CARE continues to provide sexual misconduct support, sex education during pandemic

The profile photo for CARE's Facebook page is pictured. via Facebook

The Tufts Center for Awareness, Resources, and Education (CARE) has adapted to the new normal with different approaches to engage with the community.

The role of CARE is to serve as a resource for those who have been affected by sexual misconduct, as well as to offer prevention programming. It also oversees two student-facilitated groups, Sex Health Reps (SHR) and Green Dot. SHR focuses on sex positivity and sexual health, and Green Dot promotes sexual misconduct prevention and bystander intervention.

According to CARE Director Alexandra Donovan, CARE’s biggest concern is that people will not reach out for medical or sexual assault related services out of fear of consequences. 

Multiple students have asked her if the center has “COVID sex amnesty” when approaching her about an assault. She also said students are hesitant to disclose whether they are sexually active when seeking medical services. 

Donovan emphasized that CARE is a confidential resource and will not disclose students’ personal information. 

“Sex is happening, sexual assaults are happening — any barriers we put in front of students to get information, safety or help is a disservice to our whole community,” Donovan said. 

According to Donovan, students still have the option for in-person services if they follow the university’s COVID-19 protocols. 

CARE has several events planned for the semester, including with residential assistants who reached out to the center for workshops. In addition, the center will host a “grab-and-go fair” where students can get a package of condoms, lube and stickers, and talk to a sex health representative in a phsycially distanced manner. 

With the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the School of Arts and Sciences, the center is also co-sponsoring a virtual author conversation with Executive Director of Health & Wellness Services Michelle Bowdler on her book “Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto” (2020) on Oct. 26.

To ensure the safety of the students and event attendees, CARE has turned to online platforms to offer their services there as well. The center is exploring options besides Zoom and is looking into Remo, an online event and networking space where attendees can sit at virtual tables to interact, and Mentimeter, a live polling platform. 

“We’re honestly trying to find a way that feels a little less pressure than Zoom and feels a little less like school,” Donovan said. “However, Zoom is always a fallback because we know everyone has access to it and people know how to use it.”

Social media — Instagram in particular — has provided an avenue for the center to engage with students and the community. SHR is beginning a weekly Hump Day Q&A where the reps will answer submitted questions about sex.

Green Dot Ambassador Coordinator John LaLime said the online presence is the focus of their efforts right now, especially with the uncertainty of the ever-changing circumstances of the pandemic. LaLime said that Green Dot is looking to host virtual office hours and movie nights on top of producing content to go in trainings with student groups. 

“Our goal is to further institutionalize the Green Dot message of consent, of bystander intervention, of having healthy relationships, of having conversations about these issues. All of that can still happen with this dynamic,” LaLime said. 

Donovan said that since March, there has not only been a change of what CARE does and how it does it, but also who comes in through the door. According to a New York Times article, reports of domestic violence in households have surged since the start of lockdown. Donovan emphasized how sexual misconduct looks very different in a pandemic. Whether it is because someone is in an uncomfortable housing situation or an unhealthy relationship, people are stuck because the pandemic makes it difficult and unsafe to go elsewhere.

“Our numbers are so much higher for students looking for help around relationships: toxic, unhealthy, abusive, whatever language they’re using- relationships.” Donovan said. 

Emma Seymour, a Green Dot ambassador coordinator, said the party culture and social dynamic on campus has changed drastically.

“[We will be] able to provide resources for people who want to learn more about it, or might be in a situation where their roommate is around them all the time and they might actually notice that their roommate has a partner that could potentially be emotionally abusive,” Seymour said. “Like what do you do at that point? So we are working on creating materials to help people out with that.”

Seymour said Green Dot is trying to “reframe the conversation” with COVID-19-friendly and cohort-friendly language, especially to cultivate healthy relationships outside of the party scene and within cohorts.

Similarly, SHR believes sex education is about giving everyone all the information they need and supporting safer practices. 

“In a pandemic, behaviors become more risky and choices are more complex. Our goal is to help you navigate and make the most informed decisions,” SHR said in an Instagram post. 

Donovan has noticed that during this time, people are more comfortable asking a potential new sexual partner if they have been tested for COVID-19, whom they have been hanging out with and if they are hooking up with multiple people.

“Those are questions I would love for us to still ask outside of a pandemic. I would love for people to still have the conversation of like ‘Any STIs I should know about? Are we going to use a condom or any barrier method here?’” Donovan said. “We are so bad at that kind of thing and yet we are so eager and okay with asking about COVID. I would love for those skills to translate moving forward.”

Although the pandemic has brought challenges, Seymour is excited to work with a group of ambassadors who “show up consistently ready to go, determined, motivated to basically do this work.” She believes that is why they have been able to effectively spread awareness in the past years. 

“Despite the fact that circumstances have changed, the core values of respect, of decency, of intervening in situations that we know are inappropriate still matter. They’re still critically important.” LaLime said. “And we all have a duty … to do what we can to make this a safer place.”


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