Students Learn to Identify Signs of Sexual Assault

A sexual assault prevention program called Sex Signals was hosted by the Student Activities Board (SAB) and Catharsis Productions on Saturday, Feb. 8 to discuss the signs of sexual assault as well the presence of it on college campuses.

Sex Signals used an unconventional approach to tackle the serious issue of rape through the use of humor, improvisation and audience interaction. The event featured two actors from Catharsis Productions, who are trained in sexual violence prevention. Performers Christopher Beier and Amanda Moore started the conversation by engaging the audience and asking them about the factors that contribute to sexual harassment. Beier and Moore initially got the audience involved by asking about male and female stereotypes, but eventually switched gears.

Beier and Moore performed an improvised skit titled “Not My Fault,” which depicted Moore questioning Beier about an alleged rape he committed. Beier answered questions from Moore and the audience to clarify the situation and prove he was not at fault for the rape.

According to the University Guide for a Safe Campus Handbook, in 2013, there were two reported cases of sexual assault and one reported incident of sexual contact; however, there have been no cases reported so far in 2014.

William McElrath, the Chief of University Police (MUPD), said, “Sexual assault is a big issue on college campuses and society in general. I believe it is one of the most underreported crimes taking place. There is a strong culture of silence involving sexual assaults on campus.”

The most prevalent common denominators in sexual assaults on campus are alcohol and date rape drugs, according to McElrath. “Many of these incidents do take place after a party. I do not recall any sexual assaults involving students where an unknown suspect simply attacked a student and fled. All of our sexual assaults involved some sort of socialization process prior to the assault. The victim most often knew, or recently met, the perpetrator.”

“I think a lot of the time, its engrained in people that the way to stop rape is to make sure that you have your rape whistle and your mace, which is completely, completely backwards,” said Beier. “It baffles me sometimes how much our message needs to be heard, because I think it’s a pretty obvious message: to make sure the people you’re having sex with give consent, and, in addition, … to empower people to step in and call sexual assault perpetrators out.”

Because this event was primarily about the prevention of sexual assault, Heather Kelly, Assistant Director of Student Activities for Multicultural and Diversity Initiatives, said that the assumption might be made that the event would be a male bashing show; however, the event’s intention was not to pick on men, but to talk about stereotypes for both men and women, and to also talk about a lot of things that are not normally discussed.

According to Beier, the most important thing to do when having sex is to ask for consent. Consent is asking for permission for sexual activities to take place. Beier stressed that “you cannot receive consent from someone who has been drinking. They might not be fully conscious or not in their right state of mind, so to avoid being accused of taking advantage, avoid the situation.”

Moore believes that there are several reasons that prevent the victims of sexual assault to come forward, including the fear of becoming re-victimized by the criminal justice system or the media, the inability to recall the events due to drugs or alcohol, and the fear of judgment by friends, family and peers.

“Sexual assault is more of a problem than people think it is. Sexual assault is one of those problems that are hard to talk about…. but the positive thing is that this event allowed the campus to talk about it … making the campus a more friendly place for victims of sexual assault where they are welcomed and not blamed,” said Kelly.

The University has placed a great emphasis on educating students regarding the issue of sexual assaults. “Sex Signals, Take Back the Night, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, and Support Denim Day are all programs that the University holds to raise awareness for sexual assaults,” said McElrath. “Education of both male and female students is needed at all institutions. Everyone should be advised of what constitutes sexual assault, the causes of it, prevention of it, and the lifetime consequences for the victim, as well as the perpetrator.”

McElrath also provided preventative advice for women to avoid being a victim of sexual assault. He emphasized the importance of students being aware of self-defense techniques, the effects of alcohol on decision making and avoiding putting yourself in vulnerable situations by going to parties with people you trust and looking out for each other at all times.

Kevin Long, a junior, said he was very happy with the program, although it was not what he expected it to be. “There was a great combination of comedy and information which made the program interesting and exciting…. I do wish that more people came to the event because those who [are perpetrators] of sexual assault aren’t here and that’s unfortunate,” Long said.

Alicia Torello, a freshman SAB member who helped plan this event, said, “As long as this event spoke to at least one person and allows them to stand up against sexual assault, then the event was successful and did its job.”

In the event that you feel you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault on campus, you should report the incident to the MUPD. Police are trained on how to best respond to these situations and will place the interests of the victims first, including getting medical or psychological assistance. Victims are reminded that they ultimately control the direction of the situation. You can also refer to the student handbook to find the process the perpetrator is subject to if accused of sexual assault.