By Carolina Garces-Zapico, Health & Wellness Services intern

cougs-helping-cougs-logo-250PULLMAN, Wash. – A campaign encouraging the Washington State University community to listen to, believe and support students who experience sexual assault begins March 24.

The Cougs Helping Cougs campaign emphasizes the importance of knowing the basics of support and referral in response to a sexual assault disclosure.

“We know that people are most likely to talk with a friend about an assault before anyone else, and how friends and community members respond can make a significant difference to someone coping with sexual assault,” said Nikki Finnestead, violence prevention coordinator at WSU Health and Wellness Services.

cougs-helping-cougs-logo-450In January, President Barack Obama created a federal task force to address sexual assault on college campuses. National data indicate that approximately one-fourth of women who attend college will be assaulted.

“Most people are deeply disturbed by this statistic because it isn’t just a number,” said Paula Adams, health promotion coordinator at Health and Wellness Services. “These are people we know, our friends, ourselves, our community members. And most of us want to help but maybe aren’t sure how.”

“We’re asking every student and every community member to take a minute or two to be prepared when a friend shares that another person coerced, forced or pressured them to engage in sexual activity,” said Finnestead.

“If you find yourself in this situation, be prepared to listen without judgment,” she said. “Avoid asking questions that imply the victim is at fault or responsible for the assault. Know that, although you may not completely understand what happened, the person you’re talking with is seeking support. How you respond matters.”

The campaign is presented by the Green Dot program at Health and Wellness Services and the Green Dot student organization.

Adams is director of a U.S. Department of Justice grant project to reduce power-based personal violence on campus.

For more information about the campaign, Green Dot and the Health and Wellness Services violence prevention program, visit http://hws.wsu.edu/health-promotion/violence-prevention-programs/. For more information about confidential resources for WSU students coping with sexual assault, visit http://counsel.wsu.edu/assault.