Creating a New Culture
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 01:03
“The naming issue of outing the person who’s doing this to you has far more drastic consequences in the community than I think it would in a heterosexual context,” she said.
According to Subbaraman, LGBTQ students also struggle with an overall acceptance of their relationships by the campus at large, an issue that makes it more difficult to speak out about their problems.
“For gay people in a healthy relationship even, there are very few people I can go talk to when I have an ordinary problem, because my relationship is invisible,” she said. “Our relationships are seen as invisible to people. They are not valued. They are not normal. They’re not seen as therefore having the same validity. That is the real issue.”
While the LGBTQ Resource Center does not have its own resources to address sexual assault, Subbaraman turns students who come to her with cases of sexual violence to the university’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services, and particularly Schweer. According to Subbaraman, sexual assault may go overlooked in the LGBTQ community, but its manifestations are the same as in heterosexual relationships.
“I think the consequences are different, but I don’t think the violence looks any different,” she said.
HOW TO DEAL
Discussions about sexual assault and its prevention generally gravitate toward gender roles, relationship violence and appeals to protect one’s mothers, sisters and female friends. However, Verghese defines his interest in promoting sexual assault awareness through the lens of his Catholic background, which mandates that he recognize every individual’s dignity.
“At the heart of a sexual assault is a man or a woman not recognizing the victim’s dignity,” he said. “When that dignity is ignored, that’s when the … selfish motivations come into play.”
Yet the importance of preventing sexual violence is more than a principle of faith to Verghese, a member of the Knights of Columbus. He said he personally knows students who have been sexually assaulted for whom that experience became a significant part of their Georgetown experiences.
“It’s not only this abstract idea of the glory of God being backtracked. I can tangibly feel the negative effects of sexual assault on campus,” he said.
Based on this perspective, Verghese believes that sexual assault awareness and prevention are most effectively executed on an intimate, person-to-person level.
In line with that thinking, Georgetown created the position of sexual assault and health issues coordinator, housed in Health Education Services, in 1999. The position is designed to provide a direct response to survivors and the promotion of personal education and outreach. Today, Schweer, the coordinator, meets with those who have been assaulted to offer advice on seeking justice through on-campus and legal channels. She also follows up on medical care, offers assistance related to housing and academic concerns and counsels the friends and significant others of survivors.
However, Schweer also works on the institutional level to promote awareness education, training and policy work regarding sexual assault on campus, in collaboration with HES, CAPS, the university’s Sexual Assault Working Group and the Women’s Center, which was founded in 1990 in order to address specifically sexual assault and harassment on campus.
In recent years, these partnerships, especially the working group, have made significant impacts. It has effected a more redefinition of sexual assault in the Code of Student Conduct that uses the term “survivor” as opposed to “victim.” It also led the initiative to bring the sexual assault and relationship violence liaison position to the Law Center and ensured that Georgetown complies with federal regulations on sexual assault.
Along with these initiatives, the university has institutionalized RU Ready and its related sexual assault peer educators, which train students that work with on-campus organizations and residence hall floors on how to hold discussions about sexual assault prevention.
But for all of this progress, there is debate over how effective these programs are in the immediate term, mainly because they are largelly geared toward those who are already familiar with sexual assault resources on campus.
“The people inviting those groups in are not the people that need to hear it,” Frank said.
In order to further address the problem of sexual assault at Georgetown on a wider scale, former GUSA President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) and Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13) created their own Sexual Assault Working Group in November 2012.
Separate from the working group that exists under the official purview of the university and that meets once or twice a year, this version is composed entirely of students who meet every one or two weeks to brainstorm how the university can better prevent sexual assault on campus and raise awareness of the resources available to survivors.
“Our goal would be not to eliminate sexual assault, because I don’t think that’s possible, but to get to the point that everyone that’s part of our Georgetown community understands all of the different dynamics that play into it, and that everyone is capable being a supporter, everyone is capable of not stereotyping, not victim-blaming, not using words that are hurtful and perpetuate these problems,” Frank said.
One major project currently under development is the incorporation of a discussion-based sexual assault education program in New Student Orientation, which would be led by specially trained student facilitators. The goal, Frank says, would largely be to eliminate a dominant culture that jokes about sexual assault all too carelessly.
“People learn from day one that it’s OK to make jokes about rape, that it’s OK to sexually coerce people — particularly freshman women — and there’s also a lot of pressure to be sexually active and to partake in drinking and other behaviors,” Frank said. “I think that there are a lot of really awful things that get said and that people believe, and there’s no one … checking that right now.”