Sexual Assault Awareness Week confronts ignorance

By Heejin Kim

For students who think they are safe from sexual assault here at the University, members of one campus group have a rude awakening: “People at the U of C tend to think that they are immune to this kind of problem or they are in a safe little bubble that can protect them no matter what, but that is not the case here,” Rebekah Cohen, program coordinator for Resources for Sexual Violence and Prevention (RSVP), said.

From November 12 to 22, RSVP is sponsoring “Sexual Assault Awareness Week” to provide an opportunity for all people on campus to become more aware of—and to better defend themselves against—sexual assaults.

“Sexual Assault Awareness Week” is an annual, nationwide event at U.S. colleges, and RSVP started the event on the Chicago campus five years ago. This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week is composed of five events, including talks, a clothesline project, and self-defense classes.

According to studies by the National Victim Center, 38 percent of women in U.S. colleges reported that they have been sexually victimized in ways that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape. Although there are no statistics available about rapes on the Chicago campus, RSVP members said this nationwide statistic shows that the U of C campus is not exempt from rapes. Acquaintance rape accounts for 80 percent of all sexual assaults, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“Sexual Assault Awareness Week” began with “Kobe and Beyond: A look at sexual assault, race and the media,” a talk by Salamishah Tillet, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard. About 60 students, staff members, and community members came to the event, which was held at the Center for Gender Studies, to hear Tillet discuss how attitudes and institutions shape the way rape is dealt with in communities of color.

RSVP peer education coordinator Malika Anand recalled that “the speaker outlined how this particular case of Kobe Bryant, who is a black man and a successful athlete, is relevant to many significant issues around our communities representing different genders, races, and social statuses.” The talk attracted attention from people of different backgrounds and gave them a chance to ponder once again the serious and often overlooked issue of sexual assault.

On Tuesday, RSVP and the University Community Service Center (UCSC) offered self-defense classes at Ratner to teach self-defense techniques.

Self-defense classes offered this year received an overwhelming number of e-mails from students expressing interest. The classes did not teach high-level, fancy martial arts to knock down attackers with knives. Instead, they imparted basic skills useful in escaping unexpected danger. The classes incorporated basic tactics and necessary knowledge of self-defense to help people prevent possible accidents and feel more secure.

“Clothesline Project” took place at the Reynolds Club market place throughout the week. It displayed shirts designed by survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Many of the shirts had hopeful messages with drawings of people hand in hand and smiley faces. On Friday, there will be a “Creative Forum for Survivors of Sexual Violence” for survivors of sexual violence and students to create T-shirts with their own messages.

RSVP organizers said this year’s outcome was successful, and hoped it would educate more people on campus. “I am very excited that we achieved the best visual awareness campaign this year by influencing a lot of people, and I hope this awareness and interest from people continues with our ‘sex, cookies, and communication’ programs and many other events,” Rahul Sharma, director of RSVP, said.