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Administrator to tailor sexual assault education to student-athletes

Sara Wagner | Hatchet Photographer
Sara Wagner | Hatchet Photographer

A top administrator will launch an educational program about sexual violence for GW athletes this fall, an effort she said will help her reach hundreds of undergraduates.

Tara Pereira, who addresses sexual harassment and discrimination at GW, said she will hold workshops about how to prevent and recognize instances of sexual violence, outlining possible scenarios they could face as students or athletes.

It’s part of an effort to focus on large groups to spread awareness about one of the biggest issues on college campuses, Pereira said. She’s also held similar workshops for student organizations, Greek chapters and House staff at their request.

She said her outreach will focus on the first two months of classes – known as a “red zone” for high instances of substance abuse and sexual assault. Athletes, Greek life members and freshmen are most frequently involved in alcohol abuse and sexual assaults nationally, she added.

Athletic departments across the country have also zeroed in on the issue of sexual assault after high-profile legal battles have spotlighted how colleges have handled those types of cases.

Four athletes at Morehouse College were arrested for two separate reported sexual assaults in May. At the University of Montana, the Department of Justice opened an investigation last year into 11 cases involving athletes, which all allegedly occurred within an 18-month time frame.

Pereira said schools with a stronger sport culture tend to have more cases brought against athletes, but those numbers also depend on whether students report rape – a phenomenon that drags down sexual assault numbers nationwide.

At GW, student athletes have not necessarily been more likely to face accusations, she said.

“For our athletes, there has not been specific series of events and cases that brought any additional worry to our attention than anyone else,” said Pereira, who oversees GW’s compliance with the anti-discrimination law Title IX.

Her office created an educational program last year with Director of Athletics and Recreation Patrick Nero, which he made mandatory for his entire about 75-member staff. Mary Jo Warner, senior associate athletics director, said GW plans to loop in additional staff this semester.

“Future sessions are to-be-determined, but there will be a continuing education element, as well as training for new staff and student-athletes,” Warner wrote in an email.

GW students have also reached out to athletes, recruiting them for sexual assault awareness campaigns.

Matthew Scott, the president of Students Against Sexual Assault, or SASA, said he decided to work more with athletes after the department helped make a public service announcement about violence against women last year. GW Athletics partnered with GW’s Global Women’s Institute for the project and shows the video at every basketball game.

Collaborating with athletes, he said, is “a great opportunity to really work across communities and partner with a bunch of students who do care about these things but who aren’t really necessarily approached a lot.” It also coincides with the University’s effort to train athletics staff on how to respond to crises like sexual assault.

A handful of student-athletes worked with the organization this summer to put up posters for ASK DC, a smartphone application that provides resources to sexual violence victims. SASA participated in a campaign last year for a similar application geared toward D.C. students.

Ted Costigan, the athletics department’s life skills coordinator, said in an email that Scott’s campaign gives athletes an opportunity to fulfill their 10-hour community service requirement, which Nero initiated last year. The department was one of the first in college sports to mandate community service.

“Service is a significant component of being a GW student-athlete and this program falls in line with a number of areas in which we want our student-athletes to be leaders on campus,” Nero said in an email about the SASA campaign.

Scott said athletes will also have community service opportunities through SASA’s collaboration with organizations like My Sister’s Place, a domestic violence shelter, and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Scott said he hopes to grow the number of male members this year.

“A lot of people have been surprised that I’m a male president of a Students Against Sexual Assault because you don’t see that at other universities,” Scott said. “And so my hope is to get guys more involved because I think that’s really what we need in general and if it’s male athletes, even better.”

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