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Members discuss sexual assault issue

John Cameron | Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Student leaders can aid the fight against campus sexual assault, Dr. G. David Moss, interim director of the Gender Relations Council, said at the Council of Representatives’ (COR) Monday meeting.

Moss and Sr. Sue Dunn, who co-chair the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention, offered COR members a presentation on assault prevention and awareness.

Moss said his committee hopes to garner more student-led dialogue on sexual assault.

“We are working hard to eradicate sexual violence from our campus,” he said. “We need to begin a different kind of conversation on campus, and we’re hoping with student support we can begin from the grassroots.”

Moss said the drinking culture at Notre Dame is deeply intertwined with the issue of sexual misconduct.

“Last year, every reported instance of sexual assault on campus had alcohol involved,” he said. “It is inextricably linked to sexual assault and sexual violence. That’s going to be the tough nut to crack in this environment, with this [drinking] culture.”

This campus drinking culture creates risky situations, Moss said.

“We have a vibrant and alive alcohol culture,” he said. “Students do consume alcohol and sometimes abuse it. We need to get our students to understand that [sexual] activity and alcohol consumption do not make good partners.”

The primary concern with intoxication is the inability to give consent, Moss said.

“Consent is — I always say — impossible when alcohol is involved,” he said.

Even if the level of intoxication is not significant enough to affect one’s ability to give consent, Dunn said going forward with sexual activity risks consent being called into question later.

“It really muddies the waters,” she said.

Moss said sexual assault education empowers students to prevent and respond to instances of sexual misconduct.

“We’re trying to educate students so that they have as much control and knowledge as possible,” he said. “As a psychologist, one thing I know is that after a sexual assault, it’s important for the victim to get control back.”

One crucial way for victims to gain back control, according to Moss, is deciding how to respond to the incident with University or police authorities.

He said students should be aware of whether the person they choose to discuss an assault with is required to either maintain confidentiality, or inform authorities.

“If you want to move at a deliberate pace, you need to talk to someone [confidentially],” he said.

The Clery Act, a federal mandate, requires certain university personnel to report incidents of assault, Dunn said.

“RAs and ARs are not confidential sources, faculty members as well,” she said. “The rectors, campus ministry [are confidential]. On campus, the other [confidential] agency would be the Counseling Center.”

Dunn said students supporting victims of assault can be as simple as helping the survivor get the proper assistance.

“Sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend or someone you’re trying to help is to walk them to the Counseling Center,” she said.

Moss said the campus needs to confront the issue of sexual assault head on.

“We’re in a fight, folks, and we have to be ready for it,” he said. “It’s not going to change until we begin to confront some of these ill-conceived notions of what it means to socialize on this campus, to have relationships, to have intimacy. We need to have some tough dialogue.”