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Specialist talks at Northern about preventing rape


September 26, 2017

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Alan Berkowitz, Ph.D., speaks during his presentation of "Promoting Consent, Preventing Coercion: What you can do to Prevent Sexual Assault" Monday in the Student Union Building Ballroom at Montana State University-Northern.

Students attended a presentation on sexual assault education Monday afternoon in the Student Union Building ballroom of Montana State University-Northern.

Independent consultant Alan Berkowitz's "Promoting Consent, Preventing Coercion" presentation, funded by a Rape Prevention and Education Grant, centered on what students can do to prevent sexual assault.

"Sexual assault is when one person takes advantage of another person because they're vulnerable," Berkowitz told the room of students.

Berkowitz began by trying to break the misconception that most college students have sex. Between 20 percent and 40 percent of college students have not been sexually active in the last year, he said. They also don't drink as much as stereotypically suggested, he added. Another misconception is that respected or well-thought of individuals wouldn't sexually assault someone.

When he asked how many students knew someone who had been sexually assaulted, he estimated that 15 percent of the students in the room raised their hands. Berkowitz piggybacked on that, saying that number is probably higher.

"Just because we don't know doesn't mean we don't know someone who has been sexually assaulted," he said.

Case in point, he said, is his sister who waited until she was in her 40s to tell him she had been raped when she was younger.

The chances that it is true when someone says they have been raped are very good, Berkowitz said, adding that U.S., U.K. and Australian studies suggest 95 percent of accusations turn out to be true.

"False accusations occur, but are very rare," he said.

The accused has a right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty and the potential victim a right to be believed, he said.

When it comes to victims, Berkowitz said, 30 percent of women and 10 percent of men will have an "unwanted sexual experience" before or during college. Men, he added, commit most sexual assaults. Narrowing it down, he said 5 percent of men commit 95 percent of the sexual assaults.

"All men pay a price for women being afraid of us," he said, "and in this case it's warranted."

It's important for men to speak up when they see or hear other men talk or behave inappropriately, because men can prevent sexual assault, Berkowitz said. When men hear others brag about sexual exploits, they should say something, because chances are there are others who agree about its inappropriateness, he said.

"Most of us want to do the right thing when you see a problem but don't always realize that others are also comfortable and will agree to support you if you do something," he said.

When someone sees a "non-consensual situation," Berkowitz said, there are options. One is to confront the person. Creating a distraction to take tension away from the situation is another option. He gave the example of when when a friend is on the receiving end of drunken advances, a group of friends can come over and tell her they found her Tampax.

Other things to do when someone sees a nonconsensual situation is remove the person from the situation or call for help.

Victims don't always report sexual assault, he said. That is sometimes the case because people are embarrassed by what's happened to them or the stigma of being that kind of victim. Or they are afraid of reprisal or retribution. The way people have a tendency to talk to potential victims, it makes it sound like it is their fault. Nobody but the assailant is ever to blame, Berkowitz said.

"If I park my car in a bad neighborhood and my stereo gets stolen, it's the thief's fault, not mine for parking there," he said.

The way to respond to a victim is to believe them, to withhold judgment or biases and to offer options such as talking to and taking them to thxe hospital or a minister.

Three of the students who attended the presentation were Anthony Harper, Caulin Bakalarski and Cayeveoon Jones.

Harper said after the presentation that the part about men bragging about their sexual exploits especially rings true, and he believed that's a sign of immaturity.

"I think it was informative," Bakalarski said. "More people need to hear this. It's the world we live in."

Jones said he agreed with the presentation, but there are also parts of it he disagreed with. He said the presentation - "all these things" - are one- sided because they always seem to portray men as always the aggressors. Men, he said, are not always the aggressors and he has life experience that proves that. Jones also said the presentation didn't mention why women may make wrongful accusations.

"It creates a gap in communication," he said, adding that because of the perception that men are always guilty and women innocent, some guys he knows are even scared to text a woman.


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