Awareness week gives sexual assault a voice

By Shannon O’Brien ’15

The t-shirts hanging in KJ atrium this week communicate clear messages to the Hamilton community: “Consent is not optional,” “Rape happens at Hamilton,” “My slutty dress does not mean yes,” “Consent is not the absence of no.” Sexual Assault Awareness Week aims to bring attention to the fact that sexual assault occurs at Hamilton College, and that there are resources available for students seeking help in the aftermath of sexual assault.

The week is sponsored by Hamilton SAVES (Sexual Assault Violence Education and Support), a group of students who work to educate others about sexual assault policy and investigation and provide counseling services for students who have experienced sexual assault.

Previously run as a joint venture between staff members and students, SAVES became fully student-run a couple of years ago. SAVES co-chair Samantha Sokoloff ’13 explained that “there was a feeling on campus that more needed to be done in response to sexual assault at Hamilton” after a student reported an incident, leading to a trial and then hearing, which was “the first hearing the school had done in years.” Sokoloff noted, “There were many things about the reporting, investigation, and hearing process that we found unsatisfactory,” and that the absence of reports at Hamilton was disturbing.

The student body responded to this hearing by hosting a Take Back the Night and Speak Out event in the Glen House. Sokoloff recalled that the Glen House was packed as “brave survivors told their stories of being sexual assaulted, and ideas were brain stormed for action.”

Students then formed a new club called Students Against Sexual Assault, which eventually combined with SAVES. Today, SAVES is completely student-run, making it an organization in which students themselves are the educators and supporters of fellow students.

To raise awareness and educate students, SAVES has organized a Peer Advocate program, which Sokoloff said “aims to educate members of the student body about Hamilton’s sexual assault policies, reporting, investigation and hearing processes.”

The Peer Advocate program also presents students with other resources for support, such as Hamilton’s Counseling Center, the Chaplaincy and the YWCA in Utica.

Participants in the Peer Advocate program are instructed in sensitivity training. Sokoloff explained, “We train peer advocates about some of the best practices when talking with a survivor, and try to help peer advocates understand the emotional side of helping a survivor.” SAVES also works with Meredith Harper Bonham, Hamilton’s Title IX coordinator, to inform students about the sexual misconduct policy specific to Hamilton.  SAVES has hosted two rounds of training this year, and the group hopes to continue offering the program at least once a semester.

Commenting on the effectiveness of the program, co-chair JJ Liebow ’13 said, “We’ve had over 30 students trained and have really spread the knowledge of how to help survivors.” While the training sessions have been successful, SAVES continues to set the bar high. “The goal is that we will train enough members of the Hamilton Community about these issues that any survivor of assault will have someone they know who is peer advocate trained who can help them access resources, or report the assault or harassment if they choose to,” said Sokoloff.

Besides offering the Peer Advocate program, SAVES has taken steps to spreading awareness around campus through the sexual misconduct policy posters in the bathroom. The group also attended a conference called “Consent Fest” at Williams College earlier in the semester.

“If more people on this campus understand the way that assaults harm communities as a whole, we’ll go a long way in addressing the problem,” Liebow explained.

Sexual Assault Awareness Week hopes to bring attention to the fact that Hamilton’s campus is not immune to sexual assault. SAVES sponsored a t-shirt decorating event for their Clothesline Project in KJ atrium, and on Friday, student athletes will gather in front of Commons to read the accounts of people who have been sexually assaulted.

Regarding Hamilton’s policy and actions toward the issue of sexual assault, Sokoloff said, “I think that Hamilton’s students, faculty and administration have made great strides in combating sexual assault. That being said, sexual assault still happens at Hamilton. Bringing awareness to this is definitely a step in the right direction, and that is one of the things that Sexual Assault Awareness Week aims to do.”


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