Rutgers-Camden Professor Heightens Awareness of Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with multiple events on campus

April 1, 2022

By Jeanne Leong

One in five female undergraduates is sexually assaulted, according to the United States Bureau of Statistics. In fact, sexual assault targets college women more than any other demographic group. April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Rutgers University–Camden has several activities planned to bring attention to this public health issue.

“Violence against women is associated with risk for health problems and poor academic performance,” said Courtenay Cavanaugh, a Rutgers–Camden associate professor of psychology. “We want our students to be aware of this issue and, most importantly, we want to prevent them from becoming a statistic because they’ve experienced this type of adversity.”

Courtenay Cavanaugh

Courtenay Cavanaugh

Students in Cavanaugh’s engaged learning course, Violence Against Women and Women’s Health, learn intervention skills to prevent sexual violence through an awareness and prevention program for students, presented by peers.

Through TakeCare, an evidence-based bystander-intervention program, Cavanaugh teaches students to be aware of dangerous situations around them and offers techniques to use when someone needs help. Since Cavanaugh began teaching the course in 2017, Rutgers–Camden students have delivered the bystander intervention program for preventing relationship and sexual violence to 216 other students on campus.

Cavanaugh’s approach has gained national attention and enough recognition that it could become a model for psychology courses across the United States. Cavanaugh wrote about the implementation and results of the course in the journal Teaching of Psychology. She was quoted about the TakeCare program in Monitor on Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago

This semester, eight high school seniors attending Rutgers-Camden’s Leadership, Education And Partnership (LEAP) Academy earned college credits by taking the class along with nine Rutgers–Camden undergraduates. “Bystander programs for preventing relationship and sexual violence are rarely delivered to high school students – and students need to know about this problem before they come to college,” said Cavanaugh. The class will hold an hour-long bystander training session for 118 other LEAP Academy seniors, as part of the engaged civic learning component of the class, and to educate peers about preventing violence.

“It is in these settings that opportunities arise to shape attitudes and norms about violence,” said Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Rutgers Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor and director of the Community Leadership Center at Rutgers–Camden. “Preventing violence in the broader society can directly benefit the core aim of schools to educate children, foster high-quality lifelong learning, and empower learners to be responsible global citizens.”

Cavanaugh will test the effectiveness of the student-run sessions in the Violence Against Women and Women’s Health course along with co-investigator, Bonilla-Santiago, who is also the founder of LEAP Academy. The testing is funded through an $18,000 grant from the Provost’s Fund for Research.

Rutgers–Camden marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April with a series of month-long “Turn the Campus Teal” events to highlight the causes and risk factors for sexual assault and empower prevention in communities.

Laura Luciano

Laura Luciano

“The benefit of an awareness month is when you have multiple events going on, it really helps students connect with the issues, and allows us to do a really deep dive on how we support survivors on campus, how we can be good allies, how we can engage in bystander behavior,” said Laura Luciano, associate director for the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance. “An awareness month can be a call to action for other people to get involved.”

On April 4, Keynette Tisha Barnes will be the featured speaker at “Transforming Passion into Advocacy.” Barnes is the co-founder of #muteRKelly, a nationwide, grassroots movement to end the career of R&B singer and convicted sexual abuser of young black women, R. Kelly. The event begins at 6:30 pm in the Campus Center Multi-Purpose Room. Advanced Registration is required.


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