Erin Levitas Initiative for Sexual Assault Prevention
The Erin Levitas Initiative for Sexual Assault Prevention was created to educate middle school students about sexual harassment and assault prevention. Guided by the Initiative’s director, C. Quince Hopkins (’89), the Levitas Initiative uses restorative dialogue circles to help middle school students develop skills and awareness to interrupt risk factors that are known trajectories to sexual assault, train middle school teachers to respond to incidents of sexual harassment, and support parents in talking with their children about healthy relationships. Established in 2018 with funding from the Erin Levitas Foundation, the Initiative continues to innovate and explore restorative justice conferencing to respond to incidents of peer-to-peer sexual harassment when they occur in school.
The Levitas Initiative approaches prevention of sexual harassment and assault in middle school through a combination of prevention curriculum, responsive conferencing, and policy advocacy. In its second year, the Levitas Initiative uses an interdisciplinary approach, combining the expertise of law students and social work students to implement the curriculum in schools.
E.R.I.N. Talk (Empathy, Respect, Integrity = No More Sexual Assault) prevention curriculum:
During the 2019-2020 academic year, the Initiative celebrated a milestone, delivering the E.R.I.N. Talk prevention curriculum to middle school students at City Springs Elementary-Middle School in Baltimore City. E.R.I.N Talk stands for some key components required for sexual assault prevention: empathy, respect, and integrity and pays homage to Erin Levitas, the namesake of the Levitas Initiative. The curriculum addresses topics such as: verbal and non-verbal communication skills, safe use of social media and technology, healthy gender norms, digital boundaries, consent, sexual harassment, cross-gender empathy, and bystander intervention.
During the fall semester, five clinical law students from Maryland Carey Law delivered the seven modules over a two-month period in one seventh grade class at City Springs Elementary-Middle School in Baltimore City. In the spring semester, two University of Maryland School of Social Work graduate students joined the three Maryland Carey Law students to deliver the curriculum to the seventh grade Honors section at the school. Prior to leading the curriculum, the law and social work students received training in restorative approaches and sexual violence prevention from Professor Hopkins and Barbara Grochal, Director of C-DRUM's School Conflict Resolution Education Program, and Anastasia Smith, Director of Special Projects.
The students delivered the first four E.R.I.N. Talk modules at the school before COVID-19 prevented any furhter in-person instruction. Once classes resumed online, the law and social work students quickly pivoted and developed videos that reviewed the first four lessons and closed out the year with the students at City Springs.
The Levitas Initiative recognizes that a comprehensive sexual assault prevention program should combine student-based curriculum with educational programming geared toward teachers and parents. Funding from the 2019 Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant from the Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention provided necessary support for continued program development in these areas and supported the hiring of Jenna Balaban (’19), former Levitas Initiative student, as the first Levitas Initiative Fellow.
The grant supports the expanded delivery of student curriculum to a second school in Baltimore City, the development of a restorative justice conferencing program to address incidents of sexual harm in middle schools, and the creation of educational programming for parents and teachers. A partnership with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center enabled the Levitas Initiative to create educational programs for parents. Dr. Laurie Graham, Assistant Professor at the Universty of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work, collaborated on content geared toward teachers. The teacher curriculum educates teachers on the responsibilities of school staff under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act and trains them to engage as informed bystanders for their students.
Legislative Advocacy for Change to Maryland’s Teen “Sexting” Law
Recognizing the pervasive use of social media by youth, the E.R.I.N. Talk curriculum dedicates one module to the topic of safe and appropriate use of social media and technology. The module focuses on Maryland’s sexting law as it applies to middle school youth. The module uses the 2019 Maryland case of In re S.K., which adjudicated a sixteen year old delinquent for distributing child pornography when friends recirculated an explicit video she had made of herself (aka “sexting”). In 2020, legislators introduced four bills aimed at changing the laws under which In re S.K. was adjudicated delinquent. In collaboration with the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the clinic students produced a white paper recommending the elimination of delinquency sanctions for sexting and replacing them with youth education about the risks of that behavior. Although the legislative session ended prematurely due to COVID-19, the Levitas Initiative expects the General Assembly to revisit the issue next year.
The new Restorative Justice & Sexual Assault Theory and Practice seminar launched the Fall. The course provides Maryland Carey Law students with an immersive experience in the theory and practice of restorative justice and the prevention of and response to sexual violence, especially as it relates to youth. Students will learn about the pervasive public health problem of sexual assault and sexual harassment, including the predictive behaviors that can lead to sexual harm and the application of restorative justice to prevent and respond to sexual harm. Under the instruction of Levitas Initiative Director C. Quince Hopkins and C-DRUM’s Stacy Smith, students study restorative justice theory and practice and will be trained to facilitate restorative circles and restorative justice conferences for incidents of sexual harm.