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Time to Heal dinner explores sexual assault and relationship violence

| Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Gender Relations Center hosted its annual “Time to Heal” dinner Wednesday night to acknowledge the effects of relationship violence. Christine Gebhardt, director of the center, said the event aims to embrace victims and survivors, as well as embolden the community to be a place of hope and healing.

“It is hard even when you work in violence prevention everyday to acknowledge that violence is in our midst,” Gebhardt said. “And we can often rationalize that it doesn’t happen here within our communities. But we know that’s not the case.”

Community members participate in the Time to Heal dinner Wednesday. The dinner, hosted by the Gender Relations Center, aims to assist the victims and survivors of sexual assault and relationship violence.Sarah Olsen

Community members participate in the Time to Heal dinner Wednesday. The dinner, hosted by the Gender Relations Center, aims to assist the victims and survivors of sexual assault and relationship violence.

Gebhardt cited the 2016 campus climate survey indicating 14 percent of student respondents said they experienced non-consensual contact or non-consensual intercourse. She noted that fewer than 10 percent of women actually report instances of sexual assault.

After Gebhardt’s introduction, a panel of four alumni shared their experiences with sexual assault. The panel consisted of Mariah McGrogan, class of 2011, Amanda Pena, class of 2015, Michael Nolan, class of 2015 and Deirdre Harrington, class of 2015.

Nolan started the discussion and shared his story about domestic violence during his freshman year of college.

“It’s really difficult to spot an abusive relationship especially when you’re in it,” Noland said. “In each moment it kind of felt like a surprise too like this wasn’t like him. I didn’t really understand the gravity of it until I became an SOS advocate for the Family Justice Center and I went through the training to help other victims of domestic violence.”

Nolan said the cycle of violence consists of abuse, feelings of guilt on behalf of the perpetrator, excuses and rationalizations, normal behavior and then justification of the abuse. He said in order to break the cycle, a support system is necessary.

“I relied heavily on my friends telling me this guy’s no good,” he said. “You guys can be that friend, that person that notices you’re friend is probably in a problematic relationship and let them know.”

Pena said she became a GRC Fire Starter, a peer educator that assists in developing programs fostering dialogue on campus, after her best friend was raped and subsequently dropped out of school.

“I lost my best friend and that was a really difficult day to not only see, but it was something that made me want to act in more ways,” Pena said.

She said she grew up seeing a lot of domestic violence in her family with almost every woman in her life experiencing it.

“Every woman I knew had a story,” she said. “I grew up honestly believing that any man at some point was going to rape or hurt me. I strongly believed that.”

Pena said after her experience with sexual assault and rape she first coped with it by distancing herself from it. However, when she saw the prevalence of the issue in society, she realized she needed to be an advocate for victims.

“After I was assaulted I just called my friend and he picked me up and he just said ‘What do you want to do?’” she said. “You can impact so many people in ways you don’t even know just by walking alongside them.”

McGrogan told the audience they had already taken an important first step by coming to the dinner and taking an interest in sexual assault and violence prevention.

“By taking that first step I know that I don’t need to tell you don’t sexually assault each other,” McGrogan said. “I know I don’t need to tell you guys to do these things because you innately understand these things are wrong. What I can tell you is what you can do to help someone who is experiencing them.”

She said the most powerful thing one can do as a friend of someone who experiencse sexual assault or relationship violence is to help them regain their autonomy.

“When you are a victim of sexual violence or relationship violence at the core what is happening to you … your decision-making process about who you love or who you want to be with has been taken away with you,” McGrogan said.

McGrogan said she was a victim of sexual violence  and that it was a hard journey from that experience ten years ago to her place on the panel today. She said she attributes her healing to the people that supported her along the way.

“Throughout all of that there have been multiple people who have stood by me who have said ‘I believe you. You don’t have to convince me.’ And that is the most powerful thing you can say,” she said. “Take it as a compliment that someone is looking at you in their darkest hour and saying ‘I want you to stand with me.’”

McGrogan said she hopes that in the future there will be more progress in terms of sexual assault prevention and healing.

“I hope that by the time another 10 years pass we will be even farther along the journey of addressing sexual assault on college campuses as we are now. Because as strange as it is to think because of all of the problems you guys are seeing it’s on every campus across the country and it is getting better.

“Talk about it. Take steps like coming to events tonight. And just be there for one another.”

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

Contact Selena