BYU victim advocate encourages understanding of sexual trauma

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Kaleena McKell
BYU victim advocate Lisa Leavitt encourages students and faculty to become informed about sexual traumas and those who experience them. (Kaleena McKell)

One in four women and one in eighteen men are sexually assaulted during college, according to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network.

BYU victim advocate Lisa Levitt urged students and faculty members to become more informed on issues regarding sexual trauma in her presentation on Dec. 7.

Leavitt’s presentation focused on sexual trauma, a phrase she considers to be all-encompassing. Sexual assault, rape, harassment and stalking can all result in sexual trauma and victims will need support, no matter the degree of the trauma experienced.

“Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not every sexual assault is rape,” Leavitt said.

Sexual assault always involves a lack of consent by one party. Leavitt said while consent is a sign of respect for a sexual partner, it is also required by law. Without consent, any kind of sexual act is a legal offense.  

The phrase “no means no” has become a commonly used one in the conversation surrounding consent. But Leavitt does not believe the use of this phrase to be helpful. She prefers to use the phrase “yes means yes” instead as involved parties should affirmatively consent to the sexual activity.

“When we’re talking about ‘no means no’, we’re putting the entire responsibility of whether a sexual act happens on the recipient,” Leavitt said. “We’re taking away any responsibility from the person who is asking for that. If we’re saying ‘yes means yes,’ that’s a mutual thing. They both have to agree.”

Thirty eight percent of sexual assault victims experience problems in work or school and 37 percent experience an increase in problems with their family and friends, according to the National Sexual Violence Research Center.

Leavitt said victims will likely experience physical and psychological effects due to their sexual trauma. Those effects can last for a period of two years for some and up to an entire lifetime for others.

“Sexual assault is a very personal, very invasive and destructive crime,” Leavitt said. “When you think about that, there’s not many other crimes where we are that vulnerable physically, emotionally, even spiritually.”

Leavitt became BYU’s first-ever victim advocate in January 2017. She previously worked as a counselor in the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Her role as an advocate is to support sexual trauma victims and inform them of their rights.

Since starting in her current position, 85 percent of students who have visited with Leavitt said she is the first person they are telling about their sexual trauma. Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime. Only three percent of sexual assaults go to court in Utah, according to Leavitt.

Leavitt concluded by suggesting victims visit with her or other supportive sources including law enforcement, the BYU Title IX office, a crisis center or hotline, and counseling services.

“Reach out to someone you trust, and someone you trust might not be in your inner circle,” Leavitt said. “It might not be your friend, your roommate, your parents. It might need to be a professional.”

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