Saturday, February 8, 2014

Proactive Prevention of Sexual Violence Through Sex Education

Part of raising awareness and contributing to a future without violence is prevention and education. So many of us have been taught to think of prevention as teaching others what not to do, but if we only ever talk about what not to do, how is anyone supposed to know what to do? I've decide to challenge our traditional understanding of effective prevention.

In addition to bystander intervention talked about in the last post, education about consent, healthy relationships, and healthy sexuality are necessary as a part of preventing sexual violence. These conversations don't happen nearly enough. How many of you can say you learned about consent or healthy relationships in your sex education classes during elementary, middle, or high school? From my experience and countless conversations with friends, family members, classmates, colleagues, and clients, most of us simply learned the relatively vague biology of how sexual intercourse works, specifically heterosexual intercourse. There was a ton of emphasis on anatomy and little to no emphasis on emotion-related or relationship-focused aspects of sex. The need for communication within sexual intimacy was never addressed and no one ever heard of the word "consent." We were taught "how to do it" physically, but I have never met anyone whose school-based education has taught them about the emotional components of sexual intimacy, the importance of communication, or what a healthy relationship actually looks like. (If you have had the experience of being taught about aspects of sex outside the physical understanding, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you as I would be very interested in what you learned and where you learned it to be able to garner additional resources for other schools).

In my 7th grade health education middle school class in the tiny, moderately conservative town of Freedom, Wisconsin, we talked about sex over a few classes. We discussed anatomy, the teacher passed around a bag of tampons and condoms (yes, together in the same bag), and then we spent a majority of the rest of the quarter doing research and creating a report on how much money it would cost to give birth to and raise a baby (which I'm pretty confident was my school's attempt at promoting abstinence through fear-based tactics). There was very little time for questions, and, honestly, even if there was, none of us really knew what to ask nor would we have been comfortable asking questions we may have had without feeling like we would be asking a "stupid question." We were "cool" middle school kids who thought we were supposed to know all of this already; if we had a question, we must not be experienced enough. Over the years, we had internalized the message that not being sexually experienced made us uncool in some way. I knew a majority of my fellow classmates had never engaged in most sexual acts (no matter what sexual acts the boys in my class falsely boasted about whenever the teacher walked out of the room), yet we all were fiercely committed to awkwardly pretending to know what we were doing. My classroom environment was extremely instructional and focused on teaching the very objective basics of heterosexual physical intercourse; there was no discussion or instruction about the more subjective parts of sexual intimacy like emotions or relationships. And we definitely never addressed the concepts of consent or communication needs before, during, and after engaging in any sexual act.

I've learned my educational experience was not unique. What were your experiences with sex education classes like? I would love to hear about your experiences and what you think would have been helpful for you to have learned. Please comment below or email me at if you are willing to share your experience.

This gap in education has translated into a largely uninformed college student population. At freshmen orientation this fall, I found myself needing to define consent for the students I was presenting to. Many students did not understand that someone legally cannot consent to a sexual act when intoxicated. They did not get that pushing, coercing, or threatening someone until they give in or maybe even say yes to a sexual act is assault. The students had a difficult time understanding that someone can change their mind at any point during a sexual interaction. We stressed how saying yes to one act does not mean other acts are automatically okay. And the students had to learn that the presence of silence or the absence of a no does not mean yes. Most disturbingly, many of the students were surprised to learn that a sexual act engaged in without consent is sexual assault. There was a vast misunderstanding of sexual assault and consent among the college students sitting in front of me, which was incredibly unnerving.

To curb some of the lack of knowledge around consent and healthy relationships, I have decided to plan an event to educate our community about healthy sexuality and the importance of communication that many of us never received throughout our childhood or teenage years. On Wednesday, February 12th at 7pm, Tips From a Sex Therapist: How to Get the Most Out of Your Intimate Relationship will be presented by certified sex therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Janelle Washburne, in the Craig Hall Community Room at the Graduate School of Social Work.

We will be educating our campus community on the CERTS model of healthy sexuality (Consent, Equality, Respect, Trust, and Safety) and stressing the need for open communication in sexual interactions. We will also explore the effects power and control have on relationships and will engage in an anonymous Q&A to provide a safe environment to allow audience members to have additional questions answered that were not addressed in the presentation. My hope is that this event will provide the community with a better understanding of the importance of the presence of consent, equality, respect, trust, and safety in sexual interactions. This event will be a part of DU's Love, Sex, and Health Week and will be open to the entire community. Check out the flyer below for more information on other events occurring during Love, Sex, and Health Week.

Marketing credit to DU's Health and Counseling Center

Resetting the structure of our current education system so that it includes and emphasizes important information about healthy relationships, interpersonal communication, and mutual respect has the potential to drastically decrease the rate of violence in our communities. Our children are our future and they will play a large role in determining social expectations and responsibilities. We need to start teaching our children about the importance of respect for self and others, and more importantly, we have to start being more cognizant of the messages we are sending to our youth about how they deserve to be treated. 

Best wishes and much love to all of you in the work your are doing in your own communities! Please don't hesitate to reach out with any questions or suggestions. 

In solidarity,

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sexual Assault Doesn't Apply To Me

*Trigger warning--this post may evoke emotional reactions. Please do what you need to do to take care of yourself while reading, and see the bottom of the post for support resources.*

A prevalent issue at DU, just like many campuses around the United States and much like our society in general, is the belief that the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence do not apply to or affect a majority of people. I have learned over several years of working in this field and many years of loving people who are directly and indirectly affected by domestic violence and sexual assault, that sexual assault and domestic violence are silenced, denied, and tolerated epidemics. These negative responses and minimization of painful experiences fuel feelings of secrecy, shame, and isolation around these extremely prevalent problems. Countless victims of violence feel like they are the only ones who have ever experienced sexual assault or domestic violence. This belief increases feelings of isolation, self blame, and low self worth. Thoughts like, "This is my fault. I did something to allow this to happen. There must be something wrong with me. This doesn't happen to other people. No one understands" run rampant in our heads. If we can make ourselves believe what happened is/was our fault or that we had some level of responsibility in it, then we can feel like we have some level of control over our safety again. 

Society reinforces this with its victim-blaming statements and questions: What were you wearing? How much did you have to drink? Why were you alone with him/her? You didn't fight back? You were flirting with him/her, what did you expect? You shouldn't have been there. Why didn't you tell anyone? Why did you go home with him/her? Why didn't you just leave? All of these questions fuel shame which further propels secrecy and, therefore, reinforces the lack of conversation and acknowledgement of the presence of interpersonal violence in our society, repeatedly perpetuating the problem of interpersonal violence. And let's be real, none of those things talked about in the questions and statements above cause interpersonal violence; the only difference is who you are in the presence of. I could walk down the street naked and completely intoxicated, flirting with every person I pass, and the only way I will be assaulted is if I am in the presence of a rapist. 

That's it; that's the difference. 

A majority of people would not assault me. And even if I was naked, intoxicated, and flirting, I still am not asking to be raped. Flirting, alcohol, and clothing choice do not indicate my desire to have sex. I will let you know if I am interested.  

For those of you out there who may feel like you are the only ones who have been victimized or who are struggling, I promise you are not alone. I know that doesn't take away what happened to you, and I know each of our experiences are different, but sometimes knowing that other people understand can make us feel a little less isolated, secretive, and shameful. There is nothing wrong with you, and there isn't anything that could make you deserve what happened to you. People want to support you, and you deserve to have that support. You shouldn't have to hold onto this secret; it's a very heavy weight to carry alone. Please see the bottom of this post for resources that can provide you with the support you deserve, lift some of that weight off of your shoulders, and help you navigate through some of these confusing feelings and thoughts. 

The unfortunate truth is sexual assault and domestic violence affect many people. Statistically, at least 1 in 4 of our undergraduate women will be sexually assaulted through rape or attempted rape before they graduate with their undergraduate degree; 1 in 3 of our women are projected to be victimized by relationship violence over their lifetimes; 1 in 6 of our men will have been sexually assaulted by the time they begin their college careers. 

This issue is an epidemic; there is no way around that, but our society has been trained to not talk about or acknowledge the problem. Even when the issue is talked about, the discussion is mostly focused on victims (usually through victim blaming responses and victim-focused support resources). There seems to be a belief that sexual assault and domestic violence is a "woman's problem" and therefore doesn't apply to, involve, or affect men. 

Just as one example, while I was staffing an informational table for the Center for Advocacy, Prevention, and Empowerment (which is DU's campus support resource and prevention/education office for all interpersonal violence) at freshmen orientation this fall, there were at least 15 parents (male and female) over two hours who made a comment to me along the lines of, "I have a son, so this (meaning sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, and/or harassment) doesn't apply to our family." But I struggle with this rationale as men are often present when interpersonal violence occurs (as perpetrators and bystanders and sometimes as victims). And most (if not all) men will, at some point in their lives, love or care about someone who is victimized by sexual assault or relationship violence. Most men will also have an opportunity to intervene at some point in the prevention of the perpetration of a violent incident. And all men in the U.S. live in a society where violence is present. No matter how we look at it, all of us are affected by interpersonal violence, and most of us will have a personal connection to it at some point throughout our lives. 

Interpersonal violence prevention should not only be focused on the victim (who, yes, statistically is more likely to be a woman), as we need a societal response to help intervene before someone is subjected to being victimized. How is it helpful to focus on the person who did not choose to be victimized and seemingly had very little to no control over what happened? Victims do not choose to be assaulted, so focusing on what victims could do differently to prevent this from happening does not make sense. Victims and survivors aren't the issue.  

If the issues are the violence and the associated secrecy, how can we focus on putting a stop to the violence? What changes need to be made in our society? What would happen if we continued supporting our victims and survivors but switched our prevention efforts from what women can do to prevent being raped to what we all can do to intervene as a bystander, change violence-tolerating culture, demolish the shame, secrecy, isolation, and stigma survivors face, and hold perpetrators accountable? What if the "uncool thing to do" was being the person who was dragging the intoxicated individual up the stairs or taking her/him home with you with the intention of having sex with that person (instead of the "uncool thing to do" being the bystander saying something to the person that is taking advantage of an intoxicated individual because we should supposedly "mind our own business")? This is a societal issue and it is up to us to acknowledge the problem and change the focus of our prevention efforts.

So to apply this to my community of DU and to start to break the silence, I will be launching a campaign to humanize and personalize these issues, showing our campus community that even if you are not victimized yourself, there is an extremely high likelihood that you know someone who has been directly affected by violence. Over the next five months, I will be implementing an "I Love Someone Who..." campaign. We will be encouraging students, faculty, staff, and administrators to break the silence by talking about the issues of interpersonal violence through displaying pins and/or stickers saying "I love someone who has been sexually assaulted" and "I love someone who has experienced an abusive relationship." In addition to breaking the silence, this will make a powerful statement about the prevalence of sexual assault and relationship violence and will show our support to survivors in our community and in our personal lives, hopefully fostering less feelings of isolation, shame, and secrecy. 

This is the beginning of many conversations to come and hopefully much community culture change. 

I'll keep you updated! Best wishes to you in your work in your own communities, and take gentle care.

In solidarity,

Support Resources:

SAFE Helpline (24 hour support for sexual assault survivors): 877-995-5247
The National Domestic Violence Helpline (24 hour support for those affected by domestic violence): 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
*Local resources are available by state. Check out sexual assault and domestic violence state coalitions for lists of agencies in your state that provide support for survivors, friends, and family members of those affected by interpersonal violence.*

Monday, September 30, 2013


Since returning from San Francisco in July for the Futures Without Violence Campus Leadership Training, progress has been made and changes have already been set in motion! I'll summarize some of the most exciting changes and happenings since returning from San Francisco: 

1) I developed curriculum surrounding domestic/dating violence and appropriate social work response. Then I met with the Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Social Work, Dr. Jean East (who is absolutely amazing by the way), to discuss the possibility of implementing this curriculum into one of the mandatory first year classes (either the practice-based class or the clinical class), so that every social work student would be educated about the highly prevalent issue of domestic/dating violence and how to positively respond as a social worker. As social workers, many of our current and future clientele in clinical or community practice will have experienced or will be experiencing domestic violence, so it is extremely important for us to know how to respond. Dr. East explained she would discuss the possibility of the curriculum insertion with the curricula committee; however, because the Graduate School of Social Work's curricula committee was already tasked with removing ten weeks of content that hadn't included much domestic violence curriculum historically, she couldn't promise that there would be room for curriculum additions among all of the cuts they had to make. On September 18th, I received an email from Dr. East explaining that the Graduate School of Social Work has decided to use my curriculum and PowerPoint in the practice class starting this quarter already! Furthermore, the faculty will be expanding on domestic/dating violence next quarter in the clinical classes! All first year students in the two year program are required to take both of these classes, so by implementing this curriculum, there is a guarantee that all incoming two-year program students will at least have the opportunity to learn more about domestic violence dynamics and helpful responses! 

2) Besides the curriculum implementation, Dr. East also agreed to allow me to facilitate trainings through workshops or brown bag lunch and learns for the Graduate School of Social Work. 

3) I met with the Center for Advocacy, Prevention, and Empowerment's (CAPE) Program Director, Dr. Gillian Kaag, to discuss possible partnership opportunities for the year. Dr. Kaag offered me opportunities to assist with first-year orientation, the Parent Resource Fair, and Resident Assistant training. She also was excited about my ideas for trainings for students, faculty, and staff. Because all of the resources I would be creating would be referring community members to the CAPE office, Dr. Kaag is also excited about me creating material that she will then get printed through the CAPE office to distribute throughout campus. We also discussed event opportunities throughout the year. 

4) After a few bumps in the road with misunderstandings with administration about my position and several strings of email correspondence, I eventually had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Patti Helton, the University of Denver's Associate Provost of Student Life. This meeting went as well as it possibly could have, and Dr. Helton offered me support in my desire to create a future without violence at DU. 

In addition to the above, here is an update on the status of some of the other parts of my campus plan: 

Assist with first year orientation sessions educating new students about sexual violence and available resources--Done--and it went very well! We showed a video about how students ask for consent at DU that I had co-produced and edited this spring (you can check out the video here: Consent Is Sexy Video) and had really great discussions about the definition and importance of the presence of consent in any sexual act. We focused a lot on bystander intervention and creating a community where "being the person leading the drunk person up the stairs into a room" is the uncool thing to do, not where intervening is the uncool thing to do. We empowered students to take control over the safety of the community by creating standards as a class. We also talked about available campus resources and hopefully reduced the stigma of reaching out for support. 

Talk with parents at the Parent Fair during orientation--Done--The most interesting, reaffirming, unfortunate, but not surprising thing that happened while I was at the Parent Fair was the large number of parents who would walk by my booth or dismiss me by saying things like, "I have a son, so this doesn't apply to me." I should have counted how many parents made that exact comment or a comment similar, but if I had to guess, I would say I heard that from probably 12 different parents. Of course I would attempt to engage them in a discussion surrounding ways someone could be involved or affected by this issue and victimology; however, it definitely exemplified one of the many reasons we need so much more education surrounding interpersonal violence in our society in general! 

Train Resident Assistants in Behind Closed Doors on how to respond to a potential dating violence situation--Done--and I loved every second of it! I often forget that overall safety is sometimes an afterthought for most people, so we spent a lot of time talking about different interventions and the possible effects after the RA leaves and the door is closed again. 

Develop and distribute outreach materials and educational materials, reaching out to survivors of sexual assault and domestic/dating violence to connect them with campus resources and to support loved ones of survivors who may be affected--Development is done; Distribution is in process. At DU, facilities management decisions are split by each building, so I have spent time contacting each building's facility manager and have received positive, supportive responses from most! So what do these outreach materials look like? Well I have created several different materials. For example, there is a flyer on "How to Help a Friend Who Has Experienced Sexual Assault" and one on "How to Help a Friend Who is in an Unhealthy Relationship." I also created a flyer explaining what services the CAPE office offers. Part of the outreach delicacy is figuring out how to provide outreach materials while balancing how to make sure people feel safe taking those materials. A lot of times privacy can be a huge issue! With the thought that there is more privacy and therefore more safety in a bathroom setting, I have created posters to be posted in bathrooms (preferably on the inside of bathroom stalls) with rippable tabs listing contact information for CAPE on the bottom. These posters ask questions, validate feelings/experiences, and offer resources. There are ten versions, each asking different questions, but I have attached two of the versions here:

*Marketing design credit to Jane Hood, Independent Marketing Coordinator; you can contact her at* 

There have been many exciting things accomplished, but I have so much more left to do! Please continue to follow my progress and let me know if you have any questions! I would also love to hear about what you are doing on your campuses or in your communities to contribute to a future without violence! Thank you all for all of the support you have already shown me! 

All my best,

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Plan to Change the Entire Campus

I am so excited that school has started! Having students back on campus fuels me to push harder for the change that is absolutely necessary to work towards ending violence! Now that students have settled in a bit, I think it's a great time to discuss what my plan for implementing change is going to look like. So here's a run down of my plan for this year: 
  • Assist with first year orientation sessions educating new students about sexual violence and available resources
  • Talk with parents at the Parent Fair during orientation to discuss resources on campus for survivors and their family and friends affected by sexual violence, dating/domestic violence, stalking, and harassment
  • Train Resident Assistants in "Behind Closed Doors" on how to respond to a potential dating violence situation
  • Develop and distribute outreach materials, reaching out to survivors of sexual assault and domestic/dating violence to connect them with campus resources 
  • Develop and distribute educational materials on available campus and community resources, how to help a friend, etc.
  • Develop curricula for the Graduate School of Social Work and meet with the Associate Dean to encourage implementation of new curricula for more education for social work students on interpersonal violence
  • Develop and implement bystander intervention trainings partnering with the Center for Advocacy, Prevention, and Education on campus
  • Develop a training for faculty and staff on how to respond to disclosures of gender-based violence and associated campus resources
  • Develop and offer brown bag/lunch trainings educating students, faculty, and staff on effective social work practice and response with domestic/dating violence and sexual violence survivors 
  • Support and assist with campus programming surrounding interpersonal violence and awareness-raising
  • Complete a peer institution review for best practices in regards to interpersonal violence services at a campus level and create a report with findings 
  • Work with associated campus departments to compile a report of the number of victims/survivors provided support services at the University of Denver 
  • Meet with the Chancellor to discuss the plan for the year and hopefully garner his support
I may add to this plan throughout the year, but I think this is a good place to start! Some items on this list have already been completed! Watch my blog over the next few days to get an update on where this plan stands, and please don't hesitate to leave a comment below with any thoughts or questions. 

In advocacy,

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

1 of 12 Chosen to Create Change: Where It Begins

Hello all! My name is Kristin Canan, and I am passionately committed to ending interpersonal violence around the world! Are you willing to partner with me on this mission?

So how, you ask, do we go about ending such a huge epidemic like interpersonal violence? I believe it starts by each of us working to end violence in our own communities.

For me, my community is the University of Denver (DU). I am currently a graduate student at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work, and I am set to graduate this June with my Masters Degree in Social Work and an Interpersonal Trauma Studies Certification. I am loving the University community I am part of, but like many college students around the nation, I have continuously been feeling and seeing the devastating effects of my own campus community perpetuating and tolerating the cycle of violence, specifically sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, stalking, and harassment. Having a background in campus education and advocacy, sexual assault victim advocacy, domestic violence victim advocacy, social justice programming, and victim crisis responding, strongly encouraged me to get involved in initiating change at DU. I wasn’t exactly sure what that change was going to look like but I eventually stumbled upon an office on campus dedicated to prevention, education, and support surrounding gender-based violence: the Center for Advocacy, Prevention, and Education (CAPE).

After getting involved with the one office we have on campus dedicated to advocacy, support, and prevention for interpersonal violence issues, which is staffed with one staff member who splits her time between the CAPE office as Program Director and the Health and Counseling Center as a Senior Staff Psychologist, I was further exposed to where vast gaps exist on DU’s campus in relation to resources for advocacy, support, prevention, and education. I decided I had to do more to change the entire campus culture.

I started working with the CAPE office’s prevention, education, and programming efforts, but I was finding myself feeling like I still had limited influence over what I saw as the biggest issue in the perpetuation of interpersonal violence: the campus system and culture that tolerates and sometimes encourages behavior that leads to interpersonal violence, mostly through inaction and ignorance (whether that be administration, students, faculty, staff, etc.). I struggled with the limitations of one person’s influence; how could I make the changes I saw were necessary as one person?

During my involvement with the CAPE office this past spring, I was presented with what seemed to be the perfect opportunity to make the impactful difference at DU I had been craving. Ashley Olson, who is one of my former supervisors, mentors, and a very close friend of mine from my undergrad at University of Wisconsin-River Falls who has taught me most of what I know about advocacy, social action, and social justice, emailed me an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. This opportunity was through Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), and it brought graduate students together from across the nation to create and implement plans for campus development and violence prevention specifically surrounding sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and reproductive coercion knowing these are extremely prevalent issues on college campuses. I immediately created a campus plan, filled out the application, and anxiously waited to hear from Futures Without Violence about the Campus Leadership Fellow position.  

I am very honored (and excited) to say that I am one of twelve incredibly privileged graduate students chosen across the nation who has the opportunity to represent Futures Without Violence as a Campus Leadership Fellow over this academic year developing and implementing programming, resources, curricula, policy, prevention initiatives, and/or trainings on our respective campuses to contribute to a future without violence, specifically surrounding sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and reproductive coercion. Students from Harvard Medical School, Boston University, Simmons College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Medical School, University of Kentucky, St. Louis University, University of Denver, University of New Mexico, and University of California-Berkeley have been tasked with the continuously fought, uphill battle of working towards creating safer communities. We come from all different backgrounds and are currently studying a variety of subjects including medicine, anthropology, social work, counseling, and public health, but we all have one common passion that draws us together: we are fiercely dedicated to ending interpersonal violence.

Over the next year, we will all implement personalized plans and projects on our respective campuses. We will have successes, frustrations, and struggles. We will make changes, and we may fall short on some of our goals. Whatever the outcomes may be, we hope that we can initiate changes on campuses around the nation and create sustainable programs that can be adapted to other communities.

We invite you to follow our journey throughout the next year: learn with us, celebrate with us, get frustrated with us, and please take the opportunity to adapt what we are doing to make changes in your own respective communities. 

You can follow the entire cohort of twelve campus leaders on facebook under Futures Without Violence Campus Leadership Program at, and I will be updating this blog at least monthly with DU's progress and my experiences (both positive and negative) implementing programming and attempting to fill in the gaps in DU's current services and education. 

Changing an entire campus culture is a pretty tall order, but I am dedicated to creating sustainable change at DU to foster a safer community and a more enjoyable experience for all current and future students, faculty, and staff.  

So here’s to an amazing, eventful, sometimes stressful, life-changing year to come!
Cheers to all of our future adventures and to all of you who will be following and supporting me over the next year! I cannot thank you enough!

With much gratitude and best wishes,

Kristin Canan
Futures Without Violence Campus Leadership Fellow
University of Denver

Futures Without Violence Campus Leadership Fellows from left to right: Gina Capra, Kristin Canan, Ariel Jones, Sara Skavroneck, Alishka Abioye, Nisha Verma, Angela Catena, Colin Gallant, Natalia Truszczynski, Jane Pomeroy, and Mitali Thakor; Missing: Neha Deshpande