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Silent protest raises awareness of sexual assault

Mary Kate Malone | Friday, February 11, 2005

More than 50 men and women gathered outside DeBartolo Hall Thursday afternoon in a silent protest to raise awareness of sexual assault at Notre Dame.

The protest, titled “Project Black: Confronting the Silence,” is part of V-day, an international movement aimed at ending violence towards women and children. The movement spans the globe, with many colleges both in the United States and abroad taking part, protest organizer Kaitlyn Redfield said.

“V-day stands for valentine, vagina and victory over violence, and it’s always held around Valentine’s Day. Over 40 countries and 700 college campuses participate,” she said.

Participants wore black to signify the secrecy of sexual assault at Notre Dame, which keeps the victims and their perpetrators hidden among the masses, Redfield said.

Protesters gathered outside DeBartolo as classes emptied, then proceeded down South Quad to South Dining Hall, where they remained until the lunchtime crowds receded.

The purpose of the protest was twofold – to end the silence and raise awareness.

“The first step to ending the silence is awareness. Change will not come without knowledge,” protest participant Clare Desmond said.

Redfield organized the protest out of deep concern for the many sexually assaulted women who tell no one or blame themselves. She said many are not educated enough on the issue to know assault is not their fault.

“There is not enough education on gender equality. It makes it easier to feel that rape is something acceptable,” Redfield said. “People understand it’s wrong, but the University is not doing its best to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Law student Garrett Hohimer is helping with the production of the Vagina Monologues, another V-day event. He agreed something constructive must be done in addition to the efforts of the protests and play.

“The most effective way to prevent sexual assault is to have men talking to other men,” he said. “Men can affect change in each other.”

The protest, the first of its kind at Notre Dame, was an alternative to last year’s demonstration around a giant “V” constructed on South Quad. After being told the “V” would not be allowed this year, organizers had to develop a new way to grab students’ attention, Desmond said.

Fliers distributed to students declared that statistically, 250 women of this year’s graduating class will have been affected by attempted or completed sexual assault. Redfield said the statistics were aimed at shocking students into awareness, and according to senior John Hughes, they did just that.

“I thought it was weird at first, but it definitely makes a statement,” Hughes said. “I am shocked by the numbers, they are just so high.”

Despite the movement’s emphasis on women and the violence afflicted on them by males, many of Notre Dame’s men have joined the V-Day efforts.

Sophomore George Dzuricsko participated in Thursday’s protest. He said from his perspective, the statistics were only shocking because they seemed too low.

“On this campus, I think the statistics sound too generous toward guys, when so many just go out and drink to hook up with a girl,” he said.

According to Redfield and event organizers, there is a culture of silence at the University in its dealing with sexual assault. The protesters’ aim was to expose its widespread prevalence on campus.

“By keeping the silence, we’re supporting it. This protest is meant to voice the silence,” Desmond said.

Though some students walked by casually, others were moved to tears.

Denise Massa, curator at the Arts Slide Library, applauded the protesters as she walked by them.

“God bless you all,” Massa said as she hugged some of the participants.

“This just brings me to tears. Women and minorities need a voice on this campus and this is powerful,” Massa said.

In her 14 years at Notre Dame, Massa said she has never been so deeply affected by a protest.

“This is the first year it has moved me as much as it has,” she said.

Sophomore Yadira Huerta walked by protesters on her way out of DeBartolo, and found herself deeply moved by the taped mouths and solemn dress of the participants.

“I know there is a problem, and I think this school tried to hide it because of its reputation,” she said. “But this protest is effective, it’s got shock value.”

As the protest ended, Redfield said she felt satisfied with the effort.

“I am very happy with how it went,” she said. “We made people think.”