To initiate conversation about sexual assault, a subject that is still considered taboo on many campuses, Donna Palomba, founder of Jane Doe No More and Jonathan Kalin, founder of Party with Consent gave a lecture on Thursday, Nov. 5 in the Gonzaga Auditorium about breaking stigmas and silence.
Jane Doe No More is an organization that aims to improve the way society responds to sexual assault victims.
“Primarily, [the aim is] letting them know that they’re not alone, that they can get through it. You can get through a lot of tough stuff … but it helps so much to know that you’re not alone and you have a support system around you that believes you. Most victims of rape don’t report or tell anyone, and it’s something horrible to suffer in silence with.”
The event began with a Poll Everywhere poll in which students responded to statements such as “Most sexual assaults are committed by someone you know” and “Rape culture is a big issue in today’s media” with “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “unsure,” “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree.”
After students responded to this mobile poll, Palomba began by speaking of her own experience.
In 1993, a masked man broke into Palomba’s home and raped her. She went to a neighbor’s home and called the police. However, after a horrible botching of the investigation, Palomba found that she was not believed.
When the local police department investigated her case, Palomba was shocked to find herself on trial instead of her attacker.
She talked about how the lieutenant in charge of her case demanded that she “tell the truth.” Not believing Palomba’s account of the night of her rape, Lt. Doug Moran read Palomba her Miranda Rights and threatened to arrest her if she didn’t admit to lying about the rape. She was told that she stood to lose everything, including her children and her job.
“I wanted to make sure that no other victims were treated like this,” she said of the ordeal. This is the reason she started Jane Doe No More.
Since then, Palomba has heard many other stories of botched investigations in cases of sexual assault.
“There’s a long way to go,” she said.
In speaking on the mission of Jane Doe No More, Palomba added, “We want to change the way victims are viewed through education, awareness, advocacy and support.”
Sophomore Erin Rowland, who attended the event, agreed that it is important to change the way we view victims of sexual assault.
“There’s too much victim blaming most of the time,” she commented.
Palomba also emphasized the importance of the attitude of the police departments.
“We created an enhanced training program in the form of a video called ‘Duty Trumps Doubt’ that is often being used throughout the country and is often part of mandated training.”
This video is part of the training program at the Fairfield Police Department.
Police Chief Gary MacNamara commented, “It is a great video to remind us to always investigate and not to develop conclusions until we investigate.”
Kalin then spoke next about his organization, Party with Consent, which he began as a sophomore at Colby College in Maine.
When he went to college and began to learn more about consent, Kalin realized that everything he knew about the topic came from pop culture movies and TV shows he watched when he was younger such as “He Got Game,” “Superbad” and “Blue Mountain State.” These gave him unrealistic ideas about consent.
“When I read the definition of consent,” he explained, “I thought, ‘That’s totally unreasonable,’ because of these movies I watched when I was younger.”
Kalin wanted to start an organization that openly discusses consent, so that people will be educated about it, instead of relying on movies and TV to shape their ideas.
Party with Consent aims to “smash rape culture and replace it with consent culture,” according to Kalin.
Freshman Chris Lazazzera agreed with this idea.
“I think it shouldn’t be taken as lightly as it is,” he said, “There should be a bigger emphasis on it.”
“It’s such an important topic,” Palomba commented, “I would love to see the entire campus engage in the conversation, and helping change rape culture. It’s so important.”
As of last year, Fairfield has contributed to the initiative of fighting sexual assault on campus with a new program called “Step Up Stags.” All new students at Fairfield must participate in the new three-part program which includes participating in Haven, an online module that addresses the issues of sexual assault, a Step Up Stags lecture during Fall Welcome and Bystander Intervention Education, a program that freshmen and other student leaders on campus go through to learn about being a bystander. This is co-sponsored by the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport.
Despite growing attempts to educate students about sexual assault, only 41 percent of students strongly agreed with the statement that they know where to go to report a sexual assault on campus according to Poll Everywhere. Todd Pelazza, director of Public Safety, offered some information to students confused about where to go, so that the statistic, when taken again at the end of the event, was raised to 50 percent.