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Notre Dame alum raises awareness about sexual violence with humor

| Tuesday, October 13, 2015

RelationshipViolenceEric Richelsen | The Observer

Monday evening, the Gender Studies Program and the Department of Film, Television & Theater co-sponsored Notre Dame alumnus Christian Murphy’s presentation on how his company uses comedy to combat relationship violence.

Murphy is the co-founder and executive director of Catharsis Productions, an organization that uses humor and theater to open conversation and awareness about sexual violence. Murphy said he and co-founder Dr. Gail Stern started Catharsis Production in the hope that they could use their passion for theater to make a difference.

“[Stern and I] both had people very close to us who had been victims of rape, especially while we were in college and we recognized the dearth of sexual assault awareness programs that weren’t dry, pedantic and really uncomfortable to the audience that they were trying to serve,” Murphy said. “So we wrote a play called ‘Sex Signals’ … We did this with the hope of using humor and audience interaction as tools to open up a dialogue with audiences that may have felt they didn’t want have this conversation.”

Murphy said when the audiences in these productions are asked to raise their hand if they think rape is wrong, there has never been a person who has left his or her hand down. He said this begs the question: why is sexual assault still happening if everyone knows it is wrong? One of the main reasons is lack of awareness, he said. Catharsis Productions, Murphy said, hopes to meet audiences where they’re at to show them that sexual assault is very real.

According to Murphy, Catharsis Productions’ main audiences are college campuses and the military. While the organization’s first audience was a college campus, today, every soldier coming into the United States Army is required to see “Sex Signals,” Murphy said.

Beyond awareness, Murphy said Catharsis Productions looks to educate its audiences on bystander intervention strategies and their social responsibilities to potential victims.

“We challenge [the audience] to call out aggressive behavior or sexist or demeaning comments,” Murphy said. “We expect them to intervene when they see others taking advantage of a friend that may appear drunk. We urge them to hold their own friends accountable when their friends look to take advantage of other people in vulnerable situations. And we do all this by providing various examples of how they can intervene in safe, non-confrontational ways.”

Murphy said Catharsis Productions hopes to one day change the world.

“The Catharsis Productions mission statement is to change the world by producing innovative, accessible and research-supported programing that shifts oppressive attitudes and transforms behavior,” Murphy said.

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Emma Borne started as a news writer for the Observer in Fall 2013. She is a senior majoring in Sociology and Peace Studies. She loves writing for the Observer because it allows her to participate in campus life in a way that she otherwise wouldn't and because she gets to work with some super talented, awesome people!

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