Universities provide online sexual assault counseling

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Some universities are modifying their sexual assault support programs for victims after most students moved home with the recent switch to online schooling.

Universities, including Ferris State and Northern Michigan, are offering digital ways to report incidents of sexual assault.

For example, Ferris State students are encouraged to explore their formal reporting options through the Title IX office, which is still operating through Zoom and other online mediums. All sexual assault investigations have continued through the switch to online, according to Kaitlin Zies, the university’s Title IX coordinator. 

Title IX offices are in federally funded universities to ensure that there is no educational decrimination on the basis of sex.

Zies said that the Title IX office is one way that the university continues to support complainants.

Zies said Ferris is also trying to offer academic accommodations with classes, and well as counseling services.

“We want to make sure that the survivor is provided with any support they may need,” Zies said. 

The university’s Personal Counseling Center is operating fully online. Counselor Andrew Slater said that’s been challenging. 

“Some of the therapeutic benefit is lost when you can’t be physically present with a client survivor,” Slater said. “That being said, we are working as hard as we can to overcome any and all barriers that have been created with the stay-at-home order.”

Slater said that his center has been connecting more frequently with clients through email, in addition to speaking on the phone or online. Ferris also sends clients weekly newsletters that provide words of support, as well as holding town hall-style meetings open to all students. “Trying to connect in as many ways as possible has been an adjustment, but so far has been very effective,” Slater said. Four therapists are working full time with Ferris students.

At Northern Michigan University, Dean of Students Christine Greer said many procedures remain the same during the quarantine period.

When an incident is reported, the student affairs office reaches out to the complainant and provides possible remedies for remedies and resolutions. That was already an online process.

“We work hard to ensure survivors are aware of support, resources and remedies,” Greer said.

 “But not all survivors are interested and willing to meet with a university official to discuss the situation. That is why we first send everything electronically with an offer to meet,” she said.

Northern is still reaching out with the same email and resources, but now it offers to meet over the phone, Zoom or in person while practicing social distancing if a student wishes. Greer said many students do choose to meet.

“Obviously, it takes a whole team at NMU to meet a survivor’s request for remedies, but all of these areas still have staff available and ready to serve,” Greer said.

NMU still has over 600 students living on campus, Greer said, and the university can assist them immediately if needed. It has also moved its Counseling and Consultation Services to online options.

Both Greer and Slater say it’s important for victims to take care of their mental health during the stay-at-home order. Slater said routine is crucial to that process.

“Sexual violence is not about sex — it’s about power and control,” Slater said. “Survivors have had their control taken away from them through a violent act. 

“That loss of control is compounded now that so many other things have been taken out of our control with the stay-at-home order,” he said. “We encourage people to try and control anything they can.”

Slater said that reorganizing your room, setting simple everyday goals like keeping the kitchen clean and pushing yourself to shower every day are simple ways to create a level of normalcy and control. He also suggests small acts of self-care like lighting a candle, doing a puzzle, exercise and journaling.

Isolation is also a concern during quarantine, so Slater said it’s important to reach out to friends and family in addition to counseling services. “Don’t allow yourself to be isolated, even though we can’t be with each other physically,” Slater said. 

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