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Revamped warning email praised

BY LILY ABROMEIT | MARCH 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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A new “trigger” warning in emails implemented by the University of Iowa is set to shield people from reliving traumatic experiences regarding sexual assault.

Officials made adjustments in the warning email sent by the university after a sexual assault is reported. Language in the emails was adjusted after UI students said the emails contained victim-blaming language.

“We’ve long considered it important to use timely emails for education values … so there are certain things we want to communicate to people when they are thinking about sexual assault,” said UI Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin. “I think it’s a big improvement. We took a lot of student input on it, and I’ve heard from quite a number of students today who think it’s very much improved.”

A sexual assault reported Tuesday resulted in the first delivery of the new email. This will be the ninth reported sexual assault this academic year.

Chuck Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police, said a criminal investigation is not underway because the woman is not pressing charges.

The biggest change in the email is the inclusion of the trigger warning at the beginning of the email, keying readers in to the content of the message.

Tracy Cox, the communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said a trigger warning is important because without it, survivors may read information that would cause them to remember their assault.

Cautionary steps continue into the second paragraph, as readers are informed of the legality of sharing this information with students and faculty.

“The trigger is followed by the relatively neutral paragraph so readers don’t encounter the incident descript accidentally,” Rocklin said.

Cox said anything could trigger a traumatic incident for a victim. Triggers can be anything from certain smells, a song, or a season of the year.

“I think it’s very mindful to have that and for the university to recognize that their student body contains survivors,” she said.

Rocklin said students appeared pleased with the trigger warning, as well as the language that makes it clear the perpetrator is the only person to blame.

“This morning Tom Rocklin, me, and others were getting emails from students thanking us for the changes in wording to reflect the comments they were making directly to us,” said President Sally Mason on Wednesday during a state Board of Regents meeting. “So, I’m pleased with the way that’s moving along,”

The language was developed through “broad consultation” with a number of people, Rocklin said. The group aimed to avoid any information or language that would traumatize a victim.

“We need to warn people of what’s coming and give resource in case the warning itself reminds them and traumatizes them,” Rocklin said.

Green said the language also had to avoid anything that could be used to identify the victim.

Cox said transparency while protecting the victim in these notices is what universities need to aim for to be the most helpful.

“Universities want to be very forthright with information, and they also want to be very timely with it … so [students] are aware from the beginning what’s going on on campus,” she said. “That’s really important to not only set the tone as far as ‘here’s the trigger warning,’ but here’s where you can go for support and then also reinforcing the fact that [survivors are] not alone.”


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