Among the goals of the UNLV’s Jean Nidetch Women’s Center is helping the campus community cope with issues related to sexual assault, stalking, and domestic/dating violence.
Its director, Cristina Hernandez, is quick to point out that the center’s name can be misleading: The women’s center is open to, and used by, people of all genders and sexual orientations.
With sexual assault awareness at the forefront of national programs, thanks in part to the national It’s On Us campaign, we asked Hernandez to share information about the center’s role in preventing sexual violence and helping those who have experienced it.
What's the number one thing you'd like campus community members to know?
For those of you have been affected by sexual assault: You are not alone, you are not to blame, and there are resources here to support you.
For those who have not been directly affected and may think this issue is irrelevant to them: The statistics show that someone who is very close to you has been affected by sexual assault.
How prevalent are sexual assaults on campus?
It’s very hard to say what the stats truly are. Sexual assaults are severely under-reported — and for valid reasons. Many survivors fear a process that may re-victimize them and not provide the justice they need to heal. Also, because of the controversies over sex education, students often get to college without a full understanding of consent and healthy relationships.
What we do know, however, is that interpersonal violence occurs in colleges across the nation and UNLV is not immune. People who seek our services come to us with trauma that may have happened long before they got here. Or it may have occurred off campus. But, it doesn't matter where the crime occurred or who the perpetrator was; we are here to help.
How is UNLV addressing the national conversation about sexual assault prevention?
There are a number of prevention programs that continually address the issues. First, the campus complies with federal Title IX laws regarding sexual harassment and discrimination. In 2015, UNLV's office of compliance, which oversees Title IX, launched a training program required of all faculty and staff.
Other programs include police services’ Girls on Guard self-defense classes. And for more than 20 years, UNLV has hosted Take Back the Night events.
Through the Nidetch Center, specifically, we have the CARE Advocates (Campus Advocacy Resource and Empowerment). This program trains students to host awareness events — in both informal and academic settings — throughout the semester.
In January, we launched the Green Dot program, a national bystander intervention program. Our goal is to change the social norms on campus to make it clear that "violence will not be tolerated here" and "we all can do our part."
The center is also part of a coalition — Advocacy, Support, Education Team Against Violence (ASERTAV) — which consists of on- and off-campus organizations/departments that address interpersonal violence and ensure resources are provided to survivors.
To learn more about other programs, a good place to start is the Jean Nidetch Women’s Center website.
What kind of services does UNLV offer victims?
Among the services we offer are:
- A 24-hour CARE hotline at 702-895-0602. Volunteer advocates, who receive a minimum of 35 hours of training, staff the hotline.
- Walk-in service during the women’s center regular business hours.
- A full-time counselor in Student Counseling and Psychological Services, who has extensive experience working with trauma.
- A CARE Advocate who began work this semester, via grant funding, to provide targeted outreach to those in the LGBTQIA2+ communities (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, two spirit, plus. The plus is intended to represent whoever might not already be covered by the acronym.)
- Quiz Cart, a targeted outreach program for nontraditional students. The Quiz Cart goes out twice a month between 5 and 8:30 p.m. to shuttle students to or from class, providing an opportunity for interpersonal violence education.
How do men fit into the Women's Center programs?
We are committed to providing services for everyone regardless of their gender identity. Interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, affects men, trans folk, and people who fall outside of the gender binary. Our services are set up to support all identities while acknowledging the specific barriers they may face.
I should also note that there is often a misconception that our services are only for students. We’re here for the faculty and staff, too.
In February, the Women’s Center formed a Survivor Advisory Board of students, faculty, and staff who have experienced interpersonal violence. What have you learned from this group?
We learned that there is a huge need for services for staff and faculty as well as students. We had an overwhelming response from that part of our community.
We also learned that we should create two separate advisory boards — one for students and one for faculty/staff. We’ll be re-advertising for student advisory board members in April.
Faculty and staff may not want a CARE Advocate because the advocate could be a student in their class or someone they work with in a staff/student capacity. So we have a staff advocate for UNLV’s employees. We’re developing resource information specifically for faculty/staff, and we hope to offer support groups soon through the Center for Individual, Couple and Family Counseling on campus.
Any final misconceptions you want to clear up about sexual assault?
Sexual assault has nothing to do with sexual pleasure or desire. The key aspects of all forms of interpersonal violence are power and control. If society could understand that, we could move away from victim blaming. “What were you wearing?” “How were you acting?”
To me, this is a human rights issue, as we have the right to live and learn in an environment free from violence.