Center for Women Students, CAPS aid female and male violence survivors

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Peggy Lorah wants Penn State students to know that men have an important place at the Center for Women Students.

"Although most victims of sexual and relationship violence are female, men also encounter abuse directly and indirectly, and we have always seen male victims at the Center for Women Students," said Lorah, the center's director and a licensed professional counselor. "Whether male students are survivors or whether they feel inspired to work as advocates and peer educators with Men Against Violence or PHREE, Peers Helping Reaffirm, Educate and Empower, men are a significant part of our work. That includes male students, faculty and staff. Our door is open to everyone."

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month draws to a close, Lorah and her staff, as well as the staff of Counseling and Psychological Services, emphasize that awareness -- and action -- to help prevent and treat survivors of abuse are part of their ongoing, daily efforts.

Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, also sees students who have experienced relationship violence and other forms of sexual abuse, whether in the recent or distant past. Christy Beck and Andrea Falzone are CAPS sexual violence counseling/resource specialists who designate a significant portion of their responsibilities to assisting those who have experienced sexual assault and similar traumas.

"A student seeking services at CAPS for sexual assault will be assigned to one of our experienced clinicians from the sexual assault team generally within 24 hours," explained Beck. "The clinician offers support in a safe, supportive, non-judgmental environment, and information shared will be kept private. CAPS also offers ongoing support for recent and historical survivors, both male and female, through individual therapy and group therapy, as well as psychiatric care, if needed. In addition, we have two case managers who can provide further support through coordination of care and accessing community resources."

Falzone facilitates a support group for student survivors. "CAPS offers a Sexual Assault Recovery Group as well as other groups that address interpersonal issues, and we will be offering a Male Survivor Group starting in the fall, which has been created for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse," she explained. "We offer outreach to a variety of student groups as well as ones that are open to the general student population around the topics of sexual and relationship violence and childhood abuse, where students can learn more about these topics and ask questions about seeking services."

This year, Student Affairs introduced the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Hotline, which is managed by CAPS and was established for victims and observers of sexual assault and relationship violence. Trained counselors on the hotline will help students access appropriate resources. Penn State students from any campus can call (800) 550-7575 (TTY 866-714-7177) to access hotline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Online resources are available at http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/counseling/ResourcesForRecentEvents.shtml and at http://live.psu.edu/story/58813, which also includes additional local and toll-free phone numbers to call for assistance.

Both the Center for Women Students and CAPS' services are confidential, and any student who approaches them for assistance is in charge of what happens during the entire process of their interactions.

"Incidents of assault and violence, particularly those of a sexual nature, rob a person of the sense of personal power," explained Lorah, adding that the Center for Women Students' services to survivors extend beyond counseling. Staff can help student survivors find alternate housing, whether they live on campus or off campus, if they have concerns for their safety. They also can call faculty members to inform them if a student won't be in class, although they will not offer explanations, to respect the student's privacy.

"It's important for survivors to feel in charge of their options," she said. "We are available to provide information and support, and we will intervene or accompany our clients anywhere they would like or need us to, including to court, but the students are in control of those decisions. It's most important for them to know they don't have to deal with their situations alone."

"People who we know and interact with every day are dealing with this issue, and we probably don't even know it," said Lorah. "That's why it is of great benefit for everyone to talk about it. Discussing sexual abuse and child abuse may be difficult to do, but we have to continue to get the message out so we can make a difference."

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Last Updated May 01, 2012