Rearranging Rape

UCSC dissolves its 30-year-old Rape Prevention Education center

“As of next school year, Rape Prevention Education as you know it will no longer exist.” This is what UC Santa Cruz administrators told Rape Prevention educator Gillian Greensite last month, explaining a decision to “reorganize” the program.

Greensite was told that, starting in the 2010/2011 school year, Rape Prevention Education would no longer be a separate effort, but would be absorbed into the Student Health Outreach and Promotion program (SHOP), and that she would no longer be a rape educator, but a sexual health educator through SHOP. She promptly retired.

“I have 30 years experience and I don’t intend to stop doing this work, but I can’t stay at an institution where they’ve made this work impossible to do,” says Greensite. The new position would have required her to educate students about Sexually Transmitted Infections and other sexual health issues, which, while extremely important, she says would not have allowed her to exclusively focus on rape prevention and education, which included crisis counseling for victims, workshops, presentations, self-defense classes, peer educator training, research and more.

The administration says that students will be provided with the same resources and services. “The university’s commitment to offering sexual assault prevention, education, and crisis counseling is unwavering,” Alma Sifuentes writes in a statement to Good Times. “In fact, recent restructuring with Rape Prevention Education and the Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP) will enhance and expand services for students and the campus community, and at this point no services are being discontinued.”

Sifuentes cited student and outsider input as the reason for the decision, although she did not specify who was consulted specifically or what their feedback was. “Students and other relevant on- and off-campus stakeholders were consulted in this process as well as a review of national best practices and models for sexual assault prevention programs,” says Sifuentes.

According to Greensite, higher education consulting firm Keeling and Associates did a recent study of the school’s health services and concluded that Rape Prevention Education did not belong in the health center. Jaimie Vargas, director of strategic planning and communication for the Division of Student Affairs, told GT that the administration could not discuss the report.

“The new person will have all the duties of a sexual health educator plus (according to them) all the functions of Rape Prevention Education,” says Greensite. “There are only 40 hours in a week. It doesn’t add up to say that all of the same services will be offered in about half the time.”

Students Speak Out

After hearing the news, Nina Milliken, a Latin American and Latino studies major, immediately launched a Facebook group called the Coalition to Save UCSC Rape Prevention Education, which had 1,245 members as of press time. Milliken worked as a peer educator at the rape prevention center for three years. As a rape survivor herself, she also founded the UCSC Rape Survivor’s Network with the help of Greensite.

She believes that the school’s administration was fearful that parents would not want to send their children to a school with a center wholly focused on rape. “But any campus you send your kids to will have this problem,” she says. “If I were a parent, I’d rather send my son or daughter to a school that has good support for this issue.”

Indeed, college-aged women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted according to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). In 2009, the NIJ reported that there are an estimated 35 rapes per 1,000 female college students—which would mean that a school of UCSC’s size could have several hundred rapes per year. However, just as well documented is the statistic that only a miniscule portion of those women will report it. According to UCSC police department crime statistics, two rapes were reported in 2006, and three were reported in 2007 and 2008. This low, but disproportionate, number has presented some roadblocks for Greensite’s center in the past.

“Administrators look at the police statistics and say ‘what’s the problem, why does she keep talking about rape—there were only two last year,’” she says. “Fortunately now, we’ve got research we didn’t have when I started that shows that any university of this size may have up to 300 rapes each year.” While she hopes that UCSC’s number is not nearly that high, she admits it is possible considering that 42 percent of rape victims tell no one and only 5 percent report it (according to Robin Warshaw’s “I Never Call it Rape”).

“Based on my analysis of not only the politics of rape but what those who have been raped feel comfortable with, you need a place that is not part of the police department, not part of the counseling and psychiatric services, not part of the health services, but its own entity,” says Greensite. “That is being lost.”

Milliken is leading the Coalition to Save Rape Prevention Education in a letter-writing campaign to pressure the administration to reverse their action. She is distributing two template letters—one from students to the administration, and one from parents. “From what we can tell,” she says, “the administration fears nothing more than parents.” Spurred by the Facebook group, a team of about 20 dedicated students (with Milliken at the helm) has begun meeting weekly to strategize how best to achieve their goals.

“Our demands are: we want a separate and succinct rape prevention center; we want the word ‘rape’ in the title; we want a full-time employee who is a rape prevention educator, not a health educator, and we want that person working 12 months a year, because it’s not like rape doesn’t happen during summer months; we want a private office from SHOP; and not to be submerged under SHOP or any other health organization on campus,” says Milliken.

While Sifuentes says that all of the same services and resources will be available through SHOP, those fighting for the original program believe that it will discourage rape victims from seeking that help if it is “submerged” within SHOP.

“Rape is not a health issue,” says Milliken. “Rape prevention has no place in a health organization, because rape survivors are not sick.”

However, Vargas, from Student Affairs, says that rape prevention will now be a part of SHOP because of its ties to health issues, like STIs (sexually transmitted infections). “There are health issues related to sexual assault, including but [not] limited to Sexually Transmitted Infections,” says Vargas. “We are launching a more comprehensive sexual education approach, which will focus on building awareness of sexually transmitted infections, and the sexual health educator/crisis counselor position will have the appropriate background to provide timely information to sexual assault victims and help students.”

Feminist Studies professor Bettina Aptheker is one of many faculty members vocally opposing the decision to dissolve Rape Prevention. She echoes Milliken’s concerns. “It is a very unfortunate decision to disband Rape Prevention Education as a coherent unit and disperse it across the campus,” says Aptheker. “Rape is an issue of social and political violence. It is not a health issue.”

She also worries that the services will lack visibility and accessibility in the new arrangement.

“[The center] also provided a safe space for survivors of violence to be able to talk to each other, and to gain deeper insight into the issues and the healing process … The decision to ‘re-arrange’ is not only wrong-headed but is a most regrettable slide backward in creating an appropriate, meaningful, and safe university and learning community,” says Aptheker.

But perhaps most detrimental, says Greensite, is that the word “rape” will no longer appear in the name of a program, service, center, or in an employee’s title.

“For 5,000 years, women have been raped but we haven’t said the name,” she says. “It’s been shrouded in myth, and shame, and invisibility, and indifference. For the last 30 years, we’ve been able to say the name, and one incredible indication is the acceptance of a program called Rape Prevention Education on a university level. I believe keeping the word ‘rape’ visible is a political act of utmost importance and I’m very saddened that all but one other campus [UC Santa Barbara] has gotten rid of the names.”

She continues, “If we can’t even say the name, if we want to bury it under some other euphemism, then that’s a giant step backwards.”

A History of Struggle

What the administrators say is a simple reorganization of services, Greensite fears is an attempt to bury a program that has been fighting to remain open since its inception.

“Since the beginning, it’s been a struggle to have the issue be taken as seriously as it should be taken,” says Greensite. “In the early days, when my counterparts at the other UCs and I started, it wasn’t believed to be a problem on university campuses.”

Rape Prevention Education was founded at UC Berkeley in 1979, fresh on the heels of the women’s and anti-rape movements. That same year, each of the 10 existing UC campuses adopted the program. Over the years, Greensite has watched the disappearance of the centers, even at its birthplace, UC Berkeley.

“I saw it at many other campuses,” she recalls. “Its name would be changed, or it would be submerged into another department, and in many places it was no longer visible. And fast forward, that’s what has happened at UC Santa Cruz.

“But [those attempts] are not new,” she continues. “It’s been marginalized, it hasn’t been supported always, but this is the most aggressive attempt.”

Greensite plans to continue educating on the causes, prevention and complexities of rape, whether through writing, research, or teaching. Whether through the will of Milliken and Co., or faculty opposition, Greensite hopes Rape Prevention Education resurfaces at UC Santa Cruz.

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