A Holistic Approach to Sexual Assault Prevention

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The attitudes and behaviors that can later trigger sexual assault can start early. Maryland Carey Law’s Erin Levitas Initiative uses a comprehensive public health approach to sexual assault prevention with middle school youth, their teachers, and their caregivers. The Initiative is named in honor of Erin Levitas, whose dream of attending Maryland Carey Law to help survivors of sexual assault was cut short by cancer. In its fourth year, the Levitas Initiative pivoted to remote work due to COVID, while expanding and scaling up the scope of its work to engage not just students, but also teachers and parents. The Initiative takes this holistic approach, with sexual assault prevention curricula tailored for students, teachers, and caregivers. A key component of the Levitas Initiative is empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of its model. 

Middle School Student Curriculum 

Under the leadership of Director Quince Hopkins, law and social work students work engage middle school students in restorative conversations using the program’s innovative “E.R.I.N. Talk” curriculum to prevent sexual assault and build healthy relationships (E.R.I.N. stands for Empathy, Respect, Integrity, No More Sexual Assault). The E.R.I.N. Talk curriculum is delivered using restorative dialogue circles with middle school students. The topics discussed include healthy communication– including communication around consent, positive gender norms, and relevant sexting and sexual harassment laws.  

In the wake of COVID, Levitas Initiative law and social work students shifted from in-person delivery of curriculum content to middle schoolers to remote instruction. In spring 2021, law students Jason Christie ’21 and Ignacio Brown ‘21 delivered virtually two of the Initiative’s E.R.I.N. Talk modules at City Springs Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City. This fall, a new cohort of law and social work students will facilitate an expanded set of virtual E.R.I.N. Talk modules with middle school students. 

The Levitas program has been transformational for both the middle school and law students. Based on his experience in the Levitas Initiative, Ignacio Brown ’21 changed his career path and became a teacher upon his graduation from law school. Reflecting on his experience, Ignacio shared: “Working with the middle school students was unlike any experience I'd ever had before. Because of the cultural differences between myself and the students, I think I learned just as much from the students as they did from the E.R.I.N. Talks. I learned how to be more patient with others and how to remain calm when faced with the unexpected.”  

Similarly, Jason Christie ’21 describes his experience with the Levitas Initiative as “an excellent opportunity to learn about the current research, issues and measure being explored within the gender violence field” as well as “an amazing opportunity to partner with educators and students in the Baltimore City community.” 

School Teacher Training/Curriculum  

In addition to educating students, training teachers is a key aspect of a comprehensive public health approach to sexual assault prevention. Last year, the Levitas Initiative expanded to include teacher education, with the generous financial and logistical support from the Erin Levitas Foundation and its Executive Director Marissa Jachman. The Initiative worked closely with partner Dr. Laurie Graham, Assistant Professor at the UMB School of Social Work. “Teacher Talk” adapts a program Dr. Graham originally created in her doctoral work at University of North Carolina.  

Teacher Talk covers sexual assault recognition, bystander intervention skills, and the requirements of Title IX, a federal anti-discrimination law. In spring 2021, Levitas’ diversity and inclusion consultant, Chimi Boyd-Keyes, and law student Jason Christie ‘21 successfully piloted Teacher Talk during a district-wide health educators’ professional development day for Baltimore City Public Schools.  

During summer 2021, the Initiative produced professional video content and interactive educational activities to round out the Teacher Talk program. Formally launching in January 2022, Teacher Talk aims to make the curriculum available to all Maryland school districts. 

Parent-Caregiver Training/Curriculum Program  

Over the past 18 months, the Levitas Initiative has worked with the Center for Hope on a parent education curriculum entitled Parent Talk. Parent Talk will provide parents with knowledge and tools to help them support the young people in their care. It will be shared online with caregivers of children of all ages, regardless of whether the young people in their charge are participating in the E.R.I.N. Talk youth education program. During the upcoming year, Initiative law students will expand Parent Talk to include additional interactive activities for parents and caregivers. 

The Levitas Initiative is a cutting-edge trauma-informed sexual assault prevention program that incorporates both a racial equity and LGBTQI-inclusiveness perspective. It is the only program of its kind to incorporate a restorative approach as central to its work.  For further information, contact C. Quince Hopkins, Director, Erin Levitas Initiative for Sexual Assault Prevention at qhopkins@law.umaryland.edu.