Sexual assault panel inspires discussion

Deanna Crusco

Boys. Frats. One-night stands. Thirsty. STDs. Random. When an audience of students was asked to text in words that represent the hook up

culture at the University, these phrases flashed before their eyes, representing the reality that seems to exist right here on campus. Some students were laughing; some were surprised. But others were solemnly quiet, all too familiar with a situation that has become normalized for members of our generation.

On Wednesday, Sept. 26 in the Connelly Cinema, the Gender and Women’s Studies Department teamed up with Villanovans for Sexual Violence

Awareness to discuss a topic that often gets swept under the rug; sexual assault on college campuses. 

Kayla Cooke, the President of SVA, introduced three panelists who offered their ideas and advice to students pertaining to the topic of

sexual abuse. 

The first speaker, Diane Moyer, is the legal director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, founded in 1975. The coalition has a network of 51 crises programs that provide services to every county in Pennsylvania. The mission of PCAR is to advocate for the rights and needs of the victims of sexual assault. Moyer has appeared on PBS, in the Washington Post and The Weekly Reader.

Moyer, a lawyer and lobbyist, came to the University to shed some light on the recent White House report entitled “Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.”

Moyer noted that she is skeptical of Congress’s recent interest in the topic of sexual assault when “we’ve always known the highest risk factor for victimization is being a freshman in college.” 

However, many victims of rape or sexual assault simply don’t report their experiences. Moyer mentioned some statistics that while shocking

are true. The conviction rate for rape cases is two to three percent in the United States. Eighty percent of sexual assaults are committed under the influence of alcohol. Moyer urged students to tell someone if they have experienced or been the victim of such a crime.  She recommended that if you do not feel comfortable talking about sexual assault to someone on campus, to contact one of the rape crisis centers in the county.

Moyer encouraged students to tell their stories to anyone they feel comfortable with. 

“Tell someone,” she said. “That is the most important thing. Silence is what is keeping rape alive in America.”

Regardless of the reporting guidelines, the White House reports or any other authoritative note on rape, Moyer affirmed that “you are the ones that will change the culture. Peer education will change the culture.”

“We know the effectiveness of peer-to-peer teaching of these issues,” Moyer said, “and it is the way to change hearts and minds. I’m in the business of changing hearts and minds.” 

Moyer continued her discussion by commenting on the social norms that have existed since she was younger and still exist today.  The use of terms like slut and whore have become so normalized and accepted in society that young adults often do not think twice before using these terms to offend another person.

But the deep internal pains these words can cause a person are unimaginable. Once again, Moyer stated that we have the ability to undo the social norms that have pervaded our society for too long.

The second speaker, Theodora Sakellarides, graduated from the University with a Masters in English and spent time as a graduate assistant within the Gender and Women Studies Department. As a graduate assistant, Sakellarides sat in on focus groups with students, and discussed several issues that often related to female sexuality and the representation of women in the media.

Sakellarides noted that when she met with students in order to discuss women in the media or women in the workforce, she was surprised at how

often sexual assault on this campus was brought up.

“Students were very concerned with the way music videos and movies degrade women and reduce women to only their sexuality,” Sakellarides

said. “I was particularly surprised to hear about some of the very sad facets of this hook-up culture. Women talking about how they know that men have rituals at parties and compete with how many women they can touch or how many sexual interactions that they can acquire throughout

one weekend of partying.”

Though the majority of University students remark about how community-oriented this campus is, it was enlightening for the audience to hear that these issues are not only happening on a national scale, but right here in the bubble where we often feel so safe

With Halloween coming up, Sakellarides noted that many female participants described the pressures they feel within their own communities to engage in certain activities or wear certain costumes because their personal community condones it, whether that is a sorority, athletic team or any other group on campus.

As the Director of Health Promotion at the University, Stacey Andes finished the discussion by describing all of the outlets that are

available for students seeking help on campus. 

She is the head of SARC at the University and believes that the team approach to providing support to students who’ve experienced sexual violence is a direct expression of the University’s commitment to caritas. She believes that all students should be treated with dignity, respect, compassion and hopes the SARC team approach will let students know that they believe responding to sexual violence is a community responsibility.

“Villanova is not immune to this issue,” Andes says. “The reality is that sexual violence is here, it happens here…and I think its’

important to be talking openly and honestly with one another.” 

Unitas, veritas, caritas. That is the motto of this University. It is not a motto that disappears when someone suffers or feels alone. It is constantly around us, filling the air we breathe. As students of this University, it is our job to ensure that this motto is fulfilled in every circumstance, no matter how uncomfortable or sensitive the subject.

“I would like to challenge you as students to not just think of yourselves as a member of the community when it’s easy to be a part of the community,” Andes says, “but think about yourselves as part of the community in those moments that it’s really difficult, when you’re not comfortable with something that is being said, when you’re not comfortable with seeing something you know is not right.” 

It is in these moments where we must take action. Say something, call someone, tell your story. The power to ignite change lies within us all.