An Interview with CARE at SARC Director Nancy Wahlig


Erik Jepsen / UC San Diego Publications

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Warning: This article concerns sexual assault.

“When a starfish loses its limb, it grows back and becomes whole again. We want to support and advocate for our survivors to heal completely, like starfish,” said Nancy Wahlig, director of Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education (CARE) at Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC).

The logo for CARE at SARC currently features a starfish, symbolic of the healing Wahlig aims to promote through the resource center. Wahlig founded CARE at SARC, formerly just SARC, at UC San Diego in 1988, exactly 30 years ago. Each year, she secures federal funding, assists in campus safety assessment with city planners and the UC Police Department, advises campus policy decisions, and consults with Chancellors directly to advocate and provide for survivors of sexual assault.

The Triton had the opportunity to comprehensively interview Wahlig about what the UCSD community should understand about CARE, issues of sexual assault reporting, and how best to support survivors of sexual violence.

Q: What is CARE at SARC?

Wahlig: We are quite a comprehensive program. We do a lot of prevention education, as well as training: mandatory prevention for all the incoming students and for faculty and staff on how to respond. We are available 24/7. [There are] two victim advocates and myself, three of us on the call. When we get those calls, we make sure to address the individual’s concerns and we are the first crisis reach-out.

We see people as quickly as we can, normally the same day. We would cancel any meetings to respond, since we know it’s time-sensitive. We accompany people to their forensic exam (widely known as the “rape kit”) if the individual requests. We get them to necessary medical attention. You can call us over the weekend—middle of Saturday night is totally fine.

We are confidential. That’s huge because there are not a lot of confidential offices on campus. Many are responsible employees that are mandated to report student well-being to the Title IX officer. But people come here and we do not make reports like that.

We look into policy and procedures. Sometimes, policies were written in the 90’s and they were appropriate back then, but they need to be reviewed. So it’s really getting everybody together—police, Student Health [Services], [Office of] Student Conduct, OPHD (Office of Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination)—to really review policies to make sure they are adequately addressing and responding.

Q: What is the recommended procedure after the assault?

W: Each case is individual. There may be some common theme that people may have, but the need of that particular individual is their own needs. Know that whatever you choose to do, it’s a right choice—”I’m making this choice, it’s a right decision for me at this point at this time. It’s a right thing to do.”

The first thing you should do is get to a safe space and then call for support or a hotline.

In terms of preserving evidence, we sometimes ask the survivors to hold off on showering for any evidence left on the person. If you wanted to report, then you would have the evidence, but again, that’s hard. They might just wanna shower, take care of themselves, want to never see those clothes, and just want to clean up, and that is totally fine.

It’s never too late to call the police, even if you removed any physical evidence. I always urge survivors to call the crisis line or get us the information to talk to somebody. Not necessarily police, unless for safety measures requested by the individual, but reach out to a trained, confidential hotline who can talk to you without bias and give you the information you can use for yourself.

Q: There are a lot of stigmas surrounding sexual violence especially on college campuses. Why?

W: People still don’t believe survivors. People question them by saying, “How could that happen? This person is really nice! That person would never be an aggressor! How could you be saying that?” The survivors blame themselves: “It’s something I said, something I did, I shouldn’t have been drinking…” when really, that’s not the issue at all. The issue is the aggressor. You can’t get consent from somebody who is intoxicated.

Q: Often times, friends feel frustrated or are unsure how to be a good ally. What would you recommend?

W: A lot of times people will first tell their friend. As a friend, we ask people to not judge or make decisions for the survivor. Give information to help, but don’t tell the person what to do. It’s the individual’s decision.

When we look at the real facts about sexual assault, it’s normally someone they knew and someone they trusted. So if it was a stranger who was attacking at the parking lot or other “classic imagined” [scenarios], it’s very easy to say “I need to call my friend and police.” But when it’s somebody you thought you could trust—maybe you have been out with this person before, maybe there was some activity that was consensual then went into non-consensual—all of a sudden it takes a little bit more time to figure out what just happened.

I think it’s great that people are educating each other through the #MeToo Movement. But a lot of survivors are also coming in saying “I don’t want to report, I don’t want to speak out, and I want to be private.” They feel like they owe [the public] to speak out as a survivor. We do not pressure. There is no pressure in terms of speaking out. People should be aware of and respect individuals’ wishes.

CARE at SARC is located on the 5th floor of the Student Services Center and is available to UCSD students, faculty, and staff. If you are in need of support services, consider calling following resources:

CARE at the Sexual Assault Resource Center, (858) 534-5793 or sarc@ucsd.eduAfterhours: 858-534-HELP

Center for Community Solutions (CCS), San Diego County’s rape crisis and domestic violence agency, (888) 385-4657

National Sexual Assault Hotline, (800) 656-HOPE

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sylvia O is a Staff Writer for The Triton. You can follow her @Sylvia_MJ_O