Students encouraged to examine realities of sexual violence

Sexual Assault Awareness Month events focus on promoting discussion and providing support for survivors

April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this year’s national theme is “It’s time to talk about it!” Portland State’s Women’s Resource Center, along with the support of other Portland organizations, will host a variety of events throughout the month that focus on different aspects of sexual violence with a particular emphasis of giving a voice to sexual assault survivors.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month events focus on promoting discussion and providing support for survivors

April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this year’s national theme is “It’s time to talk about it!” Portland State’s Women’s Resource Center, along with the support of other Portland organizations, will host a variety of events throughout the month that focus on different aspects of sexual violence with a particular emphasis of giving a voice to sexual assault survivors.

The topic of sexual assaults has been prominent in conversations at PSU since the string of sexual assaults that took place last December and January in the Academic and Student Rec Center and parking structures on and nearby PSU’s campus. However, these incidents do not necessarily reflect a rise in sexual assaults on campus, but rather a rise in publicized cases.

“The sexual assaults were unique in that they were perpetrated in public and were therefore discussed in public,” said Jessica Amo, assistant director of the Women’s Resource Center, in an email interview. “The IPV Program at the WRC knows that this actually does not represent an increase in incidents, but instead an increase in public awareness of this issue.”

Among college women, nine in ten victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender, according to statistics released by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in 2010. Of the college women who are sexually assaulted, only 12 percent will report it to law enforcement.

“We tend to talk about sexual violence as if it is most often perpetrated by strangers in public,” Amo, said. “While sexual violence does occur this way and is extremely scary when this happens (as in the case of the parking garage incidents), we know that statistically sexual violence is most often perpetrated by acquaintances in the private spaces of homes and parties.”

Amo explained that common reasons for survivors to decide against coming forward are “shame, self-blame, being afraid of being blamed by other people, feeling like they don’t have ‘proof,’ not wanting to have to talk in public about such a painful issue, fear of getting the other person ‘in trouble’ and not wanting ‘everyone to know,’” Amo said.

Although there are a small number of sexual assault cases covered in the media, acts of sexual violence are still frequently committed. According to a report funded by the Department of Justice in 2010, approximately one in five women who attend college will become the victim of rape or an attempted rape by the time she graduates.

Consent, with particular focus on how it relates to queer and transgender communities and identities, will be discussed in the “Queer Consent” workshop on April 17. Adrienne Graf of the WRC and Kirsten Keith of the QRC will facilitate the event, which will explore available Portland resources related to queer consent, and lead discussion on how to better support friends and members of the queer community with relationship issues.

On Monday, April 23, the WRC and QRC will host a workshop entitled “Safety and Sex Work: Info and Tools for Negotiating Risks in the Trade.” Natalie Schraner, a member of Portland’s Sex Worker Outreach Coalition and the Portland Women’s Crisis Center will speak at the event.

“We are holding this event in order to create a safe, shame-free space for students to talk about the implications of navigating campus and the sex work industry at the same time,” Amo said.

According to the event’s press release, “Student sex workers often feel unable to seek resources/ tell people on campus about their work because of pervasive criticism of employees of the sex industry.” This event will focus on discussing strategies for safety concerns unique to the sex trade industry.

The annual Take Back/Bike the Night event will be held on April 26. The theme this year is “Survivors on the margin: Exposing Barriers, Breaking Silence.” A press release from the WRC states that event coordinators aim to raise awareness around the sexual violence that marginalized communities face and the specific barriers they may confront as a result of racism and gendered violence. In addition to the annual march and bike ride, the night will consist of a resource fair, live music, a candle light vigil, and lecturers from Rut Martinez-Alicea, Elizabeth Norton and Cecily Griffus.

Martinez-Alicea runs the Portland Community College: Sexual Assault Free Environment program. Her talk will focus on sexual assault in the Latina community and barriers Latinas face in accessing health services.

Elizabeth Norton is on the advisory board for the PSU Native American Student and Community Center. She will be speaking about the process that Native American women must go through when seeking services following an assault and barriers that this community also faces when accessing health services.

Cecily Griffus is the LBGTQ advocacy specialist and dating-violence–prevention specialist at the Vancouver YWCA. She will be speaking about how to increase competent services for people in marginalized communities, particularly Queer/Trans/Gender non-conforming groups.

The fear of incompetent or homophobic services make it particularly hard for LBTGQ survivors to speak out, Amo said. “Often service providers may assume that their participant is heterosexual and this forces the survivor to repeatedly ‘come out’ to providers,” Amo explained. “Some service providers may not believe that same-sex sexual assault is real, and that is just as traumatic as opposite sex sexual assault.”

Griffus will also be addressing the fact that trans and gender non-conforming survivors face even greater barriers to accessing services. Misgendering, no gender-neutral restrooms, extremely intru-sive questions and other transphobic actions by service providers make accessing services very difficult for trans survivors. Additionally, trans survivors might be turned away from women-only services and only referred to men-only services, which may not be safe to access.

Take Back the Night, as with the rest of the Sexual Assault Awareness month events, encourages students to discuss issues of sexual violence that are not often addressed in regular conversation.

“Because sexual violence is most often perpetrated in private spaces between people who are known to one another, it is seen as a ‘private’ or ‘personal’ issue,” Amo said. “Talking about the issue in public emphasizes that this is a community issue as well as a personal one, and that we can only end sexual violence when we take responsibility as a community for changing the conditions that create and normalize sexual violence.”

Sexual Assault Awareness Month events

Self Care Cafe/FFLS: Combating Body Hatred
April 12
2:30–3:30 p.m., WRC Lounge
Christina Warne presents her scholarly essay “Fatness As Flux: Shifting Queer Categorization for Bodies.” Warne’s presentation will focus on the ways body trauma can be caused by internalized oppression and why combating a culture of body hate is essential for liberation. 
Film showing: The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men
April 12
6–9 p.m., ASRC, 2nd floor lounge
Thomas Keith’s 2011 documentary explores forces in current culture that condition men to dehumanize and disrespect women. Keith explores a variety of media forms that glamorize misogyny and the brutalization of women. PSU’s Men In the Movement Action Team will lead a discussion after the film.
Workshop: Queer Consent
April 17
5–7 p.m., ASRC, Viking Info Center
This workshop will address how to navigate consent within queer and trans relationships. The workshop is free and open to all students and community members. The discussion will also address resources in Portland that are available to queer and trans students, as well as information on how to support friends and community members in regards to healthy relationship issues.
Workshop: “Communication that Supports Partnership with a Survivor”
April 21
9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
This workshop focuses on partners of sexual violence survivors, and how to honor the struggles that survivors are going through.  Led by Adam Benjamin, this workshop will briefly discuss strategies for building better communication in relationships with loved ones. Space is limited; to register email [email protected] This event is sponsored by the Portland Women’s Crisis Line.
Workshop: “Safety and Sex Work: Info and Tools for Negotiating Risks in the Trade
April 23
7:30–9 p.m., 401 SMSU
Workers Outreach Coalition will be hosting a workshop that will address navigating safety while engaging in sex work, particularly for student sex workers who often feel unable to seek resources on campus about their work because of pervasive criticism of employees. This event is friendly and open to queer and transgender individuals.
Take Back the Night/Bike Back the Night 2012
April 26
5:30–8:30 p.m., PSU South Park Blocks
Take Back the Night/Bike Back the Night seeks to end sexual violence in all of its forms including sexual assault, sexual abuse, dating violence and domestic violence. PSU’s Women’s Resource Center and the Portland Women’s Crisis Line aim to raise awareness around the sexual violence that marginalized communities face and the specific barriers they may experience as a result of racism and gendered violence. The evening will include a resource fair, entertainment, a variety of speakers and a candle light vigil.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.pdx.edu/sexual-assault/preventing-sexual-misconduct