Plus, could knowing the risk factors of sexual aggression prevent sexual assault on college campuses?
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Good morning and happy Monday. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For this edition, Business Record Editor Emily Barske talked to someone who knows the importance of providing support to survivors: a sexual assault nurse examiner in Grinnell. Plus, as it relates to being proactive in ending violence, she talked with a University of Iowa professor who is studying risk factors for being sexually aggressive in the hopes of developing strategies to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

If you have experienced sexual assault and need help, or if you want to learn more about how to support survivors of sexual violence, a list of resources can be found at the bottom of the newsletter.

Have a great week! If you need me, I'll be listening to Taylor Swift's re-recorded Fearless album on repeat.

Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

Meet one of Iowa’s sexual assault nurse examiners
Like many in the medical field, when asked to explain what she does, Delrae Hennessy first tells people what the acronym for her job title means. "SANE" stands for sexual assault nurse examiner, she’d explain. And then she’d go on to tell them that SANEs are registered nurses who have completed specialized training specifically for helping patients who have experienced a sexual assault or abuse, and that they collect any evidence that would be used in a court of law.

Hennessy, who has been a certified SANE for 2½ years, works in the emergency room at UnityPoint Health-Grinnell. I talked with her about what it’s like to be a sexual assault nurse examiner.

Empathy is key: Nurses are "all passionate about caring for our patients. We want to reassure them, provide comfort during uncertain times. With the SANE nurse, [the patient has] been through a sexual assault or abuse. So empathy is really important with your care, ensuring that their safety is a priority and just delivering a holistic approach to the encounter," Hennessy said. Sometimes those encounters are only a couple of hours long, and there is a lot of physical and psychological care to provide in that time.
  • The job requires constant reassurance. SANEs are trained to understand the anatomy knowledge necessary, but a big part of the job involves psychological support and keeping survivors informed. SANEs make sure the patient is comfortable before starting the sexual assault exam (sometimes referred to as a "rape kit") and during every step of the process. Just a few of those steps are: checking for strangulation, head injury, wounds and drug or alcohol intoxication; assessing orifices involved in the sexual assault for trauma; taking photographic documentation; and collecting clothing as evidence.
  • You let the patient talk. "You don't phrase questions like you are accusing them or blaming them for anything. … You’re very careful you aren't portrayed as being accusatory or [saying], ‘Why did you do this, or why didn't you do that?’ You never do that – you just let them talk."

Who else is involved: Sexual assault advocates are sometimes present for exams. If law enforcement brings the survivor to the hospital, an advocate from a victim’s services agency or nonprofit is called as part of the process. The hospital may also call for an advocate if the survivor calls ahead or comes in outside of law enforcement, Hennessy said. While the SANEs also provide emotional support, the advocates can help answer questions about the survivor’s rights within the justice system if they go forward with reporting the assault and can connect them to resources they may need, regardless of if they pursue criminal charges.
  • Access to advocates can be limited, however. Especially in rural Iowa. Sometimes the nearest advocate may be two hours away, and survivors often choose to move forward with the exam rather than waiting for the advocate to arrive. Grinnell is fortunate to be located between Des Moines and Iowa City, which can help with access to advocates, Hennessy said.
  • But still, more are needed. She said those wanting to make a difference should look into volunteering as a sexual assault advocate with local agencies.
  • Regardless of whether an advocate is present, the SANEs make sure survivors are safe in the hospital and that they feel safe when they leave.

Be aware. Much like sex trafficking, people don’t always realize the prevalence of sexual assault. Be cognizant that it happens and that people will not always tell anyone if they’ve been assaulted, Hennessy said.
  • Anecdotally, the pandemic has not slowed down the number of sexual assault survivors coming in, she said.

There are a limited number of SANEs at health care institutions, and some facilities don’t have any at all. Hennessy is among a team of four SANEs at Grinnell, thanks in part to funding from a Grinnell College grant that paid for certification.

Want to help?
As part of sexual assault examinations, survivors often have to turn over clothing and undergarments. Many hospitals, including Grinnell’s, accept donations of these items so survivors have clothes to wear home and other resources. If you are interested in donating, check the UnityPoint Health-Grinnell’s foundation page for options and contact information.

Pictured: Delrae Hennessy. Photo submitted
Q&A: Could knowing the risk factors of sexual aggression prevent sexual assault on college campuses? A UI professor hopes to find out.
When it comes to sexual assault prevention, colleges have often focused on telling people to be safe – in other words, how to not become a victim – but have less often focused on how to prevent people from becoming perpetrators of sexual violence. As prevention efforts have increased on campuses in the last decade, institutions have been faced with a dilemma: How could they warn students about staying safe without sounding like they're blaming the victim? (Check out NPR’s reporting on this from 2014 and a recent editorial from the student newspaper at Temple University.)

When I recently saw a story in the Daily Iowan about a University of Iowa professor developing strategies to prevent sexual assault on college campuses, I noticed the approach was different. Researchers’ analysis of prevention was focused on stopping perpetrators – and not blaming victims. Teresa Treat, the professor, conducted research with over 500 students from UI and Arizona State University to assess risk factors and develop strategies to prevent sexual assault.

The researchers found four major risk factors involved in sexual aggression: heavy drinking, misperception of a partner’s level of sexual interest, not seeking consent for sexual activity, and engagement in casual sexual behavior, the Daily Iowan reported.

I asked Treat a few questions about the research. She answered via email.

What’s one of the biggest takeaways you learned in conducting this research?
Prior research has developed protective strategies that reduce the likelihood of serious problems associated with heavy drinking among college students (e.g., alternating drinking alcohol and water, making sure you have a designated driver). We wanted to try to do something similar for sexually coercive and aggressive behavior -- that is, to begin to develop and evaluate modifiable strategies that might reduce the likelihood that college men engage in sexually aggressive behavior. We focused on men who are sexually attracted to women in this initial study but are broadening our focus in ongoing research.

What we did: We developed potential protective strategies to target four well-established risk factors for male-initiated sexual aggression toward women: heavy drinking, misperception of a partner’s level of sexual interest, not seeking consent for sexual activity, and engagement in casual sexual behavior. Next, we looked to see whether college men regularly use the strategies and whether their use is related to prior sexual aggression.

[The students were asked about whether they had used potential strategies to prevent themselves from being sexually aggressive. Items on the list of those strategies included things like explicitly asking a potential sexual partner for consent to engage in sexual behavior, backing off and checking in to see if your partner’s enthusiasm decreases, and being aware that alcohol impairs your judgment and that of your partner, which can lead to behavior you or your partner later regret.]

What we found: The overwhelming majority of college men surveyed use the potential protective strategies regularly in their sexual interactions with women. About 15% of college men surveyed indicated they rarely use the potential protective strategies designed to reduce the risk of engaging in sexual aggression. Additionally, these men are much more likely than their peers to report having been sexually aggressive in the last year.

Important caveats: It is important to note that we do not know yet whether using the strategies actually reduces the likelihood of future aggression, but we’re hoping to look at this in a prevention study that we’re launching. We also have revised our measures to make them more applicable to those across a wider spectrum of gender and sexual minority identities, and we currently are administering them to a more gender- and sexual-diverse sample of undergraduates.

With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, what’s one thing you really want people to know?
Nonconsensual sexual experiences unfortunately are very common in our society, and they can result in marked negative consequences. People often think of sexual assault as something that happens between two people who do not know each other and that involves physical force. In reality, this represents a minority of sexual assaults. Unwanted sexual experiences range from harassment and unwelcome advances to unwanted sexual contact to attempted or completed intercourse without consent. They may occur because a perpetrator applies verbal pressure, shows displeasure, threatens a relationship or position, gets someone drunk so they are less able to resist, threatens force, or uses force. Most commonly, these experiences occur among persons who know one another already, rather than strangers. Thus, it is critically important to continue to develop more effective methods to prevent sexual assault and to respond more effectively and compassionately to those who experience it.  

A lot of sexual assault prevention tends to focus on how people can keep themselves safe, or in other words not be a victim, but this can place undue blame on victims when someone is assaulted. Your research helps flip the script to show that risk factors for an assault happening are within the potential perpetrators. What’s the significance of that?
Our research develops and evaluates potential protective strategies that are designed to target four well-established risk factors among college men for male-initiated sexual aggression toward women: heavy drinking, misperception of a partner’s level of sexual interest, not seeking consent for sexual activity, and engagement in casual sexual behavior. Future research will need to determine whether it is possible to increase college men’s use of these strategies, and whether increasing strategy usage decreases future aggression.

Left: University of Arizona women's basketball coach Adia Barnes. Center: Iowa City West High School student Dasia Taylor. Photo credit: Iowa City Press Citizen. Right: Captain Marwa Elselehdar.
In the headlines
The Power of Visibility in Business Ownership
"I am a human being first. I am a Black woman second. Everything else follows that," Bridget Cravens-Neely says. "I have three grown sons, Black men that I have raised in this country, in this city, in this community. I could not not be involved. Seeing the struggles they’ve endured was my motivation for standing up and saying ‘This has to change, it’s time.’" READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
'Representation matters': How these 4 Black women with disabilities are changing the narrative (Today). Feeling burned out? You’re not alone (New York Times). In Michigan, women hold power. Not everyone seems comfortable with that (The 19th). The extraordinary lives of America’s ‘bravest women’ (National Geographic). A Chinese ‘auntie’ went on a solo road trip. Now, she’s a feminist icon (New York Times). A San Francisco experiment will give some pregnant women $1,000 a month. Could other cities be next? (Time). Women in construction could get a big boost from Biden’s infrastructure plan (Fortune). Memoir offers advice on ‘how to raise a feminist son’ (NPR). Starting a family? Company benefits favor IVF over adoption (Wall Street Journal). Is ‘femtech’ the next big thing in health care? (New York Times). Research: Adding women to the C-suite changes how companies think (Harvard Business Review).

This month’s Fearless Friday event is on April 30 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. We’ll feature stories of women who have overcome adversity and will detail discrimination that persists today. Sign up for the free virtual event on our website. (If you’ve signed up for the series already, you’re good to go!)

Featured speakers:
  • Maria Corona, executive director, Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Shaimaa Aly, business support manager 4, VP, Wells Fargo
In case you missed this story
With the second funnel deadline having passed at the Iowa Legislature, my colleague Michael Crumb took a look at the bills that affect the business community that are still alive.

Several bills to expand access to affordable child care have survived the second funnel. House File 260, which would increase the number of children allowed in a home day care; House File 301, which creates a state matching grant program to communities that fund the child care WAGE$ Iowa program that supplements educator salaries; House File 302, which establishes a phaseout of child care assistance to lessen a cliff effect for families; House File 230, which increases the net income requirements for the early childhood tax credit from $45,000 to $90,000; and House File 370, which provides incentives to businesses that offer child care to employees, all made it through the second funnel.

House File 292, which would have increased reimbursement rates for providers under the child care assistance program to the 50th percentile of the most recent market survey, did not make it through the funnel.


  • If you have experienced sexual assault, you can call the national hotline at 800-656-4673. The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault can connect you to resources in your area if you aren’t aware of victims services agencies.
  • Check out tips for talking with survivors of sexual assault when someone opens up to you (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).
  • Read a victim impact statement from Chanel Miller, who was sexually assaulted by former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, that she read at her 2016 trial. "To girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you."
  • How to talk to young adults about consent: It’s as simple as a cup of tea. (Blue Seat Studios)
  • How can you model consent for kids in your life? (Safe Secure Kids)

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