Campus, News

Sexual trauma outreach group expands to School of Public Health

Sexual Trauma Outreach & Prevention (STOP), a student group created by students at the Boston University School of Medicine, has expanded to include the students in the School of Public Health.

STOP began last year as a student group among first-year medical students who wanted more training in supporting survivors of sexual trauma, according to STOP co-founder Amanda Nelson, a second-year medical student at BUSM.

“We saw that there was a place where we could advocate for better training and education,” Nelson wrote in an email. “Sexual trauma and assault is such a pervasive issue, and one that will certainly come up in almost all of our medical careers.”

First-year SPH student Staige Davis, who brought the group to her campus, said she entered grad school with a passion for sexual assault advocacy, but was left disappointed at the limited options available to her in that field.

When I got to the School of Public Health, they didn’t really have any organization that had education on sexual assault or advocacy for survivors,” Davis said. “… I happened to bump into these medical students that had started STOP the semester before and I was like, ‘This is awesome! … Can I join this, and how can I expand it?’”

Davis said she thinks sexual assault education is crucial to those in the field of public health. A public health analyst should be able to help someone who was assaulted and determine the outcomes of the crime to be able to help the victim, Davis said.

STOP co-founder Michelle Domini, also a second-year medical student at BUSM, said expansion into the School of Public Health has brought them insight, new perspectives and a firmer grasp on sexual trauma care.

“By using all the resources we have, whether that’s a different school or whatever it may be, it makes us most effective, and we’ve had a really great time working with the students in the School of Public Health,” Domini said. “I think they’re really making STOP into a stronger and better program.”

Heather Sweeney, another STOP co-founder and a second-year medical student at BUSM, said that although its original purpose was just to educate medical students on the topic of sexual trauma, STOP’s mission has since evolved, and it has become an advocacy and support group for those who suffer trauma from sexual assault.

We function as a group that students have reached out to when they have been feeling like they need a space for support or when they’ve been feeling like they need someone to talk to,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney added that as aspiring medical practitioners, it only makes sense that these students should be able to listen to stories from survivors and advice from experts in the field on how to treat them.

“I would hope that [medical practitioners] have a pretty good understanding of what is consensual and what is not consensual and are able to provide guidance and support to their patients who experience something that was unwanted,” Sweeney said.

James Lane, a senior in the School of Education, said he thinks groups like STOP are important because they can educate students on how to help survivors of sexual assault trauma.

“They can teach about what has happened and get people information on it so they can figure out what to do,” Lane said.

Sweeney, who served as a sexual assault peer educator during her undergraduate years at Brown University, said one way they practice outreach is by preparing “care kits,” which are collections of comfort items to give to sexual assault victims.

Davis, who worked with The Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville, Virginia, said STOP has also become involved in political issues, conducting a phone campaign in response to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rolling back Obama-era sexual assault protections in September.

Davis said STOP’s flagship events are its student-run “STOP ‘n Talks” — monthly discussions on topics related to sexual assault.

“It’s important to have things that are student-run,” Davis said, “because I think that invites a different level of conversation when it’s peers speaking to peers.”

Domini said that while she considers STOP to be primarily geared toward medical and public health students, she thinks other BU colleges could benefit from similar groups that educate students on sexual assault.

“Sexual assault is not something that only affects medical students, or only affects the students in the School of Public Health or only affects women anywhere on the BU campus or in the community,” Domini said.

Linda Ward, a freshman in the College of Communication, said she also sees more relevance in the program for medical and public health students, but thinks all BU students should be educated on sexual assault.

“I definitely think that it’s good to spread awareness,” Ward said. “I think it is pretty important that all schools know about it.”

COM senior Phinneas Bauer said he thinks STOP would be beneficial for all BU students.

“[STOP] has a place throughout all the colleges,” Bauer said. “There isn’t a place it doesn’t belong.”

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