Ask the Expert: Talking Sexual Assault with Scott Berkowitz

08 12 2015

The college sexual assault crisis is in conversations on and off campus, and on many students' and parents' minds as fall approaches. It's important to have an understanding of sexual assault, consent, bystander intervention and related topics before heading to college, and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is one of the most trusted sources for this information. In preparation for heading back to campus, we talked to Scott Berkowitz, RAINN Founder and President.

RAINN President and Founder Scott Berkowitz



SABRE: Why do you think we’re hearing more about sexual assaults on college campuses in the past few years when previously, it didn’t seem to be as widespread of an issue?

SB: Between student activism, media attention and the federal government’s interest, we’ve seen colleges paying more attention to this issue than ever before. Every day, we hear from campus sexual assault survivors who reach out for help. RAINN works to address sexual violence through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org), public policy initiatives, training and consulting, and prevention programs, like our national campus program, RAINN Day, which will be held this year on September 17.

SABRE: When it comes to bystander intervention, please explain what this means and why RAINN feels this is so important to combatting the prevalence of sexual assault.

SB: It’s a lot like those signs at the airport - if you see or hear something that doesn’t seem quite right, say or do something. If you see someone at a party acting a little too aggressively, find a non-confrontational way to step in. It can be as simple as changing the topic of conversation, or asking your friend to step outside so you can get a little air. The goal is to interrupt the behavior that concerned you, before it has a chance to escalate.

SABRE: When it comes to consent, please explain what this means and why RAINN feels this is so important to combatting the prevalence of sexual assault.

SB: Consent is all about communication, and it should happen every single time. There’s nothing complicated about it - it’s all about treating your partner with respect and making sure that they want the same things you want.

SABRE: In terms of the RAINN hotline, why do you think this is such a good resource for students, in addition to what’s available on campuses?

SB: On-campus resources can be a great option. In addition, RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which provides free, confidential help. There are two ways to get help from RAINN: the Online Hotline (online.rainn.org) provides 24/7 help, so students can reach out, night or day, to chat online with one of our trained support specialists. You can also reach out by phone (800.656.HOPE); callers will be connected to their local sexual assault service provider in their area.

SABRE: Can students call for support or advice if they witnessed something, or if they’re trying to counsel a friend?

SB: The National Sexual Assault Hotline is open to anyone who has been impacted by sexual violence - that means survivors, friends or family. You can contact us whether something happened 10 years ago, or just yesterday. Our support specialists can provide resources and tips on how to be a good friend and ideas for what to say if someone discloses a sexual assault.

SABRE: What is the thing you hear most often from victims? And is there anything particular you’d want to say to anyone dealing with a similar situation?

SB: On the hotline, we often hear survivors tell us that we are the first person they have ever told. We know that it can be hard to come forward. But RAINN’s trained support specialists can help you work through what happened. The most important thing for survivors to know – and for loved ones to express – is that the survivor is not to blame for what happened. A supportive reaction can make all the difference.

SABRE: What is the biggest thing RAINN wants to communicate to both parents and students as they prepare to head off to college this fall?

SB: As students prepare to head back to school, we want them and their parents to know that everyone has a role to play in stopping an assault. It’s important to begin the conversation before the first day of school, and keep an open dialogue as the school year progresses. Get the latest from RAINN on campus sexual assault by signing up for RAINNews.

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