Transcript: Sexual Discrimination Training for Cooperative Extension Volunteers

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension relies on volunteers like you to provide enriching opportunities in our community through our programming. We want to be sure that our programs offer enriching experiences for all our participants. As a Cooperative Extension volunteer, you are in a unique position to learn about issues that must be reported to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our program participants. Cooperative Extension, as part of the University of Maine, has policies that require the reporting of certain information by our volunteers.

Cooperative Extension wants to ensure the environment in our programs is comfortable, equitable, safe, and welcoming for all — that includes program participants, volunteers, and employees. Therefore, it is important for us to know about issues of discrimination so that the University can address them in a proactive way.

As a volunteer, you are in a unique position to learn about issues that impact Cooperative Extension participants and programs. Therefore, you play an essential role in ensuring that our programs are safe and free from discrimination.

University of Maine policy makes all employees and volunteers mandated reporters of sex discrimination. So, if you witness or are told about sexual discrimination, including sexual violence, that is related to your Cooperative Extension volunteer work, you must report it.

Sex discrimination includes sexual harassment and sexual violence such as sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. It also includes sexual misconduct such as child pornography and peeping tommery.

If someone tells you they have been the victim of any form of sexual discrimination or sexual violence, it is important for you to report the information. It is not up to you to determine whether or not what they have disclosed is true or not. You simply need to report the information.

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, including sexual assault and sexual violence. For the full definitions of sexual harassment and other terms covered in this training, please refer to the University of Maine System’s Policy and Procedure on Sex Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Relationship Violence, Stalking and Retaliation which can be found at the link to the University policy provided at the end of this training.

As we just indicated, sexual harassment can include criminal behavior. For example, in addition to being a crime, sexual assault would be a severe incident of unwelcome sexual conduct of a sexual nature, and thus sexual harassment. Other criminal behaviors that may also constitute sexual harassment include: stalking, domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual misconduct. All of these behaviors are prohibited by university policy. For more information please see links to university policy available at the end of this training.

Stalking is engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress.

As a hypothetical, we would like you to consider what you would do in the following situation:

You are a Master Gardener volunteer. Another volunteer tells you that she knows that she is supposed to meet with a group of volunteers to work on the school garden on Monday but she is not planning to go because another volunteer who is male makes her very uncomfortable. She reported that the male volunteer waited to see where she was volunteering before he signed up for a location. She has tried several times to let him know that she was not interested in him but he has persisted in his invitations to her. He continues to contact her and has been following her. So what do you do?

You must ensure that this situation is reported.

The information you have learned most likely constitutes sexual harassment and possibly stalking. It is extremely important that this be reported so that the University can address it. This is true even if your fellow volunteer does not wish to make a report. Let the person know that the University takes these issues very seriously and it needs to be reported.

Sexual assault means an offense that meets the definition of rape, fondling, incest, or statutory rape.

Consent is agreement to engage in sexual contact. Consent must be informed, freely and actively given, and consist of a mutually agreeable and understandable exchange of words or actions. It is not consent when the exchange involves unwanted physical force, coercion, intimidation, and/or threats. If an individual is mentally or physically incapacitated or impaired such that one cannot understand the fact, nature or extent of the sexual situation, and the incapacitation or impairment is known or should be known to a reasonable person, there is no consent. This includes conditions resulting from alcohol or drug consumption, or being asleep or unconscious.  Consent is not valid if the person is too young to consent to sexual activity under Maine law.

Let’s try another hypothetical — You are the co-leader of a 4-H horse club. When your fellow co-leader helps members mount their horses, he seems to be touching them in private places on a regular basis in a way that is not required to assist them. Although you did not think much of it the first few times it happened, you have become concerned about what seems to be a pattern of behavior by your fellow co-leader.   What do you do?

This situation must be reported.

According to University policy “Fondling is the touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her age or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental incapacity.”

You do not need to be certain nor do you need to investigate the situation to determine whether it would constitute fondling or not; rather, you simply need to report what you have observed and your concerns. The situation will be reviewed in a fair and neutral way once it has been reported.

Dating violence is violence committed against a person by an individual who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with that person.

University policy also prohibits domestic violence. A felony or misdemeanor crime of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim; by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common; or by a person who is or was cohabitating with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner. It also includes crimes of violence committed by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction in which the crime of violence occurred.

Please be aware that, if you are an Extension volunteer working with youth, you are required to report suspected child abuse. A separate training is available on this topic. If you have questions, please contact your local Extension staff.

So let’s try another hypothetical. You are a 4-H volunteer working at the county agricultural fair. Another volunteer rushes up to tell you that she has just witnessed two other volunteers who are married pushing each other and arguing near the barns. The couple is gay and you know in the past that the volunteer has made negative comments about gay marriage and the involvement of gay individuals in

4-H in the past. What do you do?

This situation must be reported.

What if you think that the person who reported the situation to you might be exaggerating the situation because of a possible bias? You still need to report it. You can share this possibility when you make the report but it still must be reported. It is not your responsibility to investigate the situation. Rather that will be done once a report is made. Please note that if you observe a situation that you believe is a crime underway or you have concerns about someone’s immediate safety, you should not hesitate to dial 911. If you witness a crime occurring or believe there is an immediate danger to the safety of those involved, dial 911. Otherwise, if you witness or are told about sex discrimination ivolving members of the Cooperative Extension community, you must contact the office of Equal Opportunity at 581-1226. If you would like assistance making this report, please feel free to contact your local Cooperative Extension office or Fran Sulinski, at 581-3186.

If you are ever in doubt about whether or not to make a report, please call. We will make sure that the issue is routed appropriately.

You also have a right to be free from discrimination in your volunteer work with Cooperative Extension. We encourage you to reach out to your Cooperative Extension supervisor if you feel that you have been the victim of sex discrimination. Cooperative Extension, as part of the University of Maine, has procedures in place to address concerns of discrimination either informally or formally. You can also contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office for Civil Rights about concerns of discrimination.

So let’s try one final scenario. You are a Garden Angel volunteer. The senior that you visit often tells off-color jokes. At first, you laughed because you were uncomfortable and not sure what to say. Later, you thought if you did not laugh and walked away, the individual would understand that you did not appreciate this humor. It did not work and now you dread going to visit the individual due to the comments he has made. What are you going to do?

We would strongly urge you to report this situation. We cannot address a situation if we are unaware of it. You can reach out to your local Cooperative Extension staff contact for assistance with the situation. They will involve the appropriate University staff. If you are more comfortable, you should also feel free to contact the Office of Equal Opportunity directly at 581-1226.

Cooperative Extension wants to ensure that the environments for our programs are comfortable, equitable, safe, and welcoming for all – this includes program volunteers, participants and our staff. Therefore, it is important that we know about issues of discrimination in our programs so that we can address them in a proactive way. You as a volunteer, play a very important role in helping us to achieve this Thank you very much for completing this program!

See a copy of the University of Maine policy.


Office of Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention
3rd Floor Memorial Union, Room 315
Phone: 207.581.1406

Spruce Run
Hotline: 1.800.863.9909

Rape Response Services
Hotline: 207.989.5678
Toll Free: 1.800.310.0000

Office of Equal Opportunity
101 North Stevens Hall
Phone: 207.581.1226