Sexual Assault Awareness Week programs promote community

This week, Geneseo is observing Sexual Assault Awareness Week with programs provided by the Womyn’s Action Coalition, Geneseo Healthguards, the Sexual Assault Response Team and Pathways. This week not only focuses on supporting the victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence, but also on building a strong, supportive community that victims can consistently rely on. In order to achieve this goal, WAC and its partners organized workshops, speakers, films, discussion panels and a march.

On Tuesday April 22, a Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Deveolpment workshop titled, “Constructive Responses to Sexual Assault Disclosure” was held. The goal was to educate attendees on the best way to handle a situation where a victim is revealing their trauma, along with positive ways to support that person.

“It was a very informative workshop, with lists of responses that sexual assault victims have actually heard. We categorized them as positive and negative, what you should and shouldn’t say to someone who’s suffered a sexual assault. People walked away from it knowing not to stigmatize or victim-blame, so it was a real success,” WAC president senior Zoee Davidson said.

The workshop not only discussed emotional support strategies, but also more tangible ones, such as providing rides to the hospital or police station. Roughly 25 men and women attended and the workshop was also later held in Onondaga Hall.

The college hosted Dartmouth College associate professor of philosophy Dr. Susan Brison on Wednesday April 23.

“Brison is an amazing speaker, and she really emphasized the importance of not only baring witness to your own trauma, to survive, but also the importance of having a community able to hear you,” WAC Student Association Representative senior Emma Jean Liberman said.

According to Liberman, Brison talked about how sexual assault differs from other forms of violence in that it is often considered to be a much more private trauma, especially when compared to violence akin to mugging and theft. As such, it isn’t talked about and victims are expected to “move on and forget,” Liberman said.

“And what does that mean when you can’t forget or forgive in the narrative demanded of you? I think that’s a very important question for a campus community to think about. We have a single week to talk about this, but sexual assault happens every week,” she added.

Brison’s speech drew attention to the importance of community support, a common theme of Sexual Assault Awareness Week.

“We need to be a community with each other and more supportive. Victims belong to our community, and so do perpetrators of sexual assault. People just don’t drive into Geneseo to be violent,” Davidson said.

“Just because you aren’t perpetuating the crime itself doesn’t mean that you aren’t contributing to the culture of gender-based violence,” Liberman said.

Liberman and Davidson agreed that Brison was very successful in enlightening people about their “ownership of the culture.”

Starting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday April 23, the organizations screened the documentary Brave Miss World. The film chronicles the events surrounding the sexual assault of 1998 Miss World Linor Abargil and how she used her platform to raise awareness. A discussion panel of students, faculty and administration followed.

WAC’s major event for the week, the Take Back the Night walk, will be on Thursday April 24 at 5:30 p.m. in Sturges Quad. Take Back the Night is a rally and march that puts emphasis on the “voices of survivors, their agency and control over their narrative,” according to Liberman.

“We start out with an open floor for anyone to tell their story. So that people know what there is support and people around that will listen to them. And we have a minute of silence to think about those who can’t speak out,” she said.

To finish out the week, WAC is doing a “clothesline project,” which allows individuals to write messages of support on scraps of fabric as a “tangible, in-your-face way of letting people know it happens,” Liberman said.

“It’s sexual assault awareness week and victims know they’ve been assaulted. So it’s important to build a community that knows that it happens – that knows that it happens here. And really, that we have a responsibility to support victims of sexual assault,” Davidson said. “To support survivors is to teach people how to support.”