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Stepping In, Stopping Violence

Branin Spoke Up and Prevented Sexual Assault

What happens when a bystander steps in during an assault? The more important question: what doesn’t happen?

Adrianna Branin in a Haven Project office. The artwork behind her is by Megan Stahl ’09, M’11. (Keith Boyer)

Adrianna Branin in a Haven Project office. The artwork behind her is by Megan Stahl ’09, M’11. (Keith Boyer)

Adrianna Branin couldn’t stand by and watch as a group of men began to grope a woman in a vulnerable state. Instead, Branin stepped in and stopped it.

Those actions led to her selection for the 2019 Biden Courage Award, which former vice president Joe Biden presented last spring to only two of the nation’s college students. The award recognizes leaders in the prevention of sexual violence on campuses—a problem the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network says 11 percent of US college students experience.

Branin is quick to say that anyone can do what she did—intervene. It can be as simple as causing a distraction that separates those involved.

Branin with the Haven Project’s director, Jessica Miller M’06, D’09, left, and its sexual violence prevention educator, Jenn Funt McCroskey ’07 (Keith Boyer)

Branin with the Haven Project’s director, Jessica Miller M’06, D’09, left, and its sexual violence prevention educator, Jenn Funt McCroskey ’07 (Keith Boyer)

“Anyone can be an ally,” Branin said. “Anyone can be somebody who prevents harm in their community. It’s really important to empower people to get involved.”

A growing number of IUP students—both men and women—agree.

When IUP President Michael Driscoll kicked off last spring’s Take Back the Night, a campus march against sexual assault, he spoke to at least 1,300 students—one of the largest crowds to date.

With mascot Norm, Branin opened last spring’s Take Back the Night, a march against sexual assault. (Teri Enciso ’06/Indiana Gazette)

With mascot Norm, Branin opened last spring’s Take Back the Night, a march against sexual assault. (Teri Enciso ’06/Indiana Gazette)

That night, hundreds of students took the It’s On Us pledge, promising to be active bystanders and to prevent acts of sexual violence. In pledge sign-ups for the spring campaign, IUP placed second among all schools nationally.

But long before she took the oath, Branin was living up to it—as she did during the incident last fall.

Branin had been walking home with friends when they saw the young woman wandering outside an off-campus apartment, apparently intoxicated. Her clothing had slipped from her shoulder, exposing her as she stood alone in the driveway. 

Suddenly, Branin saw about eight men surround and harass the woman. She saw a hand on the woman’s breast and cell phone cameras flashing. “I remember just kind of losing it,” she said. “I was in a blind rage in a moment.”

Only two inches over five feet, Branin pushed her way into the circle. The men started to harass her as well, she said.

“As soon as they realized that I was pulling her shirt back up,” Branin said, “that I was trying to take her out of the crowd, all of their voices went from sexually toned to extremely infuriated.”

While the men grabbed at Branin’s hands and shirt, she managed to pull the woman away and get her safely inside the house and into the care of a roommate. But she didn’t stop there.

About 20 people had gathered and were now walking away. With her friends backing her up, Branin went from person to person, insisting that any cell phone photos be deleted. She warned that she would be reporting the sexual assault, and the photos were not consensual and could not be put online.

When Branin took action that night, she had the advantage of training. A senior with a double major in political science and religious studies, she is a peer educator with IUP’s Haven Project, which helps students with issues of sexual violence, domestic and dating violence, stalking, abusive relationships, and human trafficking. Through its Green Dot program, Haven also provides training in bystander intervention.

“Last year, we had a fully female student workforce, but now it’s integrated—close to 50-50,” said Branin, a survivor herself of sexual assault. “I work with some amazing men. They’re empathetic. I love that I can invite men to be a part of the conversation. Without engaging men, we don’t change the culture.”

One of the men she works with at Haven is Drew Booth, a junior marketing and economics major, who helped sign up students for the It’s On Us pledge at Take Back the Night.

“Volunteering with Haven has probably been the most purposeful thing I’ve done at IUP,” he said. 

A few fraternities on campus are also getting involved. Omega Psi Phi created an anti-domestic/dating violence video that was shown on the scoreboard during an IUP football game. Sigma Chi’s former president, current president, and next president are all Haven peer educators.

Susan Graham, Branin’s former supervisor at Haven and the one who nominated her for the Biden award, said one thing really stood out when she heard Branin’s story last fall. During the incident, the victim had asked Branin, “What are you doing?” and Branin had answered, “What I would want you to do for me if our roles were reversed.”