In my nearly seven year career as the director of a sexual assault prevention and response program at a large public university, it was my privilege to listen to the voices of hundreds of survivors who chose to share their stories with me. While each survivor's’ experience is unique, a common thread through their stories is the hope that others will be spared the terrifying loss of power and control at the core of an experience of sexual assault.
It is critical to bring the voices of survivors into every conversation we have about sexual assault because those voices serve as both a compass and as a motivator for our actions to end sexual assault on college campuses. As the Senior Director of Prevention Education at EverFi, the nation’s leading education technology company, my sole mission is to challenge and empower the higher education community so that together we can create safer, healthier campus communities.
At EverFi, we work with over 1,300 campuses and reach millions of college students each year with our sexual assault prevention courses. Through the survey data from each of these participants, we have learned a lot about how college students think, believe, and act. We know, for example, that the overwhelming majority of students on college campuses engage in healthy and respectful sexual interactions with each other. Less positively, we have learned that while most students say they would intervene in a situation of harm involving another student, far fewer believe that other students would do the same. And, heartbreakingly, we know that students are still experiencing violence at alarming rates. Numerous surveys and studies find that between 15 and 25% of college women report experiencing sexual assault during their time on campus. The rate is more than two times higher for those students who identify as LGBT and/ or students of color. And male students are also experiencing violence. Clearly, we have much more work to do.
I posed this question: “What would help you to heal?”
Her answer: “I just don’t want this to happen to someone else.”
Our experience in prevention education has taught us some important lessons in effective practices for college campuses. Our data affirms what public health practitioners have long noted; there are no silver bullet programs, speakers, posters--or even, yes, on-line courses--that will, alone, end sexual assault. The most effective approaches on college campuses require a long-term commitment and many coordinated efforts to have impact. We need to promote positive behaviors in students and support healthy sexuality; we need to teach consent as a critical skill that all persons need to be successful, healthy, respectful global citizens; we need to empower students to care for each other and step in when they see someone engaging in harmful behavior.
The good news is that more and more colleges are adopting this approach and supporting the health, safety, and well-being of their students by investing in rigorous comprehensive prevention efforts. More college and university presidents are speaking out about this issue on their campuses, and more students are identifying that they have a role to play in ending violence on their campus.
But the news is not all rosy--while there is increasing support for prevention at higher education institutions, our data from a diverse subset of campuses across the country reflects that, on average, schools are spending just over $5 per student per year on sexual violence prevention. For smaller schools, the total spend per student goes up to nearly $8, while larger schools are spending an average of less than $1.35 per student on prevention. Think about that for a minute: the largest institutions of higher education spend less on sexual violence prevention per student than the cost of a latte. Schools simply must invest more to help ensure the safe and healthy future of their students.
As a nation, we have made tremendous progress in the last decade in combatting sexual assault on college campuses. But, in order to maintain this progress, there is a lot of work we must continue to do. From my role, I will continue to press each day to help develop and publish effective prevention tools through the Campus Prevention Network, EverFi’s nationwide initiative to bring together institutions that have demonstrated commitment to adopting the highest standards for prevention related to health and safety issues on their campuses.
I hope you will join me in this work. Here are some actions you can take:
Contact your congressional representatives and other elected officials and let them know that you care about ending sexual violence on college campuses, and that you wish them to continue the progress of the past decade.
Inquire with your alma mater about their sexual assault prevention efforts. Do they provide education to all students beyond the first year? How do they measure the effectiveness of their programs?
Engage in conversations with college students in your life about the importance of verbal, enthusiastic consent for all sexual activity. Not sure what to say? Try asking these questions to get started: how do you let your sexual partner know what you do and don’t want to do? How do you know if you have received consent for sexual activity? What is your plan if you’ve both been drinking and are considering having sex?
To harness the powerful words of former Vice President Joe Biden, it truly is on all of us to work together to continue the momentum of the past decade and keep working to end sexual assault on college campuses.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."