As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Worcester State hosted author and founder of The Center for Respect Mike Domitrz for a presentation of his interactive program about consent, respect, and intervention, “Can I Kiss You?” on April 4.
Throughout the hour-long program, Domitrz challenged many preconceptions surrounding consent and sexual assault and gave students practical tips to handle awkward situations in their own relationships and to effectively intervene when they witness sexual assault.
One of the biggest contributors to a lack of intervention in social situations is language people use to describe actions, Domitrz said. In a scenario where a person is trying to have sexual contact with someone incapable of giving consent because they are incapacitated, these actions are often called “taking advantage of someone” or “a drunk hookup,” terms that encourage people to hesitate to get involved. But when these actions are described as sexual assault, people are much more likely to intervene. “When someone calls it what it is, no one in the room can deny their responsibility to do something,” Domitrz said.
Taking responsibility for the safety of others was a major theme in Domitrz’s talk. The “bystander effect,” where the presence of other people discourages individuals from taking action in an emergency, is a myth, Domitrz said, pointing out that everyone would help someone they love, no matter how many other people were around. Action or inaction was, he said, “never about the bystander effect. It was when you chose to care about a human being or chose not to care about a human being.”
He acknowledged that intervening might be difficult. “You don’t need to be courageous,” he said. “Be human.” He encouraged students to say, “I’m going to intervene because this is who I am,” a statement that became a refrain throughout the program.
Domitrz has been speaking out about sexual assault since he was 20, after the assault of a family member. “Every survivor of sexual assault has strength and courage within them,” he said. He pointed out that many survivors have never disclosed what happened to them, and he then challenged everyone in the room to help survivors come forward by letting three people in their lives know that they are there for them if they have or ever do experience sexual assault.
Sexual violence is a major concern on college campuses, with 26.4 percent of female and 6.8 percent of male undergraduate students experiencing rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, according to RAINN.
“Any programming that we can do as a campus to foster conversations around boundaries, intimacy, and sexual violence prevention is worth it for our students’ sense of safety, success, and wellbeing,” said Sarah Valois, assistant director of Worcester State’s Counseling Center and sexual violence response and prevention coordinator. “Thankfully, we were able to bring in such a well-known and respected program to aid our sexual violence prevention efforts and have an immediate impact on students’ lives and choices.”
Domitrz was brought to campus by Worcester State’s SAVE (Sexual Assault and Violence Education) task force as part of their ongoing consent programming for students. The program was made possible by a Massachusetts state grant obtained this year.
Domitrz said it’s extremely gratifying to see students realize that they deserve to have a choice and their partner deserves to have a choice, to see students are ready and eager to intervene on behalf of someone else, and to meet survivors who might have never heard they were strong before who now take pride in who they are. “Those are really the gifts of the work,” he said.
Worcester State’s Residence Life and SAVE will run The Clothesline Project, a program that gives women affected by violence a safe way to speak out, along with a sexual violence resource fair on April 19-21 in the Sheehan Hall lobby.
Individuals can find information about upcoming events on SAVE’s Instagram (@wsusave) and counseling, reporting, and other resources available through the Title IX Office.
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