When President Barack Obama declared April National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, he called for all citizens to “recommit ourselves not only to lifting the veil of secrecy and shame surrounding sexual violence, but also to raising awareness, expanding support for victims, and strengthening our response.”
Lehigh more than answered the call this academic year.
Preventing sexual violence has been a long-standing goal of the university’s Women’s Center , which capped a year of activities with a series of events that included Brett Sokolow’s “Don’t Stand By…STAND UP!” bystander intervention program; the 200-person strong Take Back the Night march and rally; the Clothesline Project; the Men Can Stop Rape training; and several well-attended performances of The Vagina Monologues.
Since it was established by Lehigh’s Women’s Center in the spring of 2004, Lehigh’s “Break the Silence” peer hotline and education group has helped make the campus a safer place to discuss and report sexual violence and assault, says Michelle Issadore, assistant director of the Women’s Center.
“To ensure that our students receive the message that sexual violence against women won’t be tolerated on this campus, the Break the Silence group makes presentations to residence halls, chapters, athletic teams, and classes on a variety of topics that include healthy versus unhealthy relationships, campus rape culture and violence against women in the media,” she says.
'Respect is a fundamental expectation'
The more than 30 male and female volunteers in this program present the mandatory Sexual Assault: The Info Session for First Years (SATISFY) program to all incoming first-year students during orientation.
Members also work with other groups—such as the Kaleidoscope social justice peer educators and Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs’ Peer Values Educators—to spread the word about bystander intervention this year.
“These programs and other outreach efforts offered by the Women’s Center are designed to prevent sexual assault before it happens, while raising awareness about the experiences of survivors,” Issadore says.
During the academic year, the Women’s Center, which is located on the second floor of the University Center (Room C207), staffs a 24-hour a day, seven-day a week anonymous and confidential Break the Silence peer hotline at (610) 974-HOPE. Students can also report sexual violence anonymously online.
Issadore says that the center offers trained staff advocates who can confidentially assist students through all their options if they have been a victim of sexual assault. (During business hours, students should call (610) 758-4165. After hours and on weekends, Break the Silence can connect callers to resources).
Students can also contact the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (888-656-HOPE) from anywhere in the country to be connected to their local rape crisis center, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) to be connected to their local shelter.
John Smeaton, vice provost of Student Affairs, says: “The university is fully committed to sustaining an inclusive living and learning community, where each member of the campus is valued and where an atmosphere of civility and respect is a fundamental expectation. We take the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff very seriously, and we see the prevention of sexual assault to be a critical element of our comprehensive health and safety programs.”