Sexual Abuse Awareness Program

by Lavinia Weizel | 5/4/04 5:00am

To The Dartmouth Editorial Board:

Your editorial "Verbum Ultimum" (April 23) raised central issues regarding sexual assault at Dartmouth and the complexities of initiating effective programming that does not additionally burden survivors but makes an immediate impact. This is a task that as one of two interns to the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program along with Lauren Wondolowski '04, we struggle with daily. We agree that combating sexual assault and the culture that facilitates it is, "a project of staggering ambition," and we are grateful to The Dartmouth for taking on that project. We disagree, however, with your editorial's suggested method for creating the "culture of prevention" that you envision.

While RAD is an excellent program, we would argue that arming everyone with basic self-defense skills would do nothing to alleviate the actual problem of sexual assault. An institution like ours should focus on prevention before the point at which self-defense skills would be necessary. In our campus culture, the majority of sexual assaults do occur in private, but they also typically occur in social settings that involve alcohol, and the perpetrator is usually an acquaintance, friend or even dating partner of the victim. This is a culture where women are on guard not when walking home alone at night but when out at parties. For Dartmouth, actual cultural change would mean an environment in which sexual assault is in no way acceptable, survivors are adequately supported and perpetrators are held 100 percent accountable for their actions by the administration and our community as a whole.

We would argue that an effective strategy to yield immediate results would be mandatory education for all first-year students regarding issues of gender relations, consent and the role of alcohol in social interactions. This type of educational effort is not unrealistic given the 100 active Sexual Abuse Peer Advisors on campus who would be qualified to lead small group workshops in conjunction with faculty and administrators. Such programs would help everyone to recognize and eliminate the attitudes and behaviors that allow perpetrators to exist as active members of our community. This is the initiative that would allow Dartmouth to take a truly leading role in combating sexual assault.

We challenge The Dartmouth and Dartmouth as a whole to envision genuine cultural change and to work toward a community in which we would never need to tell an '08, '09 or '10 that fighting off a perpetrator is a skill essential to life at Dartmouth.