Penn State Intercom......April 11, 2002

University community
to Take Back the Night

By Julie A. Brink
Public Information
manfredo

The University community will come together to remember victims of sexual assault during the annual Take Back the Night rally and march at 6 p.m. April 17 in front of Old Main on the University Park campus. The event is being held in observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Jan Jacobs, vice president for administration, will offer remarks. Representatives of the Centre County Women's Resource Center, the Center for Women Students and a student assault survivor also will speak during the rally, which will be followed by a march through the campus and the community.

Each year about 100 students report to Health Services or others that they are the victims of sexual assault, according to Margaret Lorah, interim director of the Center for Women Students. But, that's just the tip of the iceberg, she said. According to national statistics, fewer than 1 in 10 will tell someone about their assault. Lorah believes the University reflects those national statistics and that a more accurate figure for University Park is 1,000 assaults per year.

To increase awareness, members of Womyn's Concerns, Center for Women Students, Men Stopping Rape, Centre County Women's Resource Center and PHREE (Peers Helping Reaffirm Educate and Empower) have placed banners at the HUB-Robeson Center asking male students to sign a commitment pledge stating they will not condone, nor remain silent about sexual assaults. Among them will be a banner signed by all 60 members of the Arnold Air Society squadron, a service organization of the ROTC.

"Our group plans to march with it," according to Sean Chuplis, project leader.

Last year between 500 and 600 people took part in the Take Back the Night activities. Laurie Rosenberger, co-director of Womyn's Concerns, would like to see many more people come out for this year's activities.

"The rally is really important because we get a lot of information out there," she said. "But the most powerful part for me has been the march and the stops and hearing person after person come out and tell their story."

After the opening remarks, marchers wind through the campus and borough stopping at various sites where sexual assaults have occurred. At this point, men are invited to leave the march and participate in a group discussion. The women then form supportive circles and sexual assault victims talk about their experiences.

"For a lot of people it's the first time they've ever told anybody," Rosenberger said.

"To see all these people come out and tell what happened to them is a transformative experience," she continued, "especially for people who aren't survivors to realize the enormity of the problem."

The University is serious about preventing sexual assaults through education. Margaret Spear, director of University Health Services, heads a town-gown committee, the Coalition Against Relationship and Sexual Violence, that has oversight of policies, protocols and practices with regard to the University. The coalition represents the breadth of the University -- residence life, University Police, athletics, University Health Services, Judicial Affairs, Center for Women Students, as well as students. It includes two members of the Centre County Women's Resource Center.

"There's work going on both sides of College Avenue," Spear said.

The coalition describes itself as an umbrella group for many of the University efforts related to sexual assault awareness. It rewrote the protocols for dealing with sexual assault on campus and helped write the proposal for a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. That grant, awarded in 2000, for the amount of $451,409, has helped fund a number of initiatives aimed at training and education.

Among them:

* the addition of sexual assault counselor in Counseling and Psychological Services in Ritenour Building;

* a training curriculum developed for all judicial affairs employees at all campuses. Beginning this spring all hearing officers will take one day of intensive training.

* training on sexual assault for campus police;

* training for student affairs staff and other staff on sexual assault, relationship and domestic violence, stalking and diversity issues;

* forensic exams using "rape kits" for victims on campus to preserve evidence that can be used in a legal setting; and

* working with issues of educating men about sexual assault.

Lorah said the mandate for this year is to work with underrepresented groups -- to develop a relationship with people of color, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual community, international students, transfer students and adult students.

Maureen Jones, project coordinator, sexual assault/domestic violence specialist, is involved in a number of education programs for students, faculty and staff to enhance awareness. From talking to students, she concurred that Lorah's estimate of about 1,000 assaults a year is right on target.

"It just really happens to so many women on campus -- men too -- but to a much larger extent to women," she said.

But, she added, the commitment of various departments around the University to collaborate on this issue has been very positive.

Jones is trying to get a new program off the ground. She'd like professors who have to cancel classes for conferences or other activities to contact her at the Center for Women Students and she'd send someone to the class to give a presentation on issues of violence against women. "Bring us in, we can have conversations about the issues," she said.

The coalition also collects anonymous data on sexual assault which they report annually. The information is taken by faculty/staff who interact with victims of sexual assault.

Spear and Lorah both noted that in the past couple of years there's been an increase in the percentage of students who are reporting what's happening to law enforcement.

"My guess is that's because in this community, law enforcement has invested significant resources in training police officers so that they understand crimes of sexual violence and are sensitive to victims," Spear said.

Lorah said she sees the increase as progress because her work is about making a safe environment for students to come forward with their experiences.

"Education is an ongoing process," she said. "Since every year there's about 6,100 new students on campus, we have to continue to make students aware of what happens."

The coalition is in the process of applying to the Justice Department for another two-year grant to continue the work.


Julie Brink can be reached at jab81@psu.edu.

Back