University Recognizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Caitlyn Foley, Staff Writer

The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and there are several events hosted at the University that foster conversations about prevention and response to sexual violence. 


Ryan Rost is Villanova’s Title IX Coordinator. She transitioned to this position from Assistant Dean of Students in 2015. 


The goal of the Title IX Coordinator is to try “to help our students in what is one of the most difficult time of their lives,” Rost said.


Rost noted that this transition into the Title IX Coordinator position was natural for her career. The administration and faculty members felt strongly that this should be a stand-alone position instead of an additional aspect of the Assistant Vice President of Human Resources. When discussing her Title IX position and the conversations she facilitates, Rost emphasized that she always discusses sexual misconduct prevention in addition to response. 


“Prevention always comes first,” Rost said. “What can and should we as students, staff, faculty and administrators be doing to prevent this type of harm from happening.” 


The Office of Health Promotion trains students, faculty and other members of the University community to help in these prevention efforts. This training goes beyond the obvious message of ‘don’t rape’ and discusses warning signs of potentially harmful situations. 


Rost highlighted the importance of looking at our campus culture while working towards sexual assault prevention. Although the administration should be and is working towards doing more, responsibility must also be put back on the students. How the students of Villanova work towards creating a respectful culture on campus can impact the way sexual assault is prevented. 


“What are people doing in a setting where harm could happen, where there is emotional abuse and disrespectful language being used about a particular gender, gender identity, race or differently abled group?” Rost said.


In those situations of disrespectful language, bystanders should keep people in check with the way they talk about others. Vulgar language can normalize violent behavior. The student body must work towards creating a healthy culture where this type of verbal violence does not occur.  This helps with the prevention efforts that Rost and the Office of Health Promotion work towards.  


While prevention always comes first, the question of how to respond after sexual violence has occurred is another equally as important topic. A crucial moment occurs when a survivor of sexual assault comes forward to a friend or fellow student and shares their experience. Many listeners worry about how to support their friend in this time of healing and struggle. 


“We must focus on listening to the person and believing the person and then respecting whatever their choices are with regard to moving forward with any next steps,” Rost said. 


It is important to reassure a survivor that it is never too late to seek help. Resources like the Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator (SARC) team are available 24/7 to help. These assaults and acts of violence can have lasting impacts. It is crucial that friends and listeners believe and support the victim in their healing process. 


If a survivor decides they want to take legal action, friends should support them. Legal action can include a formal investigation and hearing, which can attract attention that many survivors want to avoid. This causes a lot of victims to stay silent and tell no one.


Supporters and listeners must “never force anyone to report or go through disciplinary action,” Rost said. “Other supportive measures can be put in place.”


Non-legal action can include filing a no contact order against the other party. This is also non-disciplinary but allows the survivor to file a complaint against someone they might not want to hear from. Counseling is another potentially helpful tool in that path to healing. Although going to counseling forces the survivors to talk and think about their assault, consistently seeing a counselor that one feels comfortable talking to can be extremely beneficial for mental health and healing. 


Resources of support can also be found in groups on campus. Survivors Supporting Survivors, which was founded by Ariana Ramos and Olivia Pfeiffer, is a group that works to make survivors feel less isolated and have a community of people who understand exactly what they are going through. 


“So much healing can be had in sharing,” Pfeiffer said.


Ramos and Pfeiffer emphasize that this group is not a substitute for therapy or professional help. The goal of Survivors Supporting Survivors is to provide confidentiality and support in the healing process that takes place after sexual violence occurs. 


Ramos and Pfeiffer believe strongly in the importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the conversations that can be had when this topic is brought to the forefront of discussions. 


“It is everyone’s responsibility to join in on these conversations,” Ramos said.


Anyone can be a bystander. If someone chooses not to participate in these conversations, then they allow this issue of sexual violence to be accepted and normalized. Ramos, Pfeiffer and Rost all discussed the importance of listening to and believing survivors. Rost hopes that students decide to step out of their comfort zone and participate in one or more of the events that are being hosted this month. 


“It’s an uncomfortable topic, but it is a relevant and real issue on our campus and other campuses,” Rost said.


In the bystander moment film that is being screened on Wednesday, April 20, a powerful conversation about sexual violence and the importance of intervention occurs. 


“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept,” Lieutenant-General David Morrison said, Chief of the Australian Army, who makes an appearance in the film. 


If one wants to connect with the Survivors Supporting Survivors group or learn more about the conversation it facilitates, please contact Ramos ([email protected]) or Pfeiffer ([email protected]). They are just one of many resources that are available on Villanova’s campus for survivors of sexual violence. Please remember that you are not alone.