Counseling Center, UNHPD working with assault victims

By Miranda Wilder
On April 15, 2014

Throughout the month of April, the University of New Hampshire's Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program has teamed up with the White Ribbon Campaign and UNH Counseling Center to spread awareness about violence directed towards women. 

The goal is to get at least 2,000 male signatures on a petition to end assault against women. 

"It says they will never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against girls," Direct Services Assistant of SHARPP Zak Ahmad said. 

Last year, SHARPP's goal was only 1,000 signatures. This year they have doubled it, hoping to get 25 percent of UNH's male population on board with the movement. 

"We're upping our goal," Ahmad said. Ahmad has now volunteered with SHARPP for four years and helped establish the 24-hour support hotline, which is open to students seven days a week, staffed with two trained volunteers at all times. 

Many faculty members have signed the pledge as well. David Cross, director and chief psychologist at the UNH Counseling Center, has a white ribbon pinned to the front of his shirt. 

"We're very supportive of the White Ribbon Campaign," he said. "All the men on staff have signed the pledge. We're advocates. The men are for it 100 percent." 

The Counseling Center works with SHARPP, referring victims of sexual assault and violence back and forth between the two programs. Cross says that victims are oftentimes emotionally or psychologically traumatized, and these services are here to offer whatever it is the student may need to get through the experience. 

"We like SHARPP," Cross said. "They really advocate what we call an empowerment model. We want to help the student where they're at. That's the really important part. Some just want counseling, some are very emotional and sad, some are angry." 

 

The Counseling Center offers a variety of multi-disciplined, fully trained professionals; some are very experienced and have Ph.D.'s and Psy.D.'s. Others are interns and post-fellows who have also gone through the required training to become a psychologist. 

Unlike the Counseling Center, SHARPP is mostly comprised of volunteers who have been trained to handle victims of assault in a less professional setting. 

"We offer medical accompaniment to the hospital, legal accompaniment to lawyers and we offer one-on-one counseling," Ahmad said. "We're here as an identity that will step in and help out, and support what the student wants. We are in tune with the specifics." 

The UNH Police Department has taken a stand in the campaign, promoting the pledge and hosting a women's self-defense class. 

"The Rape Aggression Defense Basic Personal Defense System is a national program of realistic self-defense tactics and techniques taught for women only," UNHPD advertised on its Facebook page. "The goal of R.A.D. is to provide realistic self-defense options to women, regardless of their level of physical conditioning." 

The police offer the option to take legal action against perpetrators, whereas SHARPP and the Counseling Center help victims decide how they want to handle the situation. The police are there as the next option if a student decides that he or she would like to press charges. 

"We clearly have more women that are victimized," Cross said. "We all manage the violence in different ways. Victims go to SHARPP for advocacy and support, and the police for whatever can keep them safe and protected, particularly in cases of domestic violence." 

As for the Counseling Center, counselors and professionals offer a method of coping with the situation. 

"There's a stigma associated with counseling," Cross said, "that there's something wrong with me. Victims haven't done anything wrong. It's just dealing with it. When a person is surviving sexual assault, they're feeling a great amount of shame associated with it. We assure them that that is not the case and they didn't do anything wrong." 

Cross said that the Counseling Center most commonly sees victims of sexual assault, but cases do vary. There have even been cases in which the perpetrators have sought counsel, although there are much fewer people in that scenario. 

Oftentimes, perpetrators are much more hesitant to come in, Cross said, because they do not want to face any legal repercussions. Although there are certain exceptions, it is the therapist's job to keep all the patients' confidentiality. 

According to SHARPP's most recent research, one in five women are sexually assaulted, which is around 22 million women just in this country per year. Men are also at risk, but their risk is much lower, at about one in 70 victims of sexual assault and around 1.6 million male victims per year. 

Although there is not much statistical evidence, Ahmad says that in his experience he finds men much less inclined to seek help after incidents of assault. 

"I think there's a lot of variety," he said. "It's a complex issue why men do or don't report." 

According to Ahmad's research, sexual assault does typically happen at the same rate on a college campus as it does in the community, but the university is able to provide and promote much more aid to victims. 

One of the first signee's of UNH's male population was the newest addition to UNH Health Services, Hamilton "Hammy" the therapy dog. He signed the pledge for men against violence to promote fellow males apart of the student body to sign, and obviously because he is in support of the movement. 

"I think it's really that more men have to become involved," Cross said. "This is an issue for all of us, both men and women." 

The pledge can be signed online at www.unh.edu/sharpp/wrcpledge, with a place to write name and affiliation with the university.


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