Q&A with SAFER (Students Active for Ending Rape)
These questions were answered by Margaret Mikkelsen, Executive Director of SAFER (students active for ending rape) located in Brooklyn, NY. You can contact them at 347-293-0953 or visit them online: www.safercampus.org | www.myspace.com/safercampus | Facebook group 2225395712
Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) provides organizing training and support to college students so that they can win improvements to their schools' sexual assault prevention and response activities. By offering students the necessary support and resources, confidence-building and leadership training, SAFER empowers student activists to rally the community and push school administrations to take action. You can support SAFER now by making a donation at www.safercampus.org/donate.php.
What is SAFER, and what is your mission?
SAFER is a national non-profit organization committed to empowering students to hold colleges accountable for sexual assault in their on- and off-campus communities.
SAFER achieves its goals by training students in effective organizing tactics and challenging them to examine the overlapping links between sexual assault and all forms of individual and institutional violence.
What campaigns/projects does SAFER sponsor?
SAFER offers several programs for students. More details are available at http://www.safercampus.org/students.php, but briefly, we offer the Campus Activist Mentoring Program, on-site workshops, and Change Happens, our guide for students. We are also building the national College Sexual Assault Policies Database, with examples of policies from across the country.
SAFER's messaging project is intended to provide students with another way to make a statement against the culture of rape and challenge school administrations that fail to address sexual assault. Proceeds from the sale of project products like t-shirts, posters, and buttons support our programs.
What do you consider to be the primary problems on US campuses today
regarding sexual violence?
The primary problem, in my opinion, is the reluctance of administrations to dedicate the necessary resources and knowledge to tackling the lack of understanding of the dynamics of sexual assault, an oppressive culture, and misunderstandings about healthy sexual relationships.
What trends have you seen in college campuses' policies on sexual assault? Generally speaking, what improvements still need to be made?
We have seen more schools adding amnesty policies, which is great. An amnesty policy protects students who report sexual assault from being disciplined for having been violating other school policies (like underage drinking) when they were assaulted. Other improvements? There are so many. I would like to see all schools add mandatory bystander intervention training to their programs. Bystander intervention training helps students learn how to step in when they see a situation that can lead to violence. It it is a powerful way to shift the responsibility for ending sexual violence away from victims and onto the entire community.
How can a fledgling college activist work to make these changes happen?
Take a deep breath, take the long view, and get some help. It's a lot to do, but we've seen students achieve real change. SAFER provides assistance and training to students who want to make these changes to their school policies. We work with students who are committed to creating broad, inclusive grassroots movements. Our manual for students, Change Happens, is a great place to start. Request a copy at http://www.safercampus.org/students.php
What responses have you received from college campuses? Have you gotten mostly negative or positive feedback?
From students, entirely positive if you don't count the occasional reactionary comment on our blog. From college administrators and staff, the response has been mixed. Some feel defensive, some feel they are doing the best they can with limited resources, and others just don't get it. Others are fully on board with our mission and are working to make changes on their campuses.
Pandora's Project joins SAFER's belief that prevention programs should focus on much more than reducing risky behaviors in potential victims, yet many college campuses focus on just that. How does SAFER believe prevention programs should change to truly impact the high rates of sexual violence on college campuses?
As I mentioned, bystander intervention training is an important part of an effective prevention program. Programs also need to address cultural acceptance of sexual violence, harmful gender norms, and the intersections between sexual violence and other oppressions. And programs need to be repeated! One short session isn't going to do the job. Prevention programs should be multi-session, take place throughout the school year, and not be limited to first-year students.
If a survivor is being victimized a second time by poor college policy, what can she or he do?
There are a few things she or he can do. If possible, be vocal and let the community know what is happening. Document everything. The Victim Rights Law Center http://www.victimrights.org/) can help with civil issues, like being able to complete one's education or get safe housing. A lawyer might be able to advise on whether there are grounds for a Title IX or Clery Act complaint. Everyone's experience is different, but support from family, friends, and people in the community can be very important in helping a person get through this.
How can Pandora's Aquarium members get involved in SAFER's mission?
So many ways! Spread the word, volunteer, help raise money, contribute to our blog, request our guide for students, talk to friends about organizing on your campus, sign up for our Campus Activist Mentoring Program. Give us a call!
Too often, fighting sexual violence is deemed "women's work". What can men
do to fight campus sexual assault?
It is so important for men to be part of this movement, because the few men who do commit sexual violence are making the rest look bad! Arguments that men can't control themselves, or the excessive focus on victim's behavior, is insulting to men. They suggest men are animals that can't be held accountable for their behavior, and they promote a view of masculinity that
is not compatible with healthy relationships. Men are also victims of sexual violence, and a movement that includes men creates a safer environment for male victims to come forward. We have some tips for men in the movement in our guide for students, but a simple tip is to speak up when you see offensive behavior. Combatting sexual violence happens at both the policy and personal levels.
How can parents get involved and help SAFER?
Parents have a big role to play. When high school students are starting to look at colleges, parents and students alike can ask schools tough questions about what they are doing to address sexual violence. Parents can insist on improved policies and programs, and they can help bring attention to ineffective policies. We have some tips for parents at
What do you consider to be SAFER's biggest accomplishments to date?
Training students from 31 colleges, distributing over a thousand guides for students, helping students win concrete improvements to school policies, and empowering hundreds of college activists to fight for change.
What goals does SAFER have for the future?
We are developing a national database of college sexual assault policies, and we'd like to have 500 schools in the database within the next two years. Our Campus Activist Mentoring Program is new, and we want to see it grow. From an operational standpoint, we would like to raise an additional $20,000-30,000 a year to expand our staff.
If you would like to suggest a Q&A with an activist organization working to raise awareness and end sexual violence, please contact us!