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UCS supports survivors of sexual violence

Workshop takes place of weekly meeting, discusses how to engage in mindful conversation

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Undergraduate Council of Students held a workshop on how to have mindful conversations about sexual violence and support survivors in place of its usual Wednesday evening general body meeting.

UCS Vice President Camila Pelsinger ’20, a lead peer educator in the Sexual Assault Peer Education program, co-facilitated the workshop in her capacity as a peer educator alongside SHARE Advocate Alana Sacks.

“We replaced our general body meeting with a workshop because we saw a need in community members to have a workshop on this kind of information given recent events in national discourse and in the political sphere,” Pelsinger said.

The workshop featured tips for supporting survivors, which included cautioning against saying “I believe you” when someone divulges information about their experience with sexual violence. Instead, it is more appropriate to “thank them for sharing that with you,” Pelsinger said. “If I were to come up to you and say, ‘someone just hit me with their car,’ you would never think to say ‘I believe you,’ and the same should be true of sexual violence,” she added, “Unfortunately, we all know that that’s not true.”

Ahead of tonight’s workshop, UCS President Shanzé Tahir ’19 sent an email to the undergraduate student body, co-signed by Pelsinger, to acknowledge “that this week has been difficult and painful, particularly for those who are survivors of sexual violence. … We want to publicly affirm the stories and accounts of survivors, and the urgency to not only believe them, but to support them,” they wrote.

“Offering people help, but never forcing help” is also deeply important, Pelsinger said during the workshop. “In instances of violence and harm of this nature, someone’s agency is taken from them, and so when we’re providing resources and we’re providing support, we want to make sure that we reaffirm that individual’s agency and make sure not to accidentally try to pressure them into doing something.”

Sacks and Pelsinger also asked those in attendance to consider society’s idea of an “ideal” or “believable” victim of sexual violence, along with characteristics that fall outside of this category by writing words down on Post-It Notes.

Those present suggested “white,” “wealthy,” “well-educated”  and “sober” as some terms that fit in society’s “good victim” category, and  “revealing clothing,” “undocumented,” and “(person of color)” as terms that are typically excluded.

Sacks emphasized the importance of thinking about how we talk about victims’ accounts of their experiences.

“If I’m someone who’s saying ‘oh, but she was such a credible witness,’ or … ‘they presented so well,’ … there is a way that it can be unintentionally invalidating to so many people, most people” whose experiences fall outside of society’s perception of a credible victim, Sacks said.

Sacks and Pelsinger also answered questions submitted anonymously by those in attendance.

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