The Sexual Assault Survivor Advocacy Services at BYU has revamped its program to include free trauma-focused counseling sessions for sexual assault survivors.
This fall semester will be the first time SASAS will offer therapy sessions alongside its other resources. SASAS lead advocate Lisa Leavitt said when a student comes into her office she and advocate Jackie Nunez work to support the student’s physical safety, health and academic well-being.
If a student needs more ongoing support, Leavitt said SASAS can offer 3-4 free counseling sessions. “If they need a few more, we’re going to try and accommodate that,” Leavitt said.
For students who need additional sessions, Leavitt and her staff will help them transition into BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services or to community therapists.
Despite the newness of trauma-focused therapy at SASAS, a handful of students have already had their first session. “We try and get students in on the same day if possible,” said Leavitt.
SASAS’ program keeps its services free, confidential and accessible for all students. Leavitt described that her favorite part of her job is seeing the relief on students’ faces when they realize that they are not alone and that there is someone who believes them.
SASAS is one of three places on BYU campus that provides confidential services for sexual assault survivors. The other two are CAPS and Women’s Services and Resources. “There are resources,” said BYU Title IX coordinator Tiffany Turley Bowcut. “You are not alone.”
The report on the 2021 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault says, “Sexual assault and dating/domestic violence violate fundamental principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which principles are integral to BYU’s educational environment.” The report continues, “Furthermore, the university’s primary concern is the safety and well-being of its students and the overall well-being of the campus community.”
The campus climate survey showed that the proportion of students who reported experiencing sexual harassment increased in 2021. The largest increases were from survey participants who reported hearing inappropriate comments about someone’s physical appearance, with 57% in 2017 and 72% in 2021.
Additional studies done by BYU College of Nursing dean Julie Valentine and BYU associate professor Leslie Miles over a period of 11 years indicate that rape is the only violent crime in Utah that is consistently above the national average.
Bowcut said that the hardest part of her job is knowing that it is never enough. Despite the overwhelming task, Bowcut said she draws faith from the fabled starfish story.
The fable tells of a man who throws individual starfish back into the ocean during low tide. An onlooker, seeing a multitude of starfish on the beach, remarks on the impossibility of the task and that the man is barely making a dent. The man flings another starfish to safety and says, “It made a difference to that one.”
Likewise, Bowcut and Leavitt have made a difference for every individual they have worked with. Through the Title IX office, which is separate from SASAS, Bowcut helps students who have experienced sexual assault pursue action against perpetrators and receive academic accommodations.
“We are 100% support for the survivor,” Leavitt said of their services at SASAS. “Please come. Come see us. We are kind. We will believe you.”