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Preacher serves as sexual assault advisor for students

Katie Laird | Thursday, February 17, 2005

As the University continues to raise awareness of sexual assault incidents on campus, Ava Preacher is getting involved to ensure that students have the proper resources to turn to in case of an assault.

In addition to her numerous positions at Notre Dame including assistant dean of the College of Arts and Letters, administrator for the department of film, television and theatre and pre-law advisor, Preacher is the sexual assault resource person – a position about which she speaks very passionately. During her time at this post, Preacher said, she’s realized that such crimes are more prevalent than most realize.

“[Sexual assault] happens much more than it’s reported,” Preacher said.

As a resource person for victims, Preacher plays an informative role. When students come to her, they explain what happened and ask her what their options are. Preacher emphasized the strict confidentiality and explained that it is the victim’s choice to decide what steps to take.

Preacher’s position as assistant dean – with students constantly in and out of her office to discuss grades, classes and other matters – makes her ideal for victims to talk to and remain anonymous.

“I was chosen because very few questions are asked,” Preacher said. “The students have access to me.”

A few years ago, the University formed a sexual assault advisory committee that received student feedback about how sexual assault cases were handled on campus, Preacher said. One example, she said, involved a young man who was dismissed from the University after assaulting a female student. The committee discovered the current system wasn’t working very well because the young woman felt that she had no one to turn to.

As a result, the committee worked together to set up ways to define sexual assault and to provide someone the students could come to without facing repercussions. Preacher’s position serves this purpose.

“Students can come in whenever … I think they feel more comfortable coming to me than someone who doesn’t interact with students,” Preacher said.

In addition, the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s sponsored the formation of an organization called Campus Alliance for Rape Elimination, for which Preacher serves as the faculty advisor. The organization sponsors a weeklong series of events in the spring in order to perpetuate understanding and awareness of this issue. A major event of the week is a march called “Take Back the Night,” calling attention to the fact that women should be able to safely walk home at night.

“I think the University has made a major effort to protect students,” Preacher said. “… CARE has been crucial in making sure that the issues remain in people’s minds.”

Sexual assault is becoming a major national and international issue, according to Preacher, and she hopes to create even more awareness among the student body.

“I think we need to refine our processes here. We need to have a follow-up where we go to the dorms … and meet in a small group format to spread awareness,” Preacher said. “We need people to be aware at the local level and protect our students.”