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Rape prevention is common goal

Katie Perry | Friday, February 17, 2006

While the production of “The Vagina Monologues” has long been a polarizing issue on campus, one of the play’s stated goals – stopping sexual violence against women – is a constant objective at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. And various organizations on both campuses are making efforts to emphasize it, whether or not they support the play.

Notre Dame’s Feminist Voice and Right to Life organizations have found the issue’s severity outweighs its partisan volatility, and leaders are in talks with student government and the Orestes Brownson Council – a campus group dedicated to the study of traditional Catholic teachings – to collaboratively host a fundraiser for groups that benefited financially from previous years’ presentations of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Student body president Dave Baron said representatives from Feminist Voice, Right to Life, the Orestes Brownson Council and student government met Feb. 8 to discuss a way – a benefit formal – to raise funds for sexual assault prevention in an attempt to replace those not earned from this year’s “Monologues,” held in DeBartolo Hall Monday through Wednesday. Last year’s performances raised approximately $15,000.

“It was one of the most impressive meetings that I’ve been to at Notre Dame,” Baron said. “To see individuals who are diametrically opposed on the issue of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ come together in a shared spirit of creativity and shared opposition to sexual violence was great.”

Baron and student body vice president Lizzi Shappell met Feb. 10 with Executive Assistant to the President Frances Shavers and Vice President for Public Affairs and Comm-unication Hilary Crnkovich. He said the purpose of the meeting was to update the administrators on campus sentiment and discussion regarding academic freedom.

“We told them of the joint meeting of Right to Life, Feminist Voice and student government as an example of a collaborative effort,” he said. “We presented the basic idea of a benefit formal to fight sexual assault, which they supported in principle, but await us to present further details as they are determined.”

The date, location and intended attendees of the event have not yet been confirmed, but Baron said he hopes the benefit formal will be held in conjunction with student government’s Sexual Assault Awareness week, to be held March 27 through 31.

Baron said event organizers will likely seek funds from the Council of Representatives Collaboration Fund – a fund “by which student groups and organizations who collaborate to put on an event can receive additional funds.”

Right to Life president Arina Grossu and Feminist Voice president Kaitlyn Redfield declined to comment Thursday.

Anthropology professor Carolyn Nordstrom, who studies sexual violence against women, lauded the cooperation between the various student groups and said problems like rape and sexual assault require some of “the most creative solutions in the world.”

“For Feminist Voice and Right to Life to come together to create a solution is … a beautiful thing,” she said.

Nordstrom said she has had an “awful lot” of students come through her office over the years as victims of rape or sexual assault and even more as friends of people who have been sexually violated.

“It’s a lot more pervasive [at the University] than administrators recognize, [but] students are more aware,” she said. “Because there is no institutional framework, people feel anguished. It’s hard to come up with a positive solution without the [necessary] tools.”

Arts and Letters associate director Ava Preacher, who serves as the University’s sexual assault resource person, said violence, sexual harassment and rape are problems occurring within the campus community that “deserve much more attention.”

“We are not immune to these ills,” she said.

Notre Dame Security/Police associate director Phil Johnson said three instances of forcible fondling and one rape were reported during 2005.

The department is looking into a second alleged rape, which Johnson said was not reported to the department, involving a Saint Mary’s student who said she was assaulted in a Notre Dame residence hall.

NDSP is also soliciting information on sexual offenses from resident assistants, rectors, advisors, deans and department heads for its 2005 report, Johnson said.

“There are sexual assaults reported to other agencies because they happen off-campus, at houses or apartment complexes,” he said. “Those aren’t in our jurisdiction.”

Preacher said rapes often go “largely unreported” and statistics represent only a small percentage of rapes that occur.

“We want to encourage students to come forward and know we have trained staff to assist them,” Johnson said. “It opens options because [crimes] are harder to pursue if survivors wait to report them.”

Nordstrom said the University can better combat such crimes “on a number of levels.”

“We need rape crisis centers, people trained – police, rectors and rectresses, health care administrators,” she said. “We need a culture of social friendship, a network of people who understand and request justice.”

Notre Dame has a Sexual Assault Advisory Committee that meets several times a semester to implement measures to address crimes of sexual violence on campus. Preacher said the group is comprised of representatives from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s residence life, the Gender Relations Center, NDSP, Sexual Offense Resources (SOS), academic departments and the student body.

Saint Mary’s Counseling Center director Kris Pendley said staff members are available to help victims of sexual violence alleviate emotional trauma. A support group also was introduced this semester for sexual assault victims at the College.

Through her studies, Nordstrom said she has seen firsthand the detrimental effects – on health, fertility and even lifespan – crimes of sexual violence can bring to a society.

“We need to be a little more civilized,” Nordstrom said “My question is, 100 years from now, how will we be judged? We will be judged very harshly if we don’t do something. We have to deal with this.”

Kperry5@nd.edu