Although it can feel overwhelming at times, with allegations of sexual abuse running rampant from Hollywood to Capitol Hill and numerous college campuses in between, victim advocates now at both CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus are tackling the issue ̶ one person and one red flag at a time.
“It’s a large social problem that’s impacting people across the country,” said Megan Alpert, director of the Phoenix Center, which recently opened a sister center at CU Anschutz to complement its Auraria Campus location. “I think: How are we ever going to fix this problem? How am I possibly helping?” The answer: One person at a time, Alpert said.
Although the red flags once dotting the grounds in front of Building 500 are down, the problem of interpersonal violence, especially on college campuses, prevails. By continuing awareness projects, such as the Red Flag Campaign, the new CU Anschutz office aims to halt abuse while fulfilling its chief role as a much-needed advocacy center, said Victim Services Coordinator Kalyn Stroik.
A potential breeding ground
The 4,000 flags set up for the October event represented the statistical number of victims on campus. Nationwide, more than one third of women have or will have experienced some form of interpersonal violence, an umbrella term for all interpersonal abuse, including stalking, voyeurism and relationship and sexual violence (from harassment to rape), Stroik said. For men, the numbers are one in four, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and estimates reach as high as 50 percent for transgender individuals.
Factor college life into the equation, and the numbers rise significantly. Women in college, ages 18 to 24, are three times more at risk of interpersonal violence than their non-college peers, according to the Bureau of Justice. College men are 78 percent more likely to experience some form of sexual assault than their non-collegiate counterparts.
“Sexual violence is a prevalent problem on college campuses,” Stroik said. The environment can provide an arena for predators looking to exploit someone in a position of vulnerability. “For example, you have a lot of young people who are experiencing freedom for the first time and exploring sexuality, identity and substance use. This can create a culture perpetrators can take advantage of through no fault of a survivor’s own.”
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Phoenix Center at Anschutz
Education 2 North Room 5232
24/7 Helpline: 303-556-CALL (2255)
Phoenix Center at Auraria
Tivoli Student Union, Suite 259
24/7 Helpline: 303-556-CALL (2255)
A crucial campus resource
The new center, which opened in August, provides CU Anschutz students, faculty and staff who have experienced interpersonal violence of any kind, or who know someone who has, free professional and confidential support, including crisis intervention, resources, referrals and education.
Last academic year, more than 160 CU community members turned to the Phoenix Center at Auraria, and more than 200 people called the advocacy center’s 24/7 hotline.
“The Phoenix Center at CU Anschutz is such an important resource for our campus,” said CU Anschutz Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jan Gascoigne, PhD. Funded by grants and the administration, the center is largely the result of a 2015 Anschutz Student Senate effort, which surveyed students and found a dire need. “The students’ advocacy and support, along with that of university leadership, made this possible,” Gascoigne said.
Scars from interpersonal violence run deep, affecting survivors and the entire community, Stroik said. It can ruin a young person’s college experience, gravely threaten their well-being, stifle academic success and halt career goals, all of which can reduce retention, she said.
“We see headlines in the media and awareness campaigns on social media, but we often forget it is also an issue within our own homes and communities that impacts us or people we know,” Stroik said. “It affects every Anschutz community member, directly or indirectly, and is an issue that requires our continued attention, dedication and hard work.”
Photo: Volunteers helped place 4,000 red flags on campus to raise awareness about interpersonal violence and a new advocacy center at CU Anschutz. Student volunteers, who play a key role in the Phoenix Center and gain valuable experience for social-justice-related careers, are needed.