Multimedia reporting by Jamie Snover
April marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and many different organizations have joined together for the cause, including the Department of Health Promotion, SPARKS peer education, Elon Feminists, I Am That Girl, the Iota Psi chapter of Alpha Chi Omega Sorority, One Love, CrossRoads Sexual Assault Response & Resource Center and Family Abuse Services.
More than 10 events have been scheduled throughout the month in hopes of promoting awareness among the Elon community.
SPARKS peer educator sophomore Betsy Albritton believes this month is incredibly important to the awareness and understanding in the community. SPARKS is an organization of peer educators who provide a bridge between the university and student body to talk to and support victims of sexual assault and violence.
“Every year we have 25 percent [of the] new students coming in, a whole group who might not necessarily know this information, so it’s a constant job that we do [at SPARKS],” Albritton said. “I think it’s so important to make sure there is an open dialogue about it so that people understand they are not alone and that this does happen and that Elon as a community is very inclusive and understanding.”
Sophomore, Sparks peer educator
Faculty advisor to SGA, Jana Lynn Patterson and SGA have been discussing the safety of the Elon community this past year as they have been analyzing the results of the climate survey they conducted last spring. In the survey, students were asked many questions that related to their awareness and experiences regarding sexual assault and domestic violence. From this survey, several pieces of important information surfaced.
“Almost all students responded that they felt safe on campus and that they felt like we [other students, faculty or staff] cared about their welfare,” Patterson said.
The campus climate survey also revealed students felt more comfortable engaging in conversations about sexual assault and domestic violence, something she believes is a result of the summer program, Haven, required as an online course for incoming Elon University students.
But even with Haven in place, problems remain.
“[About] half our respondents said that they felt like if they reported it [acts of sexual assault and violence] that there would be some kind of retaliation by the respondent or their friends,” Patterson said. “We also found that some students chose not to report because they didn’t think it was serious enough to report.”
These ideas, Patterson thinks, contribute to the stigma that reporting acts of sexual assault and violence can lead to social isolation by the community. She hopes to change the narrative and help people understand the amount of courage it takes for someone to file a report.
As a victim who has experienced what it’s like to report a stalking episode, junior and director of SPARKS’ ‘Take Back the Night’, Shay Friedman felt badly for the person, who remains unidentified, that stalked and “catfished” her (a word used to describe a person who poses as someone else on internet websites, specifically social media).
“Something that I think survivors struggle with — and we talked about this at the Town Hall — is the process of punishment,” Friedman said. “When I found out that I had been catfished, my first thought was almost pity for this person.” Despite everything she had been through, Friedman didn’t want the person who had caused her harm to get expelled or shunned, but simply to receive help.
Coordinator for Violence Response Felicia Cenca believes in the resources Elon has to offer in relation to sexual assault and domestic violence issues. Bu the awareness of those resources among the student body could be better.
Elon, with partnership from the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has received the Domestic Violence Prevention Enhancements and Leadership Through Alliances (DELTA) focus grant to hold a workshop on campus centered around awareness. This workshop is scheduled for Wednesday April 12 and has been divided into two sessions, one for faculty and staff and the other for students.
For students, the workshop is “focused on how we can incite students who are passionate about this kind of work… and how we can help them direct their energy and move them into action and thinking more broadly about cultural shift and cultural change,” Cenca said. “Sparking that ownership of ‘I can be change agent’ on this campus and here are some tactics to do that.”