SARA’s in action: Student task force plans to assist sexual assault victims

by Emily Schettler and Sarah KellerStaff Writers

After months of planning the Sexual Assault Recovery Advocates, a new organization on campus, will unveil a support program for students in the coming weeks.

SARA is a student-run organization aimed at promoting sexual assault awareness on campus. One of their first initiatives has been to create a support hotline for victims of sexual assault.

Ellie Olson, director of counseling services and a SARA adviser, said that support services such as these are important to have available to college students.

“It is an issue all over but especially on college campuses,” Olson said. “It makes sense to provide support so that people don’t have to go through this experience alone.”

When the program begins in early March, students will be able to call for assistance 24 hours a day. SARA volunteers will carry pagers to alert them when someone has left a message.

“Whoever is on call can walk them through procedures and provide support and provide options for how one can deal with an assault.” Olson said.

Olson also wants students to feel comfortable using the phone line for general sexual assault questions.

“We hope that people who just have questions about issues surrounding assault would feel comfortable calling the support line,” Olson said.

According to Rachel Bandy, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice and a SARA adviser, sexual assault is an issue that is often overlooked.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for the Simpson campus to show that students, faculty and administration don’t support sexual violence and that this isn’t a topic that people should be afraid to talk about.” Bandy said.

In addition to providing support services through the phone line, the group will also promote awareness around campus.

“One of our goals is to proactively educate the campus on issues of sexual violence and dating violence,” Bandy said.

SARA members are planning to hold workshops and other activities for students. Sophomore Cat McLaren thinks it is an issue that all students need to be more knowledgeable about.

“I don’t think people understand how big of a deal it is,” McLaren said. “One of every six women and one of every 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Simpson’s campus is not immune.”

McLaren and her fellow volunteers have worked hard to prepare for the SARA kickoff.

According to Bandy, the SARA members were required to go through 20 hours of training with the Polk County Crisis Services, where they learned about the laws on sexual violence in Iowa. The members were also able to meet with a panel of victims who shared their stories with the students.

Freshmen Kelsey Johnston, a member of SARA, said that the training has been effective.

“I have learned about many real life situations,” Johnston said. “I also got a sense of what the victims’ feelings were after an assault during the training. I feel that will help me a lot.”

Bandy said that, while going through training, members of SARA were able to get a sense for working around highly sensitive areas.

“They worked on listening skills and first responder skills of being supportive,” said Bandy.

Johnston hopes to be able to get a sense of what to say to victims and how she can help them.

“I hope I can make a difference in a person’s life,” Johnston said. “Just by listening and doing anything I can to be there for the person in need.”

Olson is optimistic that the organization will be effective in their mission to spread awareness and provide support.

“I’m really excited about the group of students who’ve been a part of it so far,” Olson said. “I think anyone who would call any of them would find someone really willing to help and to support them with whatever their experiences may be.”