Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" has become a Valentine's Day tradition on Elon University's campus after three years in Whitley Auditorium, to the delight of students who return every year as part of the cast and the audience. The true stories of women celebrating their sexuality in edgy, visceral and often humorous monologues are a clear source of the play's endurance.
But it isn't just the laughs and edgy subject matter that should keep Elon students coming back each year — and they should come, all of them.
According to the 2014 Elon University Annual Security Report (the latest report currently available), four cases of sexual assault and three cases of stalking were reported during the calendar year, while no cases of domestic or dating violence were reported. These numbers seem low, especially in comparison to the 520 alcohol referrals reported in the same year.
Junior Emily Collins, director of "The Vagina Monologues" for the 2016 cast, said unrealistic statistics like these are "very shocking" but offers a reason why the percentage of incidents that get reported is so low.
"I think often it's seen as embarrassing, shameful to report," she said. "Either the woman or the man, whoever was sexually or domestically violated, is blamed for the act in some ways, and I think that really prevents people from going ahead and reporting."
Victims of sexual violence are often discouraged from coming forward for those reasons and others, though Elon provides a number of resources for victims and bystanders of sexual harassment or assault.
For violence response, SAFEline, a confidential support line, is available 24/7 at 336-278-3333. According to Elon's website, SAFEline connects callers to a "confidential campus advocate" who can provide options, resources and support. The advocate can stay in touch throughout any action the caller decides to take, over the phone or in person, if the caller wishes.
SAFEline is just one of many resources Elon offers for victims of sexual assault. You can read about these other resources, including counseling services and SPARKS presentations, on Elon's website for Sexual and Relationship Violence Awareness and Response.
These resources may seem endless, but that's not the point. SPARKS can offer sessions every week, and the university can set up as many hotlines as there are 336-278 numbers, but it's up to Elon's student body to do something about sexual violence if we want to see a change. And that's what Collins wants audience members to take away from "The Vagina Monologues" this Valentine's Day.
"[Portraying sexual violence] is very hard and heartbreaking, and it's awful, and it can get you angry, but use this monologue as a way to fight for justice and to bring it to the attention of others," she said. "This is happening, and this is what needs to stop. It's not to cause pity, it's to cause people to want to change it and do something about it."
Students have to acknowledge that sexual assault does happen on Elon's campus, almost definitely more often than is reported. And the responsibility falls on students to encourage conversations around these topics and to act as active bystanders in cases of sexual violence.
At its core, "The Vagina Monologues" is about empowerment. Students should make it a priority to attend the show and then leave Whitley Auditorium feeling empowered to bring the less-than-pleasant lessons with them into their community; to work toward changing the culture that shames victims out of reporting. Opening conversations sparked by the personal stories of "The Vagina Monologues" is a great place to start.
"I hope that our environment around campus will become a healthier one in terms of women getting up to talk to each other about [sexual violence], to not feel as hesitant or ashamed to bring it up in conversation," Collins said. "And then, therefore, if there are incidents of it, they will be reported, and something will be done about it. The conversations can lead to confidence."