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Students stand up against sexual assault

Student groups band together to raise awareness of sexual assault throughout April

About 30 students from a variety of campus groups gathered in the back of Flatbread Company Monday evening in the name of a cause they plan to support with great energy this month — prevention and awareness of sexual assault.

The event was organized to kick off Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a video created by Health Services featuring students who shared their experiences with and strategies for preventing sexual assault on campus.

The seven-minute-long video shown at the event — produced by Bita Shooshani, Health Services’ coordinator of sexual assault prevention and advocacy, directed by Michael Rose ’13 and edited by Pom Bunsermvicha ’16 — aims to “inspire hope” by showing how simple it can be to prevent sexual assault through student stories, Shooshani said.

One student in the video explained a signal she uses with her friends at parties — a thumbs up or thumbs down. This lets peers know whether interactions are consensual. Another student recalled witnessing a potentially unsafe situation between two strangers at a party. Feeling uncomfortable, she informed the host of the party, asking for help intervening. “It’s really much more accessible” when the examples come from peers that people can connect with and familiar faces they may see around campus, Hannah Gribetz ’15, a sexual assault peer educator, told The Herald.

Many students featured in the video are part of the Sexual Assault Peer Education program, which trains students to give presentations about sexual assault to Greek houses, athletic teams and student groups. Though the planning and filming of the video took place a year ago, it launched yesterday to reflect and add to the energy surrounding this month’s events, Shooshani said. With the hours of extra footage from filming, Health Services and SAPE hope to create a second video next semester focusing on victims of sexual assault, Shooshani said. The video is intended to show how to support friends that are victims, make it safer for survivors to share their experiences, help victims access resources and “break the silence around sexual assault,” Shooshani said.

The video is just one of many efforts and events planned for April. Sex Week 2014, organized by the Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council, is hosting a number of discussions, panels and workshops surrounding the topic of safe sex and sexuality.

On Friday, SAPE and Brown Athletics are co-sponsoring Move For Respect, inviting people to do yoga, lunges and crunches to promote awareness about consent.

The Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse and the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center are sponsoring lectures, including one by David Lisak, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, to speak about male survivors of sexual abuse and victims of false reports of rape. A workshop at the end of the month featuring Aida Manduley ’11, the sexual health and relationships advocate at Sojourner House, will focus on intimate partner violence in LGBTQ relationships.

Stand Up!, a student group that discusses issues of sexual assault, will host the March Against Sexual Assault Saturday and a discussion on rape culture Sunday. Stand Up! aims to build a diverse coalition of student groups on campus to “bring out voices that aren’t normally included” in conversations about sexual assault, such as the LGBTQ community and students of color, said Emily Schell ’16, co-founder of Stand Up!. “It’s not that people don’t think (sexual assault) is an issue, but that there’s a pluralistic ignorance and people feel alone in acknowledging how important it is,” Schell said.

Many members of Stand Up! also belong to the Sexual Assault Policy Task Force, a group that aims to influence changes in the review of the Code of Student Conduct next semester. “There’s a lot of (issues) with the protocol” for dealing with cases of sexual assault, said Schell, a member of the task force. The lack of a pre-trial and transparency before a hearing, as well as a lack of clarity in the process of reporting sexual assault, discourages people from reporting, Schell said.

There is a need “not just for institutional change, but also a cultural change surrounding sexual assault,” said Kevin Carty ’15, a member of the task force and Stand Up! and former Herald opinions columnist, adding that additional support for victims’ advocacy and better methods of fact-finding are necessary to break down the barriers that lead to underreporting. “If I thought that just making the recommendations was what we needed to actually make a difference, I wouldn’t be a part of Stand Up!.”


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