UPUA conducted a panel discussion hosted by Blue & White Society which served as the kickoff for Sexual Violence and Prevention Week. The event took place at 6 p.m. Thursday at Penn State’s Hintz Family Alumni Center and featured four speakers — each guest aimed to facilitate community-wide discussion on the topic of sexual violence.
Penn State alumna and “Only With Consent” founder Jasmin Enriquez began the discussion by speaking about her own personal story with sexual assault, as well as her desire to change the way the community handles such issues. After feeling alone as a result of a traumatic experience during her freshman year at Penn State, she knew she wanted to figure out a way to create awareness on a wider basis. She has now made it her to goal ensure both students and faculty around the country openly acknowledge the issue of sexual violence and are ready to speak up about it.
“I felt like the university at the time didn’t have my back, and I wanted to do something to make sure that people didn’t feel the same way I did,” Enriquez said.
John Broderick, a representative from Men Against Violence, acknowledged that students often aren’t aware sexual violence is even a common problem until they hear specific stories after the incident has already happened. While most students do naturally wish to aid the community around them, they don’t necessarily know the proper way to get there.
“I think a lot of people do want to help out,” Broderick said. “But they’re just kind of misguided and don’t really know how they can be part of the change to help out the university.”
According to Title IX Coordinator Paul Acipella, a common issue is that people often aren’t able to recognize the immensity of sexual violence until someone else puts an official label on it for them. While a person might have felt uncomfortable with an incident that happened to them, they may not have known it was enough of a problem for them to reach out and seek help. In this sense, there’s an arguably long way to go when it comes to making people fully aware of the incidents that occur around them on a daily basis. Officials such as Apicella consistently work to come up with a plan for increased student involvement.
“We’re always trying to think of new ways to get out and engage our students, engage our community, find new ways to raise awareness, and to get the word out,” Apicella said.
While there’s still a lot of work to do, Enriquez said she has seen more recognition of sexual violence in the news on a daily basis — a promising base for tackling the issue completely. Through creating her own network of passionate individuals, Enriquez also strives to create a more collective front when it comes to discussion on the topic. And when it comes to talking about sexual violence, simply listening is perhaps the most important component of the conversation. For her, having even one person whom she could rely on her throughout her journey made the ultimate difference.
“Any time we do talk to Only With Consent, there are people that come up to my partner and me and say ‘I had no idea, your situation is very similar to mine and I had no idea there was even a name,'” Enriquez said. “And so for me, what I find really important is going into those conversations with the intention of actually listening and making them feel safe and heard.”
What often prevents those effected from feeling safe in the first place is a hesitation to bring up what happened, even to close family and friends. Acipella acknowledged the immense degree of humiliation that often accompanies a sexual violence case — for this reason alone, victims may refrain from speaking about an incident or seeking help. Thus, a crucial part of generating awareness of the problem revolves around making the topic easier to talk about no matter what it takes.
“What’s most important is that we do create spaces and opportunities to have those conversations with people,” Acipella said.
According to Erin Farley, programming coordinator for Penn State’s Center for Women Students, having a crucial conversation can be as simple as bringing up the topic to a close family member or friend. Attending a panel discussion, watching a Netflix documentary, or setting aside a few minutes to attend one event on campus are also easy ways to increase one’s knowledge about sexual violence.
“All of these things might seem small, but you never know if there’s someone in your life that’s just been waiting for someone to bring that up,” Farley said.