MISSOULA — It was Valentine’s Day when Christine Fiore stood before a crowd of several hundred people on the Oval at the University of Montana to recite the facts — that one in five college women still experience some form of dating violence.
Not only does it represent a national problem, Fiore said, but it’s a problem in the United States, and it’s a problem in Missoula, which isn’t immune to the nation’s social woes.
“We need to do something to change this,” Fiore told the crowd last month. “In 20 years, I don’t want to be asking for change. I want to be change.”
Fiore, a professor of psychology at UM who has spent 20 years researching violence against women, teamed up last summer with Danielle Wozniak, an associate professor in the School of Social Work, to help implement a new program addressing sexual violence on campus.
Known as Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness, the university made the program mandatory for all students looking to register for the spring semester. By school accounts, more than 13,825 students had successfully completed the tutorial as of last month.
“I think the first iteration of the tutorial went really, really well,” Wozniak said on Tuesday. “Our aim was to educate and raise awareness, and create space for discourse. I think we’ve achieved that.”
The PETSA program included seven short videos focusing on Montana law as it relates to rape and sexual assault. It included the legal definition of consent and examined the motives of sexual predators, among other things.
The tutorial also welcomed feedback from students through an anonymous survey. The university has reviewed the comments and found them to be 4-to-1 in favor of the program and its message.
“Some people didn’t like the fact that it was mandatory,” Fiore said. “There was a bit of naïve complaining from some people saying they weren’t part of the problem. But this is a community problem, and the community is part of the solution.”
The University Council on Student Assault, which Wozniak chairs, recommended in 2011 that UM educate students on ways to reduce their risk of being assaulted or committing personal violence.
While other universities have created their own program, none met UM’s needs or standards.
Wozniak, along with Beth Hubble, who co-chairs the Women and Gender Studies program at UM, wrote the tutorial’s script and worked it over with a campus-wide team.
Nearly 14,000 students have taken the tutorial, and while feedback has been overwhelmingly supportive, Wozniak and Fiore believe the program must evolve to include more detail on bystander intervention while allowing for more discussion.
“One of the things we’re turning to is bystander intervention – empowering our whole community to take a role and make a difference,” Wozniak said. “The program was never designed to stand alone. It was a way to begin our intervention.”
Making room for further discussion wasn’t possible with 14,000 students needing to take the initial tutorial, Wozniak said.
But those students won’t have to take the program again. That makes it possible to engage in discussion with next year’s freshman class and new transfer students, who will have to take the program. It may also be incorporated into the wider curriculum.
“If students are saying, ‘I’ve never raped anyone so this isn’t for me,’ then we say it is for you and we need your help,” Wozniak said. “That kind of feedback isn’t helpful, but it does give us an idea that we have to communicate better that this is a community issue, not an issue with individual people. It’s about intervention.”
Later this month, UM also is hosting Victoria Banyard, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Hampshire and a leading expert on the study and prevention of sexual violence.
While Banyard conducts research on the long-term consequences of trauma and interpersonal violence, she also has studied the criminal justice system’s response to sexual assault.
Among her work, “Bringing in the Bystander” remains a college relationship and sexual violence prevention program that educates bystanders to intervene before, during and after incidents of interpersonal violence.
“We may want to expand some of our own bystander intervention pieces,” Wozniak said. “It’s an educational piece to help people recognize the opportunity for change in the community and within their friendship groups.”
Banyard will give her free lecture, “Sexual Assault as a Societal Problem in America,” on March 25 at 8 p.m. in the George and Jane Dennison Theater.
She’ll also give a talk, “Who Will Help? Creating a Community Response to Sexual Violence Prevention,” at 3:10 p.m. in Room 123 of the Gallagher Business Building.