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Global Support Services Builds Awareness for Sexual Assault Risks Abroad

Global Support Services, a University department that supports Harvard-affiliated international travel, distributed fact sheets informing students of sexual assault risks and resources when travelling abroad.

The flyers and posters, which Global Support Services slid under dormitory doors last week, warn that “sexual assault and gender-based violence have no borders.” They urge students to research cultural norms in their destination countries and consult Global Support Services regarding safety measures prior to traveling.

The department was founded in 2011 to support students, faculty, and staff activities abroad. In recent years, it has been working to increase awareness about historically underreported sexual assault and harassment abroad. The office has distributed printed awareness materials every April since 2016 to coincide with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

University spokesperson Liz Marr wrote in an emailed statement that the recent distribution of flyers to students aims to increase awareness of sexual assault resources abroad.

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“One of our priorities in GSS is to ensure that Harvard travelers are aware of the laws, cultural norms, and resources abroad,” Marr wrote. “These can vary greatly by country, including those for sexual harassment and assault and gender-based violence.”

The pamphlets were originally created in 2016 after the University released findings from a spring 2015 survey about sexual assault and misconduct within Harvard. According to Marr, these findings prompted the Global Support Services to introduce initiatives to generate more awareness for resources available to students outside of the United States.

Elizabeth H. Esparza, senior program manager for strategic initiatives, wrote about her own experiences with sexual assault while studying abroad in the mid-1990s in a Harvard Business School blog post published in 2017. As a member of the International Safety and Security team within Global Support Services, Esparza is involved in the pre-departure programming and preparation for students going abroad.

When crises do occur overseas, Esparza said her office is also there to support students and Harvard-affiliated individuals.

“In the case of sexual assault, the immediate thing that we are going to focus on is the traveler’s safety,” Esparza. “If they need immediate medical attention, we work to get them the medical resources they need. In some places, those resources are readily available. In other locations, we may have to move someone to ensure that they are getting the help they need.”

Global Support Services also works with University administrators in the Title IX Office, Harvard University Health Services, and the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response to provide assistance to Harvard students who disclose experiences of sexual harassment or assault abroad, according to Marr.

Caroline S. Ko ’21, a student who will be in Venice, Italy, this summer, said that Global Support Services has already been in contact with her to make her aware of the resources available while she is studying abroad.

“I’m glad that they are trying to make students aware of sexual assault and harassment, instead of trying to ignore these issues,” Ko said. “Awareness is key for prevention.”

—Staff writer Edith M. Herwitz can be reached at edith.herwitz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @edith_herwitz.

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