Sexual Assault Prevention at the University of Montana

Hey. I’ve got a letter to the editor in the Montana Kaimin out today. I even managed to work in some profanity appropriately geared to college students:). Check it out at:

The past two days (9/19 & 9/20) the Missoulian has run articles about an organization named Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) and their criticism of the University of Montana required Personal Empowerment Through Self-Awareness (PETSA) video series designed to reduce and prevent the incidence of sexual assault. In particular, SAVE has complained that the U of M PETSA video series is not evidence-based. Being a scientist, this was of concern and so I immediately checked the SAVE website and discovered that SAVE is an organization that is not even REMOTELY related to evidence-based programming for sexual assault prevention or anything else. Their entire raison d’etre is to protect men from being falsely accused of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Their website includes internal inconsistencies and videos that (unlike the PETSA series) have not been vetted by anyone other than the organization itself or other “believers” that men are somehow unfairly targeted.

SAVE claims to only be interested in the truth and scientific evidence. And they say U.S. law have evolved to the point that ANYONE can be convicted of sexual assault or intimate partner violence? Now, being male myself, I’m all about fair treatment for men and so this places me in a precarious position. If I oppose SAVE, am I opposing my own best interests?

Well . . . I’m going out on a limb here to say the SAVE folks are just plain wacky. They say they are only after the truth and that they support evidence-based approaches, but there is ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE that changing laws to make it harder to prove sexual assault would result in a safer and less abusive environment in the U.S.

Although I think it’s important to acknowledge that false allegations happen and it’s important to address these false allegations through legal means, instead of sticking to the facts, SAVE relies on rhetoric and sensationalist debunking of a few incorrect statistics to lead people to believe that false reporting is the rule and not the exception. This phenomenon—when someone accuses someone else of perpetrating something they’re doing themselves—is referred to as projection.

My first big concern is that the Missoulian, in reporting this as news, has given SAVE a semblance of validity that it doesn’t deserve.

My second big concern is that the hard working creators of the PETSA videos will be criticized based on hysterical accusations from an organization using political rhetoric framed as science. Based on viewing 2 SAVE videos online and comparing them to the PETSA production it’s obvious that PETSA is vastly more evidence-based than SAVE – Talk about blatantly false allegations


2 thoughts on “Sexual Assault Prevention at the University of Montana”

  1. Hi John,

    Your article is insightful and certainly a helpful perspective for students to consider. A thought occurred to me though, regarding those who may not actually be as “normal” as you were at that age. 🙂

    In fact, they may even be criminal-like in their thinking with this type of situation. How would you address those individuals so as not to allow them to use the support of: “I’d reassure myself that these lapses in judgment are more about biology than flaws in my personal character.”

    I have an interest in Forensics and I am fascinated with Psychopathy, so I think that is why the question came to my mind. If you were only addressing those who most likely will never commit such acts, then you hit Center Mass! Or, perhaps the videos directly address the population who would likely commit such acts and there is no need to say anything further…in any case, I think addressing sexual violence in colleges should be mandatory and I applaud the colleges who do so boldly.

    Una Starr

    1. Hi Una.

      You make a good point. I don’t think my editorial would have much affect on individuals who are likely to be perpetrators. Instead, my hope was to engage the students who feel defensive and therefore not as sympathetic as they might be otherwise. And the emphasis was designed to promote community responsibility, which I think may be helpful because it might promote bystander intervention . . . which is one of the evidence-based strategies we’re working on here at UM.

      Thanks for the comment and I hope all is well for you in Hawaii.


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