For survivors of sexual assault, mental health resources abound

by Noah Goldstein | 10/8/15 9:30pm

There were 48 reports of rape at locations related to Dartmouth in 2015. With the amount of reports increasing according to the Clery Act data, the College has been improving resources to help survivors of such assaults.

Title IX Coordinator Heather Lindkvist said her office’s job is to make sure that anyone affected by sexual or gender-based harassment will receive support, resources and accommodations.

Under their policy, the reporting person is referred to as a “victim-survivor,” and the alleged perpetrator is known as “the responder,” she said.

Individuals who report instances of sexual assault or gender-based harassment have access to multiple resources both on campus and in the general community, she said.

On campus, resources include medical services through Dick’s House, Counseling and Human Development and recently-hired counselor Liz Stahler, who specializes in counseling for survivors of sexual violence. The Tucker Center for Spiritual and Religious life can also provide confidential support.

For faculty and staff, there exists the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program. Off campus, there is the WISE advocacy in crisis center, which will soon bring an advocate to campus later this fall that will be available to anyone in the general community and also offers a new on-campus support group geared toward students. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center also offers medical services, such as SANE examinations, she said.

Deans, community directors and undergraduate advisors also can serve as support systems for students. There are also multiple programs regarding prevention education, such as the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative, she said.

Lindkvist said that the increased number of sexual assault reports over the last year indicates that students are using the reporting options that are available to them and are seeking support.

The four-year sexual assault prevention education that came as a part of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative will not only teach students about policies and procedures, but also how to have healthy relationships and communication, she said.

Lindkvist said that Greek organizations have also taken a lead in sexual assault prevention with initiatives such as additions to pre-rush programming.

When asked about what more can be done, Lindkvist said that students can always do more to contribute to a healthy environment.

Lindkvist said that the College will be using the results of the American Association of Universities sexual assault campus climate survey, which revealed that 13 percent of students have experienced sexual assault in some form, in order to gauge areas where they are doing well and where they can improve.

One area that saw improvement was the amount of students who knew who Lindkvist were familiar with Lindkvist and the nature of her job, she said.

Responding students get access to their own resources, such as Dick’s House psychiatrist Bryant Ford, who offers support to anyone who is accused of perpetrating gender-based harassment and sexual assault.

Lindkvist said that student organizations, such as the Health and Wellness program, are crucial in providing services to students.

“For victim-survivors, having whether it be counseling or other forms of confidential support can facilitate the healing process and allows individuals to reflect on what has happened,” Lindkvist said. “For me, I see the Title IX office as being instrumental in ensuring that all members of our community can fully participate in the programs and activities that the college offers.”

Stahler said that, as it is confidential, counseling is one of the few places survivors can go to process what is happening while knowing that their privacy will be respected.

Survivors can have traumatic reactions to sexual assault, and counseling is one way to deal with said responses, she said. Counseling provides an environment in which a survivor can feel safe, she said.

Responses to sexual assault can include difficulty with concentration and sleep, nightmares, depression, anxiety, loss of motivation, loss of meaning in life and a loss of a sense of control in your life, she said. Among college students, there can often be an academic impact where students cannot concentrate, complete course work or stay motivated, she said.

Stahler said that, as a counselor, she not only tries to get students linked to other services, but also helps them talk through their experience, learn coping skills and develop routines for self-care and sleep.

Coping skills include being able to “ground” oneself if one is having a panic attack, generally through deep breathing, sticking hands into ice water or even clipping a bracelet onto one’s wrist. In the long term, exercising and socializing more are other suggestions to help cope with the trauma.

Stahler said that survivors often want closure.

“So often I work with people who say that, ‘I just want the person to admit that they did something wrong or admit that I was hurt.’ It is so frequently people feel invalidated or that people aren’t taking them seriously or don’t believe them or they get blamed for it,” she said.

Barriers to seeking help can often be broken down by the perception that the community around these survivors is open and accepting.

Sexual Assault Peer Advisor Nicole Simineri ’17 said that she joined the organization because, as a freshman, she felt uncomfortable with the power dynamic that the Greek system creates in Dartmouth’s social scene.

Simineri said that SAPA is a confidential peer resource where, if someone does not want to talk to an authority figure about their experiences, they can talk to a peer of theirs.

Another benefit is that a peer might be able to relate more to a student so than an administrator, in that a peer is familiar with the same social space as the survivor.

SAPAs do not just cover sexual assault, but they are there to help if anyone feels uncomfortable, Simineri said. Registered SAPAs are directed by survivor advocate Ben Bradley to someone who requests help, Simineri said, although her friends also have come to her directly.

SAPA Katherine Botta ’17 said that after joining Mentors Against Violence her freshman year, she decided that she wanted to become a support system for survivors by undergoing the 40-hour training to become a SAPA.

“We have been trained, we know what we are talking about. We are students. We aren’t like, scary adults or part of the administration or anything intimidating,” Botta said.

Botta said that, because the subject is very difficult to discuss, sexual violence and mental health often do not get talked about, which is why she likes to be able to offer her support.

Simineri is a member of The Dartmouth opinion staff.