Laura O'Reilly/The Mirror

After a sleepless night, hours of studying and countless cups of coffee you finally walk out of the classroom, turn to your friend and say, “Man, I totally raped that test!”

Since when has raping something been considered good?

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

At Fairfield University the numbers for reported sexual offenses are low.  According to the Jeanne Clery Campus Crime Statistics, one offense was reported in 2006, one in 2007, two in 2008, and three in 2009.

With the slow rise in reported sexual crimes, there has been recent effort on the Fairfield University campus to raise awareness of violence against women and how women can defend themselves and prevent the violence.


Taking Back the Night

For some, the walk from the library to their dorm after dark is a walk of fear. With every stranger that walks by, the student’s pace quickens. Every shadow makes their heart beat a little faster, and every sound makes them jump.

Last Wednesday night, a group of Fairfield University students walked together to take back the night, break the silence and shatter the fear that many experience while walking alone in the dark. The rain and wind may have blown out the candles participants carried during the walk, but it did not diminish the message of the participants.

The walk began at the BCC Info Desk then up toward the Levee, by the Walsh Jr. Athletic Center, then behind the softball field, a path popularly known as the “rape trail”, and continued through the Quad until ending in the McGrath Commons.

Numerous stops were made along the route where testimonies and reflections were read aloud, honoring and celebrating survivors of domestic violence.  The testimonies were written and performed by either members or friends of Project Peg, a feminist group on campus that expresses concerns and perspectives of women.

Those in attendance were deeply moved by the testimonies. As one of the few males present, Max McVay ’14 attended in support of his friends but ended up being greatly affected by the first testimony.

“She put all her heart into it,” McVay said. “It just seemed like I was there reliving the entire night.”

Through participating in the event, McVay has realized “that I actually have a voice and I can change the world with it, not only in this matter but in any other matter,” he said.

Emily Molina ’14, a member of Project Peg, performed one of the testimonies. When asked about sexual offenses at Fairfield University she said that she has not witnessed any but has “heard stories about it and definitely believes it to be happening.”

The walk ended with a discussion in the McGrath Commons about what students at Fairfield University can do to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault.  The discussion centered around the need for more dialogue concerning these issues and for students to be more aware of the language they use everyday, such as using “raped” when referring to their positive performance on a test.

“Using strong words like that [rape]…has that much of an impact on the way people feel,” Molina said. “It is also really important to know that you don’t know everyone’s story unless you actually sit down and talk to the person.”

“The whole point of tonight is to tell that story,” she said, “I can only hope that through the conversations that happened tonight words will be spread…maybe not to make a big movement but to at least make people aware because we need to take one step at a time.”

The walk is still far from over.


Women’s Day

Along with the Take Back the Night event, Project Peg sponsored Women’s Day on Friday, April 8 in the Lower Level BCC.  Special live performances by students occurred throughout the day, and student art was also on display. Students were invited to write responses to questions posed on poster boards scattered throughout the event, in order to gauge people’s opinions about gender and sexuality issues. A bake sale symbolized the inequality between the salaries of men and women.  If a man wanted to buy a cupcake it would cost $1, but only $.77 for women.

Dr. Elizabeth Hohl, the co-director of the Women Studies program, described the event as the commemoration of the National Women’s Day on March 8th.  The student-driven event was to celebrate women but also to question gender image in our world today.


Preventing Attacks

While the Take Back the Night event honored survivors of sexual violence, Fairfield University’s Department of Public Safety has offered a Rape Aggression Defense Training program (R.A.D.) to prevent these attacks since 2005.

The program consists of a free16-hour course that teaches basic self-defense to women with no prior training. Along with self-defense techniques, the classes help participants understand the aftermath of reporting a sexual attack and the options one has in responding.  A simulation of an attack is held during the last class where the women get to use the techniques they have practiced during the sessions to further empower them and to show what they have learned.

Sergeant Robert Didato, Public Safety officer and certified RAD instructor, believes that the program empowers women and gives them the knowledge to make educated decisions about resistance.

“The number one thing to relay to a survivor is that they are in control of everything that takes place after an attack” he said.

His message to survivors is that “whatever they decide to do at least reach out to someone; a counselor, a doctor, a friend, a family member,” Didato said.  “No one should bear something like that alone.”

Next fall, Didato will offer a R.A.D. program for men in hope of educating young male students on how to behave and act more appropriately.

“Men don’t realize what they are doing is wrong,” he said.


Making Progress

Take Back the Night, Women’s Day, and the R.A.D. program have raised awareness on campus of the reality of sexual offenses, but the fight to end sexual violence is far from over.

Further discussion and larger attendance in female and male R.A.D. classes will hopefully reduce the number of sexual offenses on campus for 2011.  Students can be proactive by eliminating its use as a positive slang term and consequently empowering women and men alike to feel safe as they walk home alone in the dark.

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