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Officials and student leaders rethink sexual assault resource website

Hatchet File Photo by Katie Causey | Photo Editor
Hatchet File Photo by Katie Causey | Photo Editor

GW’s system for reporting sexual violence on campus is getting a user-friendly revamp.

By this summer, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will update Haven, the University website that brings together on- and off-campus options for seeking help after harassment or abuse. Carrie Ross, the assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response, said she plans to make the site easier to use and more appealing to students, a move student leaders have been seeking.

“We’re in the process of doing a complete Haven overhaul and starting from scratch,” Ross said. “It’s going to look a lot less like a middle-aged lady like me wrote it.”

Haven was launched in 2013 as a way to gather together all resources on and off campus that students can utilize when they experience violence or abuse.

The website includes links to items like on and off-campus resources for sexual assault response and how to schedule training sessions for student groups. But students in the past have said the website has broken links and because it is mainly made up of technical information, it can overwhelm a survivor instead of making their options easier to understand.

Students have been advocating for an update to the site for more than a year.

When the Haven update is complete, it will look “more appealing to 18- to 25-year-olds” and will make it easier for users to find information and resources, Ross said. Ross came to GW last March to specifically improve outreach and training for sexual assault prevention.

Ross said the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, which was created last year and is made up of students and faculty members, assigned a subcommittee on communications to work on the site, which included students and administrators like Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski.

Ross added that committee members are focusing on communications and marketing for the site, and student leaders from Students Against Sexual Assault are helping to fix what parts were not working for students.

“We have had a lot of strategic student input on the website, which I inherited,” Ross said.

Laura Zillman, the vice president of SASA, said the site requires serious improvements for students to easily use all the resources GW has to offer.

“There’s no question that the site needs to be updated and made more user friendly,” Zillman said.

Zillman added that students who previously had difficulty viewing the website on their phones will now have access to a new mobile phone version of Haven.

Avra Bossov, last year’s Student Association executive vice president, said she worked on the committee that has been updating Haven to make it more clear for someone reporting sexual assault, whether it is a survivor or bystander.

“We worked within the subcommittee to make several suggestions for the website to better serve the entire GW community – survivors and confidants,” Bossov said in an email.

Peer schools, including American and Boston universities, have websites that aggregate information on types of sexual abuse and resources for responding to them, connecting multiple offices across the universities.

Ellie Smith contributed reporting.

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