Connie Kirkland discusses the Sexual Violence Elimination Act

Connie Kirkland is the Director of the NOVA Cares Office at Northern Virginia Community College, where she chairs the Threat Assessment Team, coordinates behavioral intervention and support services for the college, and manages the college Sexual Assault Services program. Last year, she spoke with members of the White House Campus Sexual Assault Task Force and joins Campus Law Consider to talk about developments for campus safety.

Previously the Director of Sexual Assault Services at George Mason University, for 20 years she provided education and intervention services for victims of campus sexual assault, stalking, and dating/domestic violence.

Connie Kirkland Discusses the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act

PB: Connie, thank you so much for joining us today. You have such a strong background in these issues. Can we just start with just talking about numbers or giving an idea about how widespread sexual misconduct or sexual assaults are? And I know those are not the same thing. But just an idea of what's the scope of the problem.

CK: Right. Thank you for having me, first of all. The White House has come up with the probably most credible statistics that we have. And it has been documented by several other researchers in the past couple years as well, that approximately one in five college women will be sexually assaulted during their college career. And that's a terribly large amount if we think about it.

There aren't as good statistic with regards to males, but I believe we can easily say somewhere between 1 in 17 and 1 in 20 males will also be sexually assaulted. And if we take the broader context of sexual misconduct, which many campuses now use that term to include stalking and dating and domestic violence, there is enough research out there that shows that 1 in 13 women will be a victim of stalking while at college. And somewhere between one in three and one in four relationships that occur during a college career will include some sort of violence. So it's a large number no matter how we define it.

PB: Yeah. I mean, it sounds like an epidemic. I mean, if this were, you know, the flu or a sickness and that number of students were being affected, there would be such an outcry.

CK: There would be. I mean, there certainly is an outcry now, but there isn't really the funding that goes along with the outcry. So it makes it difficult to complete the task, that's for sure.

PB: Let's start with some of the responses that there have been. You mentioned the White House. And let's start with SaVE. And if you can just give like a 30,000-foot view, can you first describe what it is and, you know, what shortcomings was it hoping to address?

CK: Sure. Well, I mean, I think Campus SaVE, which, you know, is officially a much longer title that that. It's the Sexual Violence Elimination Act, and that's why it's called SaVE, was developed to fill in the blank spots about what we didn't know was happening on college campuses with regard to the sexual misconduct issue as well as fill in gaps in response. And so the biggest thing, I think, that has occurred is that now since Campus SaVE has been incorporated into the Clery Act, the Clery Act now requires, because of SaVE, to document numbers of stalking cases, dating violence cases, and domestic violence cases, as well as the sexual assault cases in their Clery annual security reports.

So that's big. It's also very difficult because different places define it differently. But other than incorporating those acts of violence into the Clery Act, it also has, the SaVE has also required that we take a much better look at primary prevention. And that's totally different from risk reduction. I think most colleges and universities have done a great job at risk reduction efforts through the years, telling people what they shouldn't do or what they should do to lessen the possibility of becoming sexually assaulted. But we haven't really addressed the potential perpetrators, and that's where it has to start, and that's where it needs to end.

And so there's then a widespread look at how we can stop it before it occurs. And the best thing that's happening right now is there are quite a few good programs out there on bystander intervention, which is telling all of us to take a look around us, have our eyes open, don't be afraid to look away, don't look the other way when somebody is taking a drunk woman up the stairs. You know, don't look the other way when they're taking her into a car or out behind a house. But figure out some safe means of intervening to prevent the act before it occurs. So that's been a big thing.

And I think that it also guarantees many more rights for the victims. It's a really victim-centered piece of legislation. And it's trying desperately to get more victims to report and to address their fears and to think about ways that we can make that happen. Probably the greatest thing, I think, that has come out of it is the victim's rights form that now every college and university must create and actually give in paper, in writing to the students who have been affected, not just send them a link.

And so it helps them understand what confidentiality is, what timely warnings are, what their reporting options are, how to get a protective order, or many other different things. And putting it in writing is so much better for a student who, first of all, if it's a recent disclosure and a recent act, is still traumatized, and they're not going to be remembering everything that one of us tells her or him. So having it in writing is an extra protection for that person.

Free Report: Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Sexual Violence & College Students

PB: Connie, that was a lot of great information. I want to go back and pick out a few pieces of it real fast. So SaVE is roughly two years old in terms of its implementation. And so at the beginning, we're at the beginning of its second or third academic year that it's been . . .

CK: Well, yes. I mean, it really was past a year before the final regulations came out. And so we've really only been following the absolute final regulations that relate to SaVE for about a year.

PB: And going back to, I mean, the intent is fantastic. But the implementation, I would imagine, is difficult. And you briefly mentioned funding. You know, how much is that causing shortcomings for the intention being reached?

CK: Oh, I think the funding issue is absolutely at the center of the problem. Because even if a school had a victim advocacy center or a sexual assault center or whatever it might be called on their particular institution, those groups are low funded anyway. And so if now they're expected to take on all of the additional work of stalking, dating violence, domestic violence, which then, you know, reverberates into all the police contacts, all the court contacts, all the medical contacts, finding counselors for folks, it's a lot of work with probably little or no extra funding.

In addition, the college and the university central part has to really come up with new policies, new procedures, new response technicians, new websites. There's just a lot of work that goes into the development of this. Not alone, I mean, that alone is enough. But then you think about the Clery compliance situation. And, you know, most schools now have a Clery compliance chairperson or maybe even an entire committee. But now they have to make decisions about how to find out the numbers related to those new crimes.

And they are very difficult because, for example, with dating violence, especially is difficult in that the majority of states don't even have a crime that's called dating violence. And so it really is assault and battery. But for Clery, we need it to be assault and battery in a dating situation or in a marital situation. And so there's a lot of fine-tuning that has to be done by the responder, by the person that the report is going to in order to be able to, you know, make a very clear definition of what actually is being reported. So there are many, many issues that arise from it.

PB: When you say responder, are you thinking that this is local police? Or is this campus security? And does it matter the difference between those two?

CK: Well, there's a lot of difference between those two. But what I'm thinking of is probably a college or university administrator. Many of these cases come directly to the Dean of Students office. And also when you think about it, these people haven't necessarily been trained to understand all of the trauma that is involved in any of these particular issues that are connected with sexual misconduct. So probably, hopefully, those folks have had additional training on trauma so that they know how to work with a student who is disclosing any of these things.

Some of these people, of course, would report to the police. And most of our colleges and universities have a certified police department. Some still have campus security. But those that have police, I'm sure the students go to them, especially when things are occurring on campus such as stalking and dating violence incidents. You know, usually those particular issues happen at many points of a person's life, maybe at their home, even if they live off campus.

But then it might follow them to campus. Especially stalking happens in many, many sites, workplace, school, home, driving to and fro restaurants, you know, cafeterias, all that. And so I would imagine that many campus responders are either administrators in the Dean of Students office or police or campus security on the college itself.

PB: In terms of those responders, have you seen some particularly good or innovative programs that are working or have been implemented for the training?

CK: For the training itself?

PB: For the training itself of the administrators or for making sure that they have the right information.

CK: Well, I think that in many states, I know that the training is being provided by the statewide coalitions for sexual and domestic violence because they do that sort of training in the community. And many have actually asked those particular groups to come on their campuses to bring them up to date on, you know, how to better respond with a trauma-informed view. And I know, you know, here at my school, you know, I'm asked to speak to different administrative groups as well as it's been, I think, people like even advisors, financial aid, people that come into contact with students often. And we don't even think about them as being a critical point of entry for a victim of one of these particular crimes.

And so being able to explain how much trauma is involved in any of these, and that it's not an incident that when it's over, it's over, that there are lingering effects that we have to understand. You know, the fact that sleeping patterns change, eating patterns change, therefore classes get missed, grades fall. But there's a reason for it. And I think the more we train those people, either from within the college, if the college or university has its own victim advocacy center or sexual assault services office, have those folks go to the administrators and just provide an hour or two of basic information about trauma. And I think it can, a lot of it can be done within the house without expense at all.

PB: And you spoke earlier about, you mentioned both primary prevention and risk reduction and that idea of obviously stopping sexual misconduct or assault before it happens. And can you just, in the most basic terms, define primary prevention and risk reduction, and then give examples that are good programs that are happening for each of those?


CK: Sure. I mean, first of all, primary prevention is, according to Campus SaVE, required to be given to all incoming students and all new employees as well as ongoing prevention and awareness campaigns for students and employees. So it involves a lot of programming, a lot of initiatives, and definitely some strategies that can be sustained over time that will focus on increased understanding of the topics that are relevant to and the skills for addressing dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

And so, you know, like I mentioned before, one of the greatest strategies that is being used now is by standard intervention. And I would go back to the White House on its It's On Us campaign, which was brought forward through the White House as a PSA using well-known actors, first of all. But then, there is a way that every college, university can access the It's On Us on the White House government website to get the exact logo, to get the information that needs to be included. And usually, I mean, there are many, many colleges and universities that have already created their own It's On Us PSA and are using it on their electronic boards, on their websites, at certain events.

And I know at my school, we incorporated about 20 different students in different locations talking about, you know, basically, it's on us to take care of each other. It's on us to stop a violent act when we see it happening. It's on us to take care of each other. It's on us to make our community safer. And each person has a little piece of the script to say. And it feels like it's a more coordinated approach to understanding violence and violence prevention. So that's an easy one that many people can do just using their own television center or their own television equipment, whatever they have. I think there are major ones that can be purchased. Step UP! is one.

There are several in Green Dot, is used by many people. It's a training program about bystander intervention, and it's also a way of incorporating many people on a college campus in that issue. Certainly, the athletic programs that are part of NCAA have something that's called My Playbook. And it also addresses bystander intervention as well as the individual issues of sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Helping the people who are, you know, listening and working on these, they're actually working on the program themselves, not just watching it.

And so it helps them begin to understand how they can be a different person, how they can make a difference, and how they can improve safety for everybody on our college campus. So that's at the root of it, you know. It's again trying to stop these things from happening before they ever start. So it's really touch because what it means is changing attitudes, changing behavior, and getting everybody to work together. The risk, go ahead.

PB: I was going to say there is, obviously, there's a very strong push for cultural change. And I think one of those that has come about in the last year or so is California and New York schools have implemented their affirmative consent laws. And that seems to be part of this push for change in behavior, change in culture. Have you, do you have insights about how these laws are being implemented?

CK: Well, I know that besides the states that have laws, many colleges and universities have taken this on just in a policy form for their own schools. And I think it comes across as too much at the beginning. But when people begin to look at it and understand what affirmative consent is, they begin to understand that, of course, we shouldn't. N one should believe that if a person says yes to kissing, that that means yes to intercourse. You know, and that's a far fetch. But that's what affirmative consent begins with, is that each act I need to give you my consent in order for it to be all right for you to go forward.

It's changing the culture because there have been so many people who believe that we shouldn't be talking during a sex act. And without talk, there can't be known whether there's consent or not. So it's liberating for some to be able to give consent at each step of the way. It's also difficult to make that leap. And so it's probably very, it's a very useful tool to get people to be more engaged in actually what's going on. I think there's a great place for this. I think it just takes a while for people to understand why it's important, because we're not used to talking all the way through.

PB: Right. And it does seem, though, both just the individual interactions but also the general discourse that it has raised is very important.

CK: Absolutely. Yeah. People are beginning to talk about consent when they didn't very much before. Because it's finally, and the whole point of the affirmative consent laws is looking at the perpetrator's actions rather than looking at those victim's actions. You know, and it's, I can't say that it has changed in a great way, but hopefully it will. That we're not asking the victim, did you say no? But instead, we're asking the accused perpetrator, did you get the consent? And that's a very different approach.

PB: Absolutely. That seems like, I mean, a huge cultural shift. And is that something that you'd put under the umbrella of risk reduction then?

CK: Well, yes, I think so. I mean, risk, it's both. I think it's both risk reduction and primary prevention. I mean, if people are always waiting for consent, then that's definitely primary prevention. Risk reduction is really more about reducing the harm and reducing your chances. So consent should always be there for the person. That shouldn't even be an option. There should always be consent, whether you have a confirmative consent law or policy or not.

But, I mean, the risk reduction has always been things like keep your keys in your hands, you know. Know where your car is parked. Don't go out past midnight. Or if you're walking at night, walk with a group, those kinds of things. And again, what those methods are not saying is that there's danger out there, and you need to be afraid of what's around the corner. Well, that's the perpetrator. So the consent and the other bystander intervention is more focused on the potential perpetrator rather than the potential victim. It's a huge shift. You're right.

PB: Let's talk a little bit about the role that technology and certain apps can play in creating safer campuses. Are there successful examples that you've seen?

CK: Yes, there are. And there are some that I wouldn't want to use. But I look at the successful ones. I mean, certainly, there is a terrific app called LiveSafe. And it was designed by two young men who thought that it was really important to come up with an app for college students to live a safer life. And colleges and universities, many of them are using it now. In fact, LiveSafe, the company, has expanded into the medical field, the military field, you know, all different aspects of life because everybody needs security.

And they're designing the app to fit the particular need on a college campus. LiveSafe allows you to put in the app itself who you want to be your best buddies. For example, who you want to know if you're in trouble. And so there's this one little point button that you push, and then your mother will know where you are. Your best friend will know where you are. The police will know where you are. There's the ability on it to take a video of something. So that if you see something happening, and you're not involved in it, but you see it and want to report it, you can create a video and send it directly to your police department, and they will intervene.

There are so many good things about it. And you have a list of people who can, at any time, you can let them know where you are in case you get into trouble or in case you just want them to know where you are. So it's quite helpful. I know here at our school, we ask every incoming student to immediately add it to their phone. It's free because the school has already paid for, you know, the technology. And, you know, another aspect of LiveSafe, it's actually in connection with another corporation called NewPoint Strategies is about to release a new app that is a bystander intervention training app, which is currently being used by parts of the military.

But we've worked, I've helped to work on it to transfer the information to a more conscientious college-based setup instances. And so that hopefully will be as useful as the LiveSafe app. And then there's Circle of 6, which some schools are using, even K to 12 are using the Circle of 6, which is again, you've got six people that you can put on the app that you want to reach out to if you need them for any particular moment. And so that's similar in the way it's used, quite good. What I'm not fond of are the consent apps. You know, where somebody can text somebody and say, you know, would you just sign right here that you're going to consent to have sex with me.

I think there's a lot of risk to that. I mean, it sounds great for the person on the other end of it who is saying, well, I got her consent. But what that means is you got the consent for the moment that the button was pushed, but not for the moments after that. And so it's a, I haven't seen too much of this go to court yet, but I can see it becoming a disaster in court. You know, having to prove that I didn't consent to what happened 15 minutes after I pushed consent, you know, 15 minutes ago. So I'm not fond of those because they're so time specific.

PB: And it also, it takes the conversation out of both real time, like you're saying, but also just interpersonal.

CK: Absolutely. Well, I mean, I think that the traditional age college student right now is so into electronics that the talking phases are going away on a lot of different levels. I mean, you know people text each other all day long when they could be talking to each other. So it's one step removed from the personal relationship. You're absolutely right.

PB: I just want to talk a little about if you have any insights on blogs that have been used to call out alleged perpetrators. Can you share any concerns that those bypass normal proceedings and hearings? And, you know, how can administrators balance the due process concerns with free speech and safety concerns?

CK: Mm-hmm. Well, I think that is all a big issue that has to be dealt with. Certainly, calling out alleged perpetrators, probably that's usually done by friends of the victim, would be my guess, or people who want to try to instill safety in some ways. And it does in some way, you know, create safety if the information is accurate. That's, of course, not ever known. But if the perpetrator has not yet been adjudicated either by a campus proceeding or a court, then, you know, it's sort of taking initiative before a decision has been rendered. But I can understand, you know, that it is sometimes used when the official mechanisms don't respond well to victims. For example, you know, even cases that are reported to police are very often never moved forward to court. Often there is no arrest.

Often there is no court even if there is an arrest. You know, often, even if it goes to court, there is no conviction. And so the person who has spent, you know, many months, let's say, working the best that she or he can as a victim complainant to do the right thing is left without any sense of justice. So for that reason, some people are opting out. Some people are choosing not to get involved with proceedings. I mean, the rumor mill on a college campus is quite big. And so if they know their friends are not getting the satisfaction that they had hoped for, some may choose not to even engage in the systems that we have put in place.


PB: Right. I mean, they definitely seem to grow out of a certain frustration. And let's look at maybe then the flip side of that is, what services do you believe colleges should be providing in terms of both policing and preventing?

CK: Mm-hmm. Well, I think the number one thing is there has to be a confidential office on every college and university campus where victims of sexual assault, stalking, dating, domestic violence can came to and know that they have the ear of somebody who is trained, who understands trauma, who understands the options that are available to them and who can sort of guide them through any process that they might choose to engage in. And I say confidential because confidentiality is very important, both in Campus SaVE, which is now incorporated into Clery, and Title IX, which we haven't even talked about.

But many people think that Title IX, for example, says that there can't be confidentiality for a victim of sexual assault, and that's absolutely untrue. There are many aspects of Title IX that allow confidentiality. Just the problem is, of course, there cannot be much of an investigation, you know, when the complainant chooses not to respond or not to want to be investigated. Under Clery, of course, you know, there's no names included in Clery and Campus SaVE. That's just demographics. So there shouldn't be any shouting out about any particular person who has come forward anyway.

But sometimes that's not listened to. But to have one particular office that is known as the confidential place. It's a safe place. It's one where victims feel that they can say most anything they want. They might want their advocate in this confidential setting to be with them throughout the entire police investigation, the court process, the medical procedures, the on-campus conduct hearings, whatever. And that's fine. But they still are not the administrative function. They are the support function. And that's a critical piece that needs to be there. And because I think for the most part, a person who has become a victim of sexual misconduct doesn't understand what any of the processes are.

I mean, we try to inform our students from day one on all of the options that they have. But most people don't really hear, even if they're listening to those talks, because they don't ever think it's going to affect them. And then when it does, they have no idea what to do. Many don't even know that those things are crimes. So they would never call the police. And so having a confidential setting and advocacy center that will explain, you know, what has gone on to you is a crime, it's also against our policy, and you have several options and different methods of seeking success and seeking some form of justice. So I think that's all very important.

PB: Connie, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. It has been very informative. I appreciate your thoughts and your insights.

CK: Thank you so much. It has been a pleasure.Subscribe to Campus Law Considered

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