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Assault increases resource awareness

A Mills College student was sexually assaulted on campus within a 24-hour period before a Feb 7 email from the Division of Student Life, raising questions about what the community can do to offer her support and how to prevent another assault.

“Social constructs have set us up to second guess ourselves, especially women, with sexism being conditioned in us from a young age,” said Dean of Student Life Dr. Joi Lewis, who was unable to release specific details but spoke from a broader standpoint.

No one should blame a victim for circumstances beyond his or her control, Lewis said.

“It’s not your fault,” Lewis said, “Things can happen, even with someone you know really well.”

Nonetheless, students are worried about their safety within the residence halls.

“Anytime someone in the community has been harmed or hurt, it raises questions and concerns around others’ individual safety, the safety of the campus, the safety of the community,” said Residential Life Director Monique Young.

Preventative measures are in place to protect students at Mills.

“There are four levels of separation,” junior Emily Kaput said, “The gate, the guards, the door to the residence hall and the door to your room.”

According to the Feb 7 e-mail, the assault took place in the residential community. By invading students’ personal space – their home essentially – the assailant has changed students’ perspective regarding their safety.

“It’s not just you who’s affected,” junior Lauren Martin said, “Everyone else is affected too.”

There are precautions students can take to be safe, including being self aware.

“The biggest thing is to always be mindful of your own surroundings, who you are inviting to the community and who you are engaging with,” Young said. “Sexual assault happens, unfortunately, in society, and Mills College is no different. The best thing we can do as individuals is always be conscious of who we’re around and what we’re doing. Personal safety, I think, is the key for everyone.”

Kim Baranek, Director of Wellness and Community Outreach Services, advises that when partying with friends, designate one person to remain sober, and check in with that person throughout the night.

“You should also never take a drink that you did not see poured yourself,” Baranek said. “And keep an eye on it – don’t leave it unattended.”

Baranek suggested that another helpful trick is the “Circle of 6” iPhone app, which allows for individuals to contact their friends with a message specific to the situation they find themselves in, and hopefully prevent any violence from occurring.

In the event of a sexual assault, there are resources, both on and off campus, for victims, their friends and family to help him or her recover from the event.

On campus, there is counseling available, as well as pamphlets in the Community Health Resource Center (CHRC).  However, no one will pressure a victim to do anything that they don’t feel they are ready for.

“It’s important to maintain that the student is in charge,” Baranek said. “They make the decisions.”

Rape Trauma Syndrome is a common after-affect of being sexually assaulted, and Mills provides a high level of service, according to Baranek, as it understands that many areas of a victim’s life can be impacted, including school.

“The earlier a survivor gets support, the better outcomes there are in terms of healing,” Baranek said.

There is legal protection for sexual assault victims, among other types of victims. Proposition 9, also referred to as the “Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008” or “Marsy’s Law,” ensures that victims of crimes are provided with constitutional rights and that the state respects those rights.

There are steps that students who have been sexually assaulted can take to put them on the road to recovery.

One such option, according to Baranek, is to have a medical exam at Highland Sexual Assault Center, a branch of the Highland Hospital in Oakland, which has services including a 24-hour crisis line and ongoing counseling for both victims of assault and a victim’s friends and family. All of the services are free, and the center’s social workers stay with a victim throughout the entire process.

“Evidence can then be turned over to the police,” Baranek said.  “However, the advocate-victim relationship is protected, meaning that the advocate does not have to divulge any information to law enforcement.”

Other centers include Alameda County Family Justice Center, which provides legal counseling, and Kaiser Permanente Support Groups that include coping with trauma and survivors of violent crime.

For a victim’s friends and family, Baranek’s advice is to “listen without judgment, inform the victim of different resources that are available, let the survivor make decisions about what they need – don’t be pushy – and deal with your own reaction to the assault in a way that won’t negatively impact the survivor.”

Recovery is a long and arduous process.  But those closest to the victim must be patient and show her or him that they are true friends and will continue to stand by them, Baranek said.

No matter what, Lewis said, “No one ever has the right to violate your body, your mind.”

A) Mills College is close to B) The Highland Sexual Assault Center and  C) Alameda County Family Justice Center.

The Highland Sexual Assault Center

(510)534-9290 or (510)534-9291

1411 E. 31st Street, Oakland, CA

* 24-hour crisis line

* Emergency medical examination and treatment

* Rape evidence collection and support groups for the victim and/or family.

* And more.

Alameda County Family Justice Center


470 27th Street, Oakland, CA

A one-stop center offering free services like getting a restraining order and filing a police report for victims of domestic and sexual violence, child and elder abuse.