Stopping interpersonal violence before it happens

Here is a startling fact: Rates of sexual assault have not changed since 1957, when researchers conducted the first documented study of the problem.

Chris Linder’s takeaway on that? If the rates have not changed, it means the experts working to reduce interpersonal violence do not yet have the right tools to address it.

“There are probably lots of good ideas we’ve just missed out on because people don’t view themselves as qualified to speak up,” said Linder, an assistant professor in the College of Education and expert on campus sexual violence. “Those of us considered experts have been working on this for so long it is hard for us to see things that people on the outside might view differently. We need them in the conversation.”

Chris Linder

In January, President Ruth Watkins appointed Linder as a special assistant to advise on and guide campus efforts to support violence prevention and education. Linder researches sexual violence and student activism and, prior to joining the U in 2018, was a student affairs educator, administrator and director of a campus-based women’s center supporting survivors of sexual violence. She also is the author of “Sexual Violence on Campus: Power-Conscious Approaches to Awareness, Prevention, and Response,” published in 2018.

Linder wasted no time getting started in her new role at the U.

In January, she and Brittany Badger, director of the Center for Student Wellness, launched the Interpersonal Violence Prevention & Education Collective (IPV-PEC) to bring together students, staff and faculty to develop ideas for primary prevention of campus-based interpersonal violence.

There have been two group meetings so far, with a third workshop set for Wednesday, Feb. 5, from 6 p.m .to 8 p.m. in the Den Room at the Union.

“The collective is hoping to engage people who have an interest in addressing interpersonal violence but who may not have traditional expertise in the way we think about it,” Linder said. “You just care.”

Linder said the collective is not focused on responding to incidents of interpersonal violence, as there is already good work underway on campus on that issue. Instead, the collective will take an “upstream” approach to see what is causing the problem in

the first place and what can be done to educate and intervene with people who have the potential to cause harm or violence.

People in romantic relationships may engage in behaviors without knowing that what they are doing is harmful and, potentially dangerous, Linder said. One example: Controlling behavior.

“These are factors that could be addressed early on to prevent the behaviors from getting to a place of physical violence,” she said.

Linder is applying a power-conscious framework to help get at the roots of sexual violence, which requires understanding the roles power, structure and oppression play.

Based on initial group meetings, Linder and Badger have formed three working groups, which anyone is welcome to join:

  • The Healthy Masculinities group will look at developing programs to help people understand the way masculinity has been constructed around power and how to re-construct healthier versions of masculinities.
  • The Student Affinity groups will explore educational and intervention programs specific to various affinity groups on campus, such as student athletes, fraternity and sorority members students of color, queer and trans students, student with disabilities, etc.
  • The Curricular Initiatives group will develop strategies to support faculty in incorporating education about interpersonal violence in the classroom and overall curriculum at the U.

Linder’s hope is that the working groups will host education events this semester and develop action plans for the coming academic year.

For Linder, work is bringing her full circle in addressing campus-based sexual violence. “Getting new voices at the table that haven’t been there before makes me think we could come up with new interventions,” she said.

“I am really grateful that President Watkins is so supportive of these initiatives,” Linder said. “Whenever I show up with an idea, her response is, more often than not, ‘What can we do to make this happen?’ She is willing to take risks that other university leaders I’ve worked with haven’t been willing to take.”

What: The Interpersonal Violence Prevention and Education Collective invites any campus community member to participate in a workshop to explore strategies to prevent violence before it happens.

When: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Den Room at the Union

Who: For more information or to RSVP, email Chris Linder at chris.linder@utah.edu