Training helps college better deal with sexual assault

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Local News

December 12, 2019 - 10:03 AM

When someone is the victim of sexual assault, the first person he or she talks to is critical. Knowing the right thing to say and how to help that person find the right resources can make a big difference in recovery, local advocates who work with sexual assault victims say.

When the assault happens to a college student or on campus, the first person the victim encounters is likely to be a residence hall staff member. 

At Allen Community College, residence hall staff attend extensive training at least twice a year to help them deal with those very difficult situations. 

That type of training is just part of the work of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), a group made of local professionals including Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), advocates from the victim assitance organization Hope Unlimited, law enforcement professionals, colleges and others. 

Team members met Wednesday with Ryan Bilderback, director of student life at ACC, to talk about ways they can help students who have suffered sexual assault and similar issues. Bilderback is the supervisor of the residence halls and residence hall staff.

About 300 students live at ACC’s residence halls, which are overseen by 10 professional staff members. Staff typically are assistant coaches at the college. They attend various types of training, such as for sexual assault, mental health issues, drug abuse prevention and first aid.

“(Sexual assault) is a terrible situation for everyone and it’s unfortunate, but it’s something we have to deal with,” Bilderback said. 

Lisa Chauncey, sexual assault advocate with Hope Unlimited, works with residence hall staff members. They practice role playing and learn how to use non-judgmental words.

“Even as an advocate, when I first started to respond to victims at the hospital, you say really stupid or hurtful things because you don’t know what to say,” Chauncey said. “You don’t want it to sound canned, but we actually practice so they know what is safe and supportive to say.”

Their efforts have made a difference, Iola Police Detective Jared Froggatte said. He’s part of the SART team and has noticed a reduction in emergency calls to the college in general, from incidents like sexual assault to alcohol parties. 

“I can tell a definite change in the last two, three years. It’s been a lot better,” Froggatte said.

Alanna Busby, a sexual assault nurse examiner, agreed. 

“You guys have done a good job teaching the staff how to handle the situation,” she said. “It makes a big difference when you have that first contact and someone tells them, ‘It’s OK. We believe you. We will get you whatever help you want.’”

There are several reasons for that, Bilderback said. 

In addition to the training, it’s important to hire the right staff members. Because residence hall staff are also part of the coaching staff, they’re involved in recruiting students. They have a vested interest in making sure those students are successful.

And recruiting the right students to ACC is vital, Bilderback said. 

About 95% of students who live in residence halls are there on some sort of scholarship, either a sports scholarship or arts, theater, livestock or other types of academic scholarships.

“It starts with the recruiting process and the types of individuals we recruit,” he said. “They have a reason to be here and hopefully a direction.”

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