Resources and education are key to a campus free from sexual harassment and assault

The UH Hilo Office of Equal Opportunity has a new program called Confidential Advocacy and Prevention Education (CAPE), which focuses on strengthening resources, awareness and preventative measures about sexual harassment and assault.

By Mikayla Toninato.

Colorful poster message: "Offering meaningful support to survivors means understanding the many ways trauma impacts their lives."
Via National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo takes seriously its responsibility to create a safe environment on campus with zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault. This commitment is backed by a UH System policy that specifically addresses sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

Unfortunately, the issues of sex assault and gender-based violence are prevalent on college campuses nationwide. In support of the commitment to create a safe environment, the UH Hilo Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) has a new program called Confidential Advocacy and Prevention Education (CAPE), which focuses on strengthening resources, awareness and preventative measures about sexual harassment and assault.

Destiny Rodriquez
Destiny Rodriquez

The program is headed by Destiny Rodriguez, one of the first students to graduate from UH Hilo with a bachelor of arts in gender and women’s studies. Constantly pursuing her passion, she became an administrative assistant with the campus’s OEO after graduation.

She now serves as a confidential advocate in the OEO, where she works with students, faculty, and staff to help them understand their rights, and the options and resources available to them. Because Rodriguez is a confidential resource, she is not required to report information to university administration.

Advocacy, Rodriguez says, is “making sure that students have a voice. Often times in gender-based violence that voice is taken from them, that power is taken from them, and so, how do we give that back?”

Confidential Advocacy and Prevention Education

Blue poster with message: "CONSENT IS ALWAYS MANDATORY" NSVRC,
Via National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Rodriguez breaks the work of the new advocacy and education program into two parts: 1) prevention education via classroom presentations and discussions about resources available to students and the rights that they have, and setting up booths around campus at different events to interact with the general campus population, and 2) education about bystander intervention so that students and others can more easily recognize sexual harassment and therefore be more likely to put an end to it.

Rodriguez says the campus climate surrounding sexual harassment is created mainly by the campus community itself. For example, jokes that are made and comments that are said can add to a campus culture of sexual harassment. But, she says, jokes and comments can be stopped through the diligence of every single person. Knowing that words have impact on a greater culture beyond reach is enough to know that there is never a place for inappropriate comments.

The red zone

Throughout the year, there are different times that sexual assault may be more prevalent than others. Rodriguez’s team focuses on what they call the red zone, “a time that a student is most vulnerable to sexual assault, which is from the first time they step onto campus until Thanksgiving break.”

It is during this time that CAPE staff tries to give the most presentations. These presentations have a strong correlation with an influx in reports of sexual harassment or assault. Showing an influx at the time of presentations shows that before this discussion people didn’t know their resources and they were not sure who they could talk to until someone is standing in front of them saying, “We’re here to listen.”


Poster with colorful cacti: "Asking for help is an Act of Bravery" NSVRC
Via National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

When faced with a situation of becoming a victim, students have a few options about how to proceed. The first step for a victim is for them to make sure they are safe, then talk to someone. If it seems like there is no one to talk to, that’s when Rodriguez and the CAPE staff is there to offer support.

“I can be people’s advocate and connect with their faculty or their supervisor but it’s all based on what the student wants,” Rodriguez says. “[CAPE is] 100 percent victim centered.”

After the initial assessment of the situation, it is the student’s decision as to how they would like to proceed while being able to maintain complete confidentiality throughout the process.

Accessing other resources is also an option. Knowing about the available resources can be beneficial not just directly for students but also if a student is approached by a friend that may have been a victim.

Rodriguez explains that when listening to a friend, it’s important to let them know that first of all, they are believed, and also to remind them it’s not their fault.

“It’s not people’s fault if this happens to them,” she explains. She recommends people always watch what’s going on around them, but even if warning signs are missed, “it never should have happened to you.”

There is no common factor in situations of victims. People will often say that alcohol consumption or style of clothing can be a factor, but Rodriguez challenges these assumptions.

“Flip it the other way, make sure your buddy isn’t drinking too much and taking somebody home that is incapacitated,” she says.

Reporting and counseling

If one is ever a victim or knows a victim of sexual assault, the most important thing is always to report, says Rodriguez. Remember that each victim has a voice and that someone is available to listen. When reporting an instance of harassment of assault to, there is no evidence needed. Rodriguez just needs to know that the person wants help.

There is no evidence needed when reporting an instance of harassment or assault, CAPE staff just needs to know that this is happening.

There also are free counseling services available both on and off campus that CAPE can recommend in addition to talking to members of their own team. Rodriguez’s team will evaluate the situation only in terms of a violation of UH policy, never criminal justice, so the police will never be involved unless that is the wish of the victim.


Measuring the success of the CAPE program can be difficult. Seeing the number of reports decreasing doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem is stopping, it might just mean that people have stopped talking about it.

“When reports increase, I always think that that’s a positive because that means that people are ready to talk about it and they know that it’s wrong,” Rodriguez says.

Fear of not being taken seriously might be another reason that students can be hesitant to report sexual assault or harrassment.

“They think it’s not serious enough or that nothing is going to change,” Rodriguez explains. “But we’re here to tell them yes, our office is dedicated to this work. If you come in we will do as much as we can to ensure that you’re safe, you’re happy, and you get what you need out of our office.”

The more that sexual harassment and assault are talked about, the more the culture on campus can change. Rodriguez says that normalizing conversation about the topic is one step in the right direction toward overcoming this persistent issue.

The goal of the CAPE program is for everybody to know about the resources available and about the rights of students. The more people talk about it, the more people know about it, allowing the campus community to work more effectively toward a positive solution for the campus as a whole.

“Send me an email, call me, let’s talk about it,” says Rodriguez.

The Office of Equal Opportunity is located in the portable buildings between the business office and the auxiliary services building. The staff there is always looking for more volunteers and students that want to get involved in their mission.

The CAPE team is always ready to listen.

Upcoming events

The Confidential Advocacy and Prevention Education program is sponsoring a workshop entitled, “Because I Love You…,” on Wednesday, March 21, at 1:00 p.m. in Campus Center room 306. Learn about healthy relationships, what manipulation can look like and available resources on campus. This facilitated discussion is intended for students, but all are welcome from the UH community to join the conversation.

Also, the program is hosting a Treasure Hunt on Thursday, April 26, from noon to 3:00 p.m. at the Campus Center Plaza. Learn about healthy relationships and signs of unhealthy relationships. This event is open to all UH Hilo students with a valid student ID. Refreshments, provided by the Student Activities Council, will be offered while supplies last. This event is in collaboration with the Women’s Center.

Contact Destiny Rodriguez for more information.

This story was edited on March 29, 2018 to clarify recommendations of the Office of Equal Opportunity and to correct spelling of Destiny Rodriguez’s name.


Mikayla Toninato, a junior completing a semester at UH Hilo through the National Student Exchange program, is a writer for UH Hilo Stories. She is majoring in journalism with minors in graphic design and digital media studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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