Silence seems to have become the prescribed medicine for sexual assault. Everyone knows the statistics and the chances that it could happen to them. Yet, sometimes we get embarrassed by the mere mention of it. No one wants to be associated with the word “rape.”
Fairfield is a small campus with a student body of almost 5,000 students and has reported that nine sexual offenses occurred on and off campus in 2014 (an increase from their previous four reports from the year before).
College campuses are the setting for a majority of sexual assaults. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted sometime during their collegiate years.
With all the resources and means of education available at institutions of higher learning, it seems logical to question why the danger to students remains so high. On college campuses specifically, the conversation about rape seems to rest on who will take the blame and not the emotional reaction of the survivor.
Like most colleges, Fairfield offers extensive educational programs and resources about sexual assault to its student body. The only thing that the school is missing is a support group for survivors.
“People need the support. They need to know there’s somewhere to go,” said Semina Kojic ‘18.
Many faculty and administration members are unsure of why a support group isn’t available to students.
Dr. Emily Orlando, associate professor of English, Dr. Anna Lawrence, associate professor of history and Dr. David Gudelunas, associate professor of communication –all co-directors of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Fairfield– and Dr. Elizabeth Hohl, a professor of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Fairfield, were not aware of any student or school-facilitated support group. They did; however, question whether Fairfield University’s Counseling and Psychological Services has sponsored one in the past.
Counseling and Psychological Services declined to comment on the matter. However, William Johnson, Fairfield Title IX coordinator, speculates that the lack of a support group comes from a “lack of interest.” Johnson didn’t elaborate on how the school concluded that there was a lack of interest.
According to the 36 students who responded to a poll, there doesn’t seem to be a lack of interest, with a majority stating that there should be a support group.
Based on the poll, several students reported that they don’t feel a support group for victims of sexual assault is necessary, for reasons that remain unknown.
Johnson stated that a group might be founded if enough individuals showed interest. If a support group were to be created, it would have to be run by a trained and/or licensed individual to avoid further damage to survivors. He also stated that the school would strongly oppose sponsoring a school-affiliated support group run by anyone other than a trained professional.
One such trained professional is Tina Fitch, the Senior Advocate at the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport, who spends her time helping and supporting survivors as they recover. She runs a support group called “A Path to Healing” at the crisis center.
“The group is about connecting with other survivors,” said Fitch. “It is an hour and half out of your week to be surrounded by other people who can relate to their experiences and who will not make them [survivors] feel judged.”
Fitch further reiterated that when survivors begin their recovery, many of them are suffering from symptoms of trauma and other emotional disturbances including depression, numbness, avoidance of intimacy, engaging in unsafe behaviors, hyper-vigilance, anxiety and flashbacks.
“The world doesn’t feel safe anymore,” said Fitch. “It robs them of their basic right to feel safe.”
The Center for Family Justice is an option for those who have been affected by sexual assault. With locations in Fairfield, Bridgeport, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull, the center provides support groups, individual counseling and advocacy to survivors of sexual assault.
Despite this, Fitch reported that there are no Fairfield students utilizing the support groups at the Center for Family Justice at the moment.
Faculty and administration are questioning the reason for the increase of sexual assaults in Fairfield University’s 2015 Clery Report.
When asked about the increase in the reporting of this crime, DPS officer Sergeant Rob Didato, a SMART officer trained specifically to handle sexual assault stated, “Yes, sexual assaults are overwhelmingly not reported throughout the entire U.S. Unfortunately, victims of sexual assault often feel a stigma that goes along with reporting.”
Didato thinks that the number of reported assaults would be higher if survivors felt empowered to come forward.
“They fear that no one will believe them. They fear that they will be blamed. They fear that their friends will distance themselves from them,” stated Didato. “They don’t want to be known as ‘the person who was raped.’”
Didato stated that some of the issues Fairfield has with sexual assault derives from the party atmosphere on campus.
“There is a strong alcohol culture on campus that leads to many of the issues we deal with,” Didato stated, adding that Public Safety’s investigations into crimes such as sexual assault more often than not reveal intoxication as a component.
All first year students at Fairfield are required to take the First Year Experience course, which focuses in part on sexual assault — what it means, how to report it, understanding consent and so on. The school also provides FYE credit for attending educational programs such as Jane Doe No More, featuring a foundation that strives to decrease the stigma against survivors.
First year students are also required to take the online course “AlcoholEdu & Haven” before beginning their time at Fairfield, which teaches students about alcohol safety, how to discern abusive relationships and what sexual assault is.
Fairfield provides students with the option of peer reporting. This allows students to report a rape on behalf of the survivor by filling out an anonymous report or incident report with the Department of Public Safety. The peer reporting option contradicts advice contained in the university brochure, “Sexual Assault, and Intimate Partner Violence,” which states, “If your friend shares with you that he/she has survived a sexual assault, it’s important to keep this information private and refer them to get help immediately.”
Still, some students believe more could be done.
“As far as knowledge and resources, I think Fairfield has not prepared me to deal with sexual assault,” said Aly Pisarczyk ‘17. “Freshman year, administration suggested we attend a presentation on sexual assault, but did not require attendance.”
Survivors of sexual assault that occurred at Fairfield can choose to report the assault to the Department of Public Safety if they feel it to be necessary. Many therapists and survivors believe that the pace of recovery is up to the survivor alone, as it is their choice to report their experience to law enforcement.