on and off campus and they would also explain what the options are for the next step. So people do have options, and really when someone’s healing from sexual violence, it’s really important to give them back the choice and agency to make the decision of what makes the most sense for them. So we really try to give options and explain them fully so people understand fully the choice that they’re making. So someone can choose to go down a University investigation hearing route, someone can choose to go down a police criminal charges route. They can choose one, the other, both or neither. Essentially a police route is a criminal case, or someone could choose to fill a civil suit in court that involves lawyers, evidence, judges, detectives. If someone wants to go through the university, there will be an investigation and a hearing and the university will make a decision about the consequences.
Q: Are there any helpful apps you would recommend to students?
K: The Towson app actually now has an X icon on the Title IX homepage that brings you to the website I was talking about so people can report on that website and it also has information. Also on the Towson app under the emergency phone numbers, Turnaround’s phone number is there. Another really great app that I recommend is called Circle of 6. It’s free for iPhone and Android. Essentially you can put three to six contacts in your circle, and if you’re ever in a situation where you feel unsafe, it has three preset options for you, where if you hit the button, it will send a text out to all of those people in your “circle.” So one of the options is, “I need help getting home,” and it sends your GPS location. Another is “Call me, I need an interruption,” if you need to get out of a situation, and another is “Call me, I need to talk.” It also has outgoing hotline numbers programmed in, and you can program in one number of your choice, so that could be Turnaround, TUPD — it could be your mom, anyone. It’s not just for sexual violence prevention, but safety in general. I really like it because we talk about bystander intervention, and Circle of 6 is a very easy way that people can ask for help, but I also like it because you have that conversation with those three to six people you put in your circle like before you’re ever in a bad situation, so that kind of gets people to proactively commit to keeping each other safe.
Q: Can you talk more about bystander intervention?
K: Essentially what we know from the data is that there is a very small number of people who commit sexual violence. People who don’t commit sexual violence vastly outnumber those who do. So if everyone that did not commit sexual violence acted to intervene and prevent the small portion of people, we could end sexual violence. So really, bystander intervention is teaching people. There are the common barriers to intervention that are sort of just naturally the way our brain works. If no one else is taking action even when it’s something that seem like a problem, we assume that because we don’t see a reaction from anyone else, that it’s not a problem. Bystander intervention is just giving people the tools to be that person to do what everyone else is thinking and to step in. And really it’s about seeing a small behavior and stepping in to prevent something worse from happening.
Q: How can you help a friend who’s been sexually assaulted?
K: The most important thing you can do to help a friend is just to listen and believe. A lot of times, our stories are not believed, and there are a lot of reasons for that, but really just listening, and saying “I believe you” is one of the most powerful things you can do to support a friend who’s been sexually assaulted. Beyond that, healing from sexual violence is really about gaining control and autonomy over your own life, so I think it’s really great for people to provide options for resources — but really letting the person make their own decision. It can really be challenging to sometimes understand people’s decision-making process after they’ve been through trauma, because it might not be what you think you might do in that situation, but it’s really important to honor their decision-making and support them in their decision-making.