In this fictional scenario, Liz, a college junior, explains the My Choice Decision Navigator to Miriam, a first year student, after Miriam confides that Gabe, another first year student, sexually assaulted her and she is at a loss to figure out what to do. The trio are featured in a virtual poster that Michael Runge and I will present this coming Monday on October 19, 2020 at 1:30PM CDT at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine 2nd Annual Public Summit of the Action Collaborative to Prevent Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. The online event is free and open to the public so please join me! Register online.
Miriam—a shy and studious first year college student—and Liz—a driven, yet very fun junior— both write for the college paper. One evening, Miriam catches Liz after the weekly meeting…
MIRIAM: Do you know that guy, Gabe?
LIZ: Ahh …
MIRIAM: He’s a sophomore. On the swim team?
LIZ: Tall, blonde?
LIZ: What about him?
MIRIAM: So I went to a frat party last semester, and we started talking and then he asked me to dance.
LIZ (leerily): I can’t quite see the two of you together …
LIZ: Anyway, go on.
MIRIAM: So we ended up in my dorm room.
LIZ: Oh, really?!
MIRIAM (tears up): Yes. We’d both been drinking and … ahh …
LIZ (quietly): It’s o.k.
MIRIAM (sniffling): He … he … I …
LIZ: Why don’t we get out of here and take a walk?
MIRIAM: O.k. that sounds good.
LIZ (once outside): It feels good out here. The air is crisp.
MIRIAM: Yes. It was stuffy in there. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
LIZ: No need to apologize.
MIRIAM: I didn’t think I was going to start crying. I thought I was more or less on top of the situation.
LIZ: I think I have some tissues in my bag.
MIRIAM: Gabe, he, he did something I asked him not to do.
LIZ (riffling through her bag): That’s shitty.
MIRIAM (sniffling): Yes, … yes, it is.
LIZ: Here’s a tissue.
MIRIAM: Thanks. Ah. I just feel so silly. It … umm … wasn’t his dick, so I keep thinking it shouldn’t be that big a deal, that I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but I just feel so awful.
LIZ: If he did something that you didn’t want him to do, that’s not o.k. Period. And that’s not your fault.
MIRIAM: I said, “I don’t want you to do that. Please don’t do that.” I know I did.
LIZ: I believe you.
MIRIAM: You do?
LIZ: Yes, I do.
LIZ: Of course.
MIRIAM: Thank you. Thank you, Liz.
LIZ: And I just want to say that even if you hadn’t said you didn’t want him to do it, if you had frozen, it still wouldn’t be o.k.
MIRIAM: Yeah, that’s kinda what I ended up doing in the end. Disassociating.
LIZ: Your brain went into survival mode.
MIRIAM: I know what happened to you …
LIZ: Everybody does.
MIRIAM: I’m sorry.
LIZ: It’s o.k. I took that risk when I pursued things. And sometimes, good things come of it … like you talking to me.
MIRIAM: Oh, that’s sweet. …
LIZ: I mean it.
MIRIAM: I thought you might be sympathetic.
LIZ: I won’t tell anyone unless you ask me.
MIRIAM: Thank you. I knew I could trust you. But I just don’t know what to do.
LIZ: Do about what he did?
MIRIAM: Yeah. I dunno. You went to the University. Should I do that? I know I don’t want to go to the police. That’s just overkill. I’ve gone to protests calling for defunding the police, so it would be hypocritical, too. And I kinda made the decision not to report it that night anyway. To the police or the university. I just couldn’t stop taking a shower. I must have stayed in the shower for a couple hours. At least in the dorm, there’s endless hot water! (both laugh) I just wanted to clean myself off. To get clean. I just couldn’t get clean. I dunno. I don’t know what a rape kit would have shown anyway. That something happened. Yeah. I don’t think he’s going to deny that. He’s just going to argue it was consensual. And often the police don’t even process them. You’ve got to have been living under a rock, not to have heard about the huge backlog.
LIZ: Rape kits and criminal prosecution of sexual assault. That’s a fraught topic.
MIRIAM: Yeah. As much as Gabe is ignoring me now, he can’t deny he was with me that night. Well, he can deny anything he wants to deny, but plenty of people saw us. David and Emma, and I can’t remember, a bunch of people kept asking me about him later. I tried to talk to him about it afterwards, and he wanted nothing to do with me. This is so embarrassing. Anyway, like I said, he would argue that everything was consensual. It will be his word against mine.
LIZ: Let’s just back up a bit. Before looking at your options, it would be good to think about what you’re hoping to accomplish. What do you want? What do you need?
MIRIAM: Those are good questions. I’d have to think about that.
LIZ: When I was trying to figure out what to do, I went to this sexual violence counselor, Jane, and she walked me through this Decision Navigator to help me decide next steps. It was really helpful. It made me back up from thinking about my options and, instead, take a moment first to consider what it was that I was seeking.
MIRIAM: Decision navigator?
LIZ: Yeah, I had never seen anything like it before. There’s something called decision science. People actually study how people make decisions and figure out ways to help people make better decisions.
MIRIAM: Wow! That’s kinda cool.
LIZ: Yeah, I think you might like the decision tool she used with me. It’s called the My Choice Decision Navigator. It’s real systematic. It breaks down decision making into five elements using the acronym, PrOACT: Pr—Problem, O—Objectives, A—Alternatives, C—Consequences, T—Tradeoffs.
MIRIAM: I don’t know if I can wrap my mind around all that.
LIZ: Well, it’s not the Decision Navigator that is complicated. It’s the decisions that are complicated.
MIRIAM: That’s true. I’m totally stuck. I’ve just been going around and around in circles.
LIZ: The Decision Navigator actually simplifies decision making. It provides a framework in which to think about decisions. Proact, as in proactive. We can be proactive in our decision making.
MIRIAM: O.k. …
LIZ: The Decision Navigator is a way to think systematically about a decision. Rather than everything floating around in your head, it helps you categorize and organize the different elements of a decision. You don’t have to go through all the PrOACT steps to come to a decision. In fact, you don’t even have to go through any. It may be helpful just to know about all the elements. That might be enough to give you an “ah huh!”
MIRIAM: An “ah huh” would be great!
LIZ: Why don’t I explain it to you a bit more and you can see what you think.
MIRIAM: o.k. I’m certainly not figuring this out on my own. So I might as well try something. Like I said, there’s the university and the police. And then my friends keep making more suggestions. Emma thinks I should go talk to him. David wants to go talk to him himself. I don’t want that. I don’t need any more ideas of what to do. I can’t decide between what I already know about. Although I suppose they’re hoping to come up with some great magical ideal solution no one has thought of yet.
LIZ: So, the Decision Navigator can help explain what’s going on here.
LIZ: Yes. Your friends are starting in the middle of the PrOACT decision framework. They’re suggesting Alternatives. That’s the “A” in PrOACT.
MIRIAM: And PrOACT stands for what again?
LIZ: Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, Tradeoffs. So that’s skipping Pr—Problem and O—Objectives and going straight to A—Alternatives.
LIZ: That’s really common. People do it all the time. They think about the options—that’s the A—the Alternatives, what you can do. Brainstorming can be fun. It’s easy to generate Alternatives. But that’s just one step in the process. Sorting all the Alternatives out, figuring out how they get you what you want, deciding among them, that’s the tough part.
MIRIAM: You can say that again.
LIZ: And the other thing I want to mention: Did you ask for advice from your friends?
MIRIAM: No. Not really.
LIZ: If you didn’t ask for it, then it was unsolicited advice. That’s not cool, but people do it all the time. They’re uncomfortable with the ambiguity so they rush to solve the problem for you. That happens especially with victim-survivors of sexual violence. There’s a lot of shame around sex in our culture. People want to solve the problem quickly to eliminate their discomfort.
MIRIAM: They mean well.
LIZ: Yes, but intention is different from impact. If it bothers you, that’s a valid feeling, whether they meant to hurt you or not. It’s really important that victim-survivors, that we maintain control of our decision making. Sexual violence is about power. It takes away our control. Taking our power back is part of healing.
MIRIAM: That does sound good.
LIZ: And that’s another neat thing about the Decision Navigator. It is actually part of a bigger thing: The Our Choices Solution Facilitator. The Solution Facilitator breaks down how other people can help with decision making.
MIRIAM: That’s cool. So they don’t take over?
LIZ: Yes. Exactly. No unsolicited advice.
MIRIAM: That would be good.
LIZ: As victim-survivors, we get to make our own decisions. So: My Choice Decision Navigator, but Our Choices Solution Facilitator. The Solution Facilitator does two things: it helps other people help victim-survivors without taking over, and it also recognizes that sexual violence is a community problem, requiring community solutions.
MIRIAM: You’re talking about all the enablers?
LIZ: Yep. Sexual violence doesn’t happen in isolation, so ending it requires community solutions. There were a lot of factors leading up to what happened to both of us. Like, for starters, frats being the only places serving alcohol near campus.
MIRIAM: Male-run spaces.
LIZ: Exactly. Anyway, let me run down the PrOACT steps.
MIRIAM: Yes. I want to hear about them.
LIZ: The Decision Navigator first looks to define the decision Problem. It asks: What do you get to be a decision maker about? What is the decision and what are the boundaries of your authority? That’s the P.R. The Problem.
MIRIAM: So my problem is that I’m having trouble focusing, and if there’s a chance Gabe might be around, forget it.
LIZ: I’m so sorry. What a bummer. So that’s the beginning of the decision Problem definition. And we could explore that more. Then, the Navigator goes to the O. It asks: What are your Objectives? What are you seeking? What do you want?
MIRIAM: I want to be able to function, to study. I want to get good grades.
LIZ: O.k. That’s an Objective: to get good grades. And I’m sure you have more.
MIRIAM: Yes. I’d like to get some recognition from him that this actually happened.
LIZ: Yes. I could see wanting some validation.
MIRIAM: That I’m not crazy.
LIZ: You’re not. And you probably have more Objectives.
MIRIAM: I’ll have to spend some time thinking about that.
LIZ: And the Decision Navigator can help with that.
MIRIAM: That’s good because I don’t even know what I want.
LIZ: That’s common. It’s perfectly normal. And to make it even more complicated, what you want can evolve and change over time. That can make decision making tough. A good decision begins with knowing what you want, so it’s worth spending some time thinking about. What you want—what the Decision Navigator calls your Objectives—are the criteria that you use to evaluate your options, your Alternatives. Can you get what you want if you do this? Can you get it if you do that?
MIRIAM: Makes sense.
LIZ: Anyway, people tend to want to brainstorm Alternatives, but the Decision Navigator encourages us to spend time on the first two elements of the PrOACT model: Problem and Objectives. That’s what a lot of people skip, but parsing out the Problem and Objectives lays the foundation for a good decision.
MIRIAM: I suppose. If we skip to answers before we know what we’re looking for, we could be answering the wrong question.
LIZ: Exactly. It’s important to realize that Objectives and Alternatives are two separate things. Objectives are: “What do you want?” And Alternatives are: “What can you do?” So, for you, you want to get good grades and you want validation. Those are Objectives. And then you and your friends have already come up with a bunch of Alternatives. You talked about reporting to the university and to the police, as a couple examples.
LIZ: The Decision Navigator helps you figure out how the Objectives and Alternatives intersect. It helps you figure out the Alternative—what you can do—that best helps you get what you want—your Objectives.
MIRIAM: With what Alternative am I most likely to get good grades?
LIZ: Right. If there’s one takeaway from the Decision Navigator—there are many—but a big one is to separate Objectives from Alternatives. They are two different things. And don’t start with Alternatives. Start with Objectives. Knowing what you want helps you evaluate what you can do.
MIRIAM: Got it. So what happens in the rest of the acronym—the … ah … C and the T?
LIZ: The Consequences. What do you know? And the Tradeoffs. What will you do? We figure out what the Consequences, the C, are for each Alternative. That is, how might the different Alternatives help you realize your Objectives?
MIRIAM: If you chose an Alternative, what’s going to happen?
LIZ: Right. What’s the result? So, to choose one Alternative you mentioned, reporting to the University: how is that going to impact your Objectives? Your ability to get good grades and to get some validation.
MIRIAM: That’s hard to say. I want to be optimistic but I’ve heard some horror stories.
LIZ: As is often the case, the outcome—that’s the Consequences—is Uncertain.
MIRIAM: There’s Risk involved.
LIZ: Exactly. Uncertainty and Risk. Those are also elements of decisions that the Decision Navigator recognizes. The Decision Navigator helps you decide which Alternative is best for you given your Risk tolerance for the various possible Consequences.
MIRIAM: That sounds a bit heady, but basically, I think you’re saying that I don’t know what’s going to happen if I report to the University. There’s some Uncertainty there. So there’s Risk. It may all go south. I don’t know. It may not. So do I have the wherewithal to deal with that.
LIZ: Yes. And on top of that, there are Linked Decisions. If you decide to report to the University, that opens up possibilities requiring more decisions later, like do you want to pursue disciplinary action against him.
MIRIAM: I don’t think I want to do that.
LIZ: You don’t have to decide that right away. It’s a Linked Decision: a decision down the road.
MIRIAM: O.k. Good.
LIZ: So the C—the Consequences is predicting what’s going to happen. Then there’s the T. The Tradeoffs. You might be more likely to get good grades, but you might be less likely to realize another Objective, like validation with a given Alternative. So that’s the Tradeoff you’d make. Tough decisions are full of Tradeoffs: you might realize one Objective better with one Alternative, say reporting to the University, but realize another one better trying to talk to him directly. So to sort that out, you decide which Objectives are more important. You prioritize them.
MIRIAM: O.k. I think I get the gist.
LIZ: It becomes clearer as you walk through it And that’s a neat thing about the Decision Navigator: the PrOACT model is iterative. You can cycle through the steps, but also skip around them. I’m explaining it to you sequentially, but it’s not necessarily linear in real life. It’s o.k. to go back and forth between the steps. You might think of another Objective after brainstorming Alternatives, for example, or go back to redefine the Problem after looking at some of the Consequences, and that’s o.k. You own the process and can use the Decision Navigator in whatever way is helpful to you.
MIRIAM: I’m glad for all the help I can get. But, I dunno. I’m not up to going to another counselor for this. I’m seeing Diane now at the counseling center, and she’s wonderful! I am so grateful for her.
LIZ: I’m happy to hear you have a good counselor. That makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it?
MIRIAM: Totally. I don’t know how I’d be getting through the day without her, but she’s never mentioned anything about this Decision Navigator.
LIZ: Yeah, I’m not surprised. It’s kinda new. Would you be comfortable walking through your decision with me? I thought the My Choice Decision Navigator was so great, I got trained in the Our Choices Solution Facilitator so I could help people use it. I haven’t had a chance to do it with anyone yet, and I really want to.
MIRIAM: That would be wonderful if I could do it with you! I want to get things settled in my mind. I want a plan of action.
LIZ: If you get clarity at any time, we can stop. We don’t have to go through the whole thing.
MIRIAM: Let’s try it. This will be helpful. Just to have someone to talk this through with.
LIZ: I’m sorry that he did that, but I’m excited to help. I need to find and review the My Choice Decision Navigator and Our Choices Solution Facilitator website.
MIRIAM: O.k. Thank you so much!
LIZ: I’ll text you to figure out when we can meet up again.
MIRIAM: Sounds good! Oh, I’m so relieved to talk to you. I’m glad I got up the nerve to do it!
LIZ: Me, too!
MIRIAM: Have a good night.
LIZ: You, too!
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© 2020-2021 Michele Beaulieux. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). That means you are free to share and adapt as long as you attribute to Michele Beaulieux, don’t use for commercial purposes, and use this same license. And if you do share, I’d love to know! I may revise, so to avoid sharing an outdated version, I recommend linking to this page, where I provide the date of the current iteration. 3.22.21