NEW YORK — Something clicked when Benji Satloff saw the public service announcement “It’s On Us.”
In it, actors and musicians, male and female, call upon each and every college student to stand up against sexual assault.
“I didn’t see them as blaming me, blaming males. I saw it as empowering me, as a male, to do something; to be an active bystander and change the culture,” said Satloff, a sophomore at Duke University who first became involved in the initiative after meeting with It’s On Us staff in Washington, DC, during spring break his freshman year.
One of two Hillel students selected for the White House’s It’s On Us student advisory committee for the 2016-2017 academic year, Satloff has resolved to bring the campaign’s ideas of sexual assault prevention to Greek life at Duke, which he is now doing through his membership in the Kappa Alpha fraternity. A total of 28 students from college campuses and military academies across the country were chosen to help spread the message that it’s everyone’s responsibility to prevent sexual assault.
“College is a time to figure out what morals and values you want to take with you as you go forward and what things you want to leave behind,” Satloff said. “When I talk about It’s on Us, it appeals to guys, to girls, to the LGBTQ community — which is disproportionately affected by sexual assault. It gives power to the people. It asks what you can do as a fraternity member, an athlete, a club member.”
80% of college sexual assault survivors know their perpetrator
The White House established the It’s On Us initiative in September 2014. Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, was one of the earliest organizations to partner with the initiative.
Through its network of more than 500 campuses across the country, Hillel International is encouraging students and others in the campus community to be a part of the solution by joining the It’s On Us pledge.
“We’re proud to partner with Hillel International to bring the It’s On Us message to millions of students nationwide. Hillel is such a vibrant and important part of the campus community and we’re so thrilled to see how they have encouraged their members and staff to participate in this movement,” said Rebecca Kaplan, director of It’s On Us.
One in five women, and one in 16 men, will be sexually assaulted while in college, according to the most recent Department of Justice statistics. Most assaults happen in the first weeks of school. And 80% of college sexual assault survivors know their perpetrator.
Maya Weinstein, who recently graduated from George Washington University with a double major in criminal justice and human services, is one of the 80%.
Two years ago, on October 29, 2012, Weinstein was still a new freshman. She was heading back to her dormitory from an off-campus party when she bumped into an older student she knew. When she awoke the next morning she realized she’d been sexually assaulted.
Weinstein waited six months to report the rape to the university’s Title IX office. When she did, she became one of the only 12% of victims who report their attacks.
“I waited for all the common reasons. I was scared. I didn’t understand what had happened, and the perpetrator was a student leader,” Weinstein said in a telephone interview with The Times of Israel.
“Something else you may be thinking is, ‘Was there alcohol involved?’ On my end, yes. On his end, admittedly no. That put him in a position of advantage, and ultimately a position of power. Being sober and perfectly capable of recognizing the situation before him,” Weinstein wrote in a blog post months after the assault.
“What happened was a conscious choice on his part. And it was not an option for me. Universities and governments struggle with the definition and application of consent. There is muddled terminology and there are so many conflicting views. I can tell you, however, that you cannot give consent when you are slipping in and out of consciousness,” she wrote.
Her perpetrator was sanctioned for sexual misconduct, not sexual violence.
She was told that she has to understand “how difficult this has been for him. He deserves to be a student too,” Weinstein said.
That’s not an unusual outcome as only a fraction of offenders are punished, according to the White House It’s On Us website.
‘You cannot give consent when you are slipping in and out of consciousness’
Since then Weinstein, who served on the Hillel student board while at GW, presented a proposal to the administration with ways to improve policy and the hearing process. She also worked on the provost’s Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.
Now a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC, Weinstein continues to work with the It’s On Us campaign.
She is also one of the sexual assault survivors featured in the documentary “The Hunting Ground.” More than 50 Hillel branches have hosted or sponsored screenings of the film with other groups on campus, as part of the campaign. The film explores sexual assault on campus as told through the lens of survivors of assault.
Weinstein joined 49 other survivors of sexual assault on stage during Lady Gaga’s performance at the 2016 Academy Awards of “’Til It Happens to You,” her Oscar-nominated song from the film. Vice President Biden introduced the performance and met with the survivors, including Weinstein, after the show.
It is women like Weinstein who help drive home the message of It’s On Us, said Sheila Katz, Hillel International’s vice president for social entrepreneurship.
“It’s unfortunate that we need survivors to share their stories, but it’s important. It’s a turning point in the way we talk about this,” Katz said.
For Max Levy, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, it was through working with Generation Progress that he learned about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.
“It is unacceptable how big a problem sexual assault is on our campuses,” said Levy. “The White House’s It’s On Us student advisory committee was the perfect avenue for me to start getting active in prevention. Every student organization should step up and say sexual assault is not acceptable in our space.”
Levy spreads awareness about campus sexual assault through his network including Penn Dems, a campus Democrats organization; Penn Hillel; and his fraternity Phi Kappa Psi.
Meanwhile, at Duke University, Satloff plans to bring the documentary to campus next semester. He is working on implementing bystander training at local bars in Durham so workers know what to do when they see signs of a sexual assault. Additionally, he plans to introduce PACT (Prevent, Act, Challenge, Teach) to fraternities and sororities.
‘It’s unfortunate that we need survivors to share their stories, but it’s important. It’s a turning point in the way we talk about this’
Other aspects of Hillel International’s involvement with It’s On Us include Birthright Webinars. All Hillel professionals staffing Birthright trips must participate in a webinar on Responding to Students in Crisis led by the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse.
“Rape doesn’t discriminate against religion. Sexual assault happens anywhere,” Katz said, adding that Hillel International was pleased to learn that Birthright now requires training for anyone leading a Birthright trip, not just Hillel staff.
Additionally, Hillel International sent out several informational emails about bystander intervention and sexual assault to its campus chapters.
“Everyone shares the responsibility to get people home safely,” Katz said. “If you see something is about to happen, or is happening, you have a responsibility and obligation to intervene.”