Self-defense training, information sessions and a screening of “Thelma and Louise” will mark this year’s Rape Awareness Week, a program organizers hope will help prevent sexual assault on campus.
Organized by CONSENT, Yale’s peer hotline for sexual assault and harassment issues, Rape Awareness Week is designed to stimulate conversation about issues related to rape and other forms of sexual abuse, organizers said. The events are intended to educate students on how to deal with friends who are victims of sexual assault, defend themselves against sexual assault, and take action if sexually assaulted or harassed.
“Our main goal is just to stimulate discussion on campus because rape is not something that is normally discussed,” said Christina Merola ’04, Rape Awareness Week co-coordinator.
Members of CONSENT are not permitted to release the number of calls the hotline receives but said it exists for a reason. Similarly, Yale does not release on-campus rape statistics for privacy reasons. The lack of relevant information Yale students have relating to the presence of sexual abuse on campus makes Rape Awareness Week even more important, Merola said.
The week’s events are meant to attract men and women of all comfort levels regarding rape by holding both an intense forum and a less intimidating movie screening, Merola said.
Merola said breaking the silence surrounding sexual assault and harassment issues on campus is central to increasing the safety level at Yale for victims and potential targets.
“By stimulating discussion, we hope to make the survivors feel more comfortable and to improve the safety on campus for all potential victims,” she said.
In a training session on Monday night, Merola taught an intimate group of students skills that counselors use when dealing with sexual assault victims. Restoring control to the victim is most important, she said, because a rape victim has been violated and stripped of this control.
When speaking with a friend about his or her assault, a counselor should be supportive, stable, sincere and calm, Merola told students at the training session. She explained the importance of not passing judgment. Merola also suggested that counselors be aware of the options a rape victim has to report the assault, and urge victims to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and find professional support.
Students at the training session said rape and sexual assault are not topics of frequent discussion, but are present at Yale, especially during weekend activities.
“I think that alcohol plays a big part in things that happen here,” Claire Conly ’05 said.
Conly said the shroud of silence surrounding rapes has led to increased tolerance of sexual abuse, especially on the part of men. She said the University needs more mandatory forums and discussions about sexual harassment.
“I think it’s a much bigger problem on campus than people are willing to admit,” she said.
Merola said she hopes Rape Awareness Week will cause more students to recognize the seriousness of sexual abuse and the importance of rape prevention. The campaign for rape awareness will create a safer Yale, she said.
“The biggest problem is that people don’t talk about it,” Merola said. “And that’s why rape awareness week is so important.”