SMC's Consent Month wraps up with increased discussions over sexual assault
This was part of Berkeley Interactive Theater’s “Get it Right” at Santa Monica College’s Studio Stage one of the last events in the SMC Foundation, Associated Students, and SMC Associates' Consent Month. Angela and Felix were portrayed by Emma Nicholls and Louel Señores respectively. After the short play, the actors all lined up for an audience Q&A while in character.
This exercise led some in the audience to react more empathetically towards the characters, with one audience member asking “Angela, how are you feeling and what can I do for you?”
Some characters even asked questions back to the audience, such as asking for advice, getting replies about helping victims such as “when they want the help, you have to be there.”
Other events and activities throughout the month included several workshops on consent and assault, the Clothesline Project, screenings of films on sexual assault within large institutions, “The Invisible War” and “The Hunting Ground,” and a purple draped A.S. table on the quad with information and free condoms that invited students to “Pledge to Consent.”
These were all planned with the goal to create a conversation on campus as to what constitutes sexual assault and what people can do about it. With a recent national conversation over alleged sexual assaults and TItle IX, the campus saw it necessary to react.
“We had an incident where someone posted fliers around campus with '#smcconsent' and we really didn’t know who it was,” said Student Trustee Daniel Kolko, who led the planning of Consent Month with Associated Students Vice-President Caitlin Corker. “This is raising awareness campus-wide. and maybe even community-wide.”
Kolko says he didn’t see much beyond a set of troubling numbers when he first started working on Consent Month, but soon realized that sexual assault and awareness was a far-reaching cultural problem.
Dr. Gabriel Crenshaw, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at USC was on hand at several Consent Month events. “I think this is the age where people come alive sexually. Hormones are raging,” said Crenshaw. “And then just biologically, physiologically speaking, certain parts of the brain are still underdeveloped even at college age and I think people forget this.”
“This is everybody’s business. Every single person here. Not just students, but faculty, staff. You don’t have any idea what administrator, what staff, what faculty person, has themselves been involved in this when they were college age. You don’t know. People really don’t talk,” said Crenshaw. “And there needs to be a level of accountability that comes from the top.”
On Monday, a special screening of the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” was held at The Broad Stage, with the director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering. The film follows two University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill students whose rape cases were not followed, or dismissed by their university’s administration as they gathered other victims across the country to speak up about their own rape dismissals. This David versus Goliath-type story is framed by harrowing statistics and several other buried rape cases including several men raped by other men, a girl who took her own life shortly after starting university and being raped, and the story of Erica Kinsman who was allegedly raped by Heisman winner Jameis Winston.
In the film, the process of several universities’ dismissal of rape accusations are shown through statistics, where several athletes went unpunished until the end of their athletic contracts with the schools. Each of the universities claimed to take these accusations “very seriously” and many administrators were claimed to turn a blind eye to accusations.
Maria Lucero Padilla of Berkeley Interactive Theater said, “I learned that women will leave their place in the academy [..] due to harassing, intimidating, exploitive behavior, we will go. But when I read the narrative, it’s when we go, we often won’t say why we’re leaving.”
She adds, “We also sometimes don’t speak up because we don’t have confidence in the institution to respond.”
Ziering and Dick first thought of university sexual assaults as a subject through their university screenings of their Oscar-nominated “The Invisible War.”
“Everyone would come up to us on campuses saying ‘this happened to me here,’” said Ziering. ”I was taken by surprise by the issue itself, it wasn’t on our radar.”
Dick said, “What we see here very often is powerful institutions either covering up crimes that have to do with sexual assault.”
“We wouldn’t be here talking about this without survivors that came forward on campuses. These are people that have been, for decades, have been pushed down,” said Dick. “That’s part of the reason we wanted to make the film.”
According to Dick, of all the universities whose incidents were covered in the film, only Harvard, Saint Mary’s, and Notre Dame have screened the documentary on their campus. He also notes that of all the schools, Notre Dame has gone on to tackle the sexual assault issue more vocally through activism and writing editorials and articles in their school publication.
Many people interviewed for this article including Crenshaw and Dick saw prosecution and accountability as the dominant need to tackle the problem of sexual assaults in institutions.
Dick said “I’d like to see a college president come forward and say ‘Look, there’s a problem on my campus. It’s a significant problem and I’m here to try and address this problem. I’m going to put money into solving it and you can hold me accountable if it doesn’t work.’”
LaShonda Coleman of the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center has been collaborating with the A.S. to bring her experience with rape survivors as a counselor. She says it’s worth mentioning that the inter-fraternity council at USC hosted screening of “The Hunting Ground” and raised money for the rape treatment center. “Many athletics organizations are reaching out to us for rape prevention education,” said Coleman.
She also helped facilitate the Clothesline Project for the campus. The project involves writing messages about sexual or other abuse on t-shirts and hanging them on a clothesline for public viewing. This serves as one of many ways to de-stigmatize rape victims according to Coleman.
“The conversation that’s happened at SMC over Consent Month, I feel has definitely created a space for those who have been impacted directly or indirectly to come forward and have this conversation about sexual violence,” said Coleman.
Ziering said of the stigma that comes with being raped, “I think it’s interesting that the majority of the time we show the film the question we get is what can our girls do to protect themselves instead of how do we prosecute these guys and stop them from raping. But that’s symptomatic of our culture, the first thought is, what can a woman do differently.”
She also stressed the importance of first responders to sexual assault being accepting of the victim’s claims and situation, saying that the initial openness to a victim’s attack can make the difference in their healing process.
According to Corker, over 2,500 consent pledges have been filled and given to A.S. representatives on the quad. Kolko said that even though he considers the entire month a success, he wishes the outreach for the events could have been higher. “That we need students to come and that we need students to engage because there’s no way that we can spread this conversation without student engagement and without faculty engagement,” said Kolko.
In the last five years, there have been two reports of sexual battery on campus and one rape case "on public property." When reached for questions on past claims of peeping toms on campus, SMCPD Sergeant Jere Romano confirmed that they "are not a stat maintained by any department or agency."
Finishing up the month on Wednesday is International Denim Day, where people wear denim to protest sexual assault over what someone wears. The inspiration came from a case in 1992 when an Italian driving instructor blamed his victim’s jeans for his assault of her.
Also Wednesday, Healing Through Art is taking place on the quad, presented by A Window Through Worlds.
According to Associate Dean of Student Life Sonali Bridges, Thursday April 30, the A.S. office will be closed all day in order for counselors to provide a safe space for students to share their feelings in the Cayton lounge. “This entire month has brought up triggers and memories and all sorts of things for students and we want to create a place where they have the ability to come and talk about anything they’ve felt this entire month,” said Bridges.
Also due to popular request, during activity hour on Thursday, a screening of “The Hunting Ground” will be held in the Cayton Lounge at 11:15 p.m.
SMC Campus Police (310) 434-4300
SMC Psychological Services (310) 434-4503
SMC Health Services (310) 434-4262
Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center (310) 319-4000 http://www.911rape.org/about-us/contact-us
SMC Title IX Officer (310) 434-4419
The Hunting Ground Film Resources http://www.thehuntinggroundfilm.com/resources