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Students aim to support sexual assault survivors


Sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence are a pervasive issue. Over the course of the Fall semester there were four public reports of sexual assault within the Drake University community. Of these instances, one took place on campus and three off campus. All were reported to staff and students via email in accordance with The Clery Act – a federal mandate requiring universities to report instances of crime on and around campus that could pose a threat to students or employees. In addition to these timely reports, several programs have been put into place on campus which offer everything from confidential victim-survivor support to bystander intervention training.

Violence Intervention Partners is a support hotline run by and for Drake students and is overseen by Lynne Cornelius, Drake’s Violence Intervention Coordinator. Students interested in volunteering with VIP interview in the spring, and if accepted, will receive 30 hours of training before the beginning of fall semester.  This prepares them to monitor the VIP hotline where they will serve as confidential advocates for students coping with instances of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and other similar circumstances. The training program certifies them with the state as confidential advocates, assuring that they cannot be called upon to testify in court. 

One such volunteer, sophomore Ali Goldensoph, attributes her involvement with VIP to her sorority sisters. 

“I’m in Kappa Alpha Theta – my big and her big are both in VIP so they talked to me about it [last spring] when interview process was coming up. I checked it out and decided it was something I’d really like to do.” 

Victim-survivors can call or text the hotline 24/7 to talk with a peer advocate that can offer emotional support and connect them with additional resources should they decide to take formal action. Cornelius said the program is rather unique.

“In the area, Simpson is the only other school to have a similar program,” she said. 

In addition to VIP, Cornelius also oversees a number of other programs. Mentors in Violence Prevention is a bystander education initiative open to all Drake students that involves a series of three violence intervention and prevention seminars. Upon completion, students are equipped to facilitate productive and respectful conversations about violence prevention and intervention throughout the Drake and greater Des Moines communities. 

The Spring 2020 MVP training sessions will take place from 1-4 p.m. on February 21st, February 28th and March 6th. Interested students must be able to commit to attending all training sessions and can contact lynne.cornelius@drake.edu for more information.

Another subset of VIP and MVP is specific to the Greek life community – Healthy Inclusion Relationship Officers. Each house nominates a HIRO who will go through a similar education program before bringing those skills back to their house and facilitating conversations within that community throughout the year. 

Another unique aspect of Drake’s approach to processing incidents of sexual assault involves one of the larger concerns a victim-survivor might have when reporting incidents to university police – the potential involvement of recreational drugs or underage drinking. While a majority of undergraduate students are underage, many social events attended will involve one or more of these things regardless. 

Scott Law, the executive director of Public Safety, said Drake’s code of conduct takes a strong stance on this by offering amnesty to both victim-survivors and potential witnesses within the context of formal sexual assault reporting procedures. 

“Yes, underage drinking is a problem, but sexual assault is a far bigger issue than whether or not an [underage student] had a beer,” said Law. “We want them to be able to come in and be honest with us…without that I think we would have a lot of people not making reports.” 

If you or someone you care about is struggling to cope with an instance of sexual assault, stalking or other forms of gender-based violence, the VIP program offers confidential support from certified peer advocates and can be reached by calling or texting 515-512-2972. You can also contact Drake Public Safety to file a formal (non-confidential) report at 515-271-2222 (dial 811 for emergencies).


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