The Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center will offer a six-week support group for undergraduate victims of sexual assault later this month.
The group, intended for students who have had personal experiences with sexual assault, will meet weekly in the SHARE offices for six 75-minute sessions beginning at the end of January. SHARE’s support groups, which have previously been held only at student request, have received positive feedback in previous years, said SHARE Director Carole Goldberg. The new undergraduate support group, which will be held annually, is the first attempt to provide a regularly scheduled program open to all undergraduate students, she said.
“These groups are meant to provide a confidential and supportive setting for students to process their experiences,” Goldberg said.
Jennifer Czincz, assistant director of the SHARE Center, said the support groups will be led by herself and Goldberg, who are both licensed psychologists. The meetings will not have a set agenda or format, and the main goal will be providing a safe space for victims to share their experiences, Goldberg said.
Like all SHARE programs, group meetings will be confidential, Goldberg said, and all sexual assault information disclosed will not be reported to any outside party.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90 said the new support group program is intended to be part of a larger effort by SHARE to become a more visible presence on campus.
“Survivor support groups are very valuable because being sexually assaulted can often be a very isolating experience,” Boyd said. “Being able to come together and explore both the commonalities and differences of their experiences is an incredibly powerful thing.”
A similar support group for graduate and professional students was started last spring and will be held again this year, Goldberg said. Last year, the SHARE center received a greater number of calls and visits from graduate and professional school students than undergraduates — 24 of the calls and visits were from undergraduate students, while 32 were from graduate and professional school students, according to the SHARE Center’s 2011–’12 annual report.
Alysha Warren, the sexual violence resource coordinator at Wesleyan University, said Wesleyan started a sexual assault support group in 2011 that received positive feedback through informal surveys. Peer support groups offer an ongoing connection that cannot be found with other sexual assault resources, she said.
Sexual violence most often occurs in secrecy, leading victims to disengage themselves from their community, said Joan Tabachnick SOM ’86, author of “Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention.” But research has shown that group meetings can help victims of sexual assault move past the solitude they experience afterwards, she said.
Tabachnick said she thinks the SHARE Center will find it challenging to ensure anonymity for participants in the support groups because of Yale’s small student body and limited number of meeting spaces.
“People might be embarrassed about whether they are seen walking into this office or this group,” Tabachnick said. “Even though Yale is a large university, it’s still kind of a small community.”
A starting date for the support groups has not yet been set.