Third-year Penn State law students Georgina Buckley and Rebecca Salko work in a family law clinic and have represented Centre County victims of domestic violence in getting protection-from-abuse orders.
That experience has led directly to their activism on the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Buckley said she wanted to get involved in a way that would help at least one person realize he or she is in an abusive relationship.
She also wants to focus attention on domestic and sexual assault affecting men and women of color and those in gay relationships. They tend to experience it more than other demographic groups, she said.
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“College-aged persons are the target for who is most affected by sexual assault, and if the data is broken down further, women of color experience it even more,” Buckley said. “And if you break it down even further, 50 percent of gay women will be physically abused by their partner in their lifetime.”
Buckley and Salko are developing a poster campaign to spread awareness of the problem. They plan for volunteers to stand in nine different windows on campus, each symbolizing a different kind of relationship.
The participants — all victims of assault — will hold up whiteboards stating something abusers have said to them, something they thought while being abused or a sentence describing the abuse. They will appear in high-visibility buildings to try to reach as many people as possible.
It’s a way to get people thinking about these issues, Salko said, especially because a lot of people are not aware that, in LGBT relationships, domestic violence is prevalent.
Why sexual assault is common on university campuses is harder to figure out than the statistics, they say.
“Sometimes it’s something about the culture itself that is OK with it, but on college campuses I don’t know the why,” Buckley said. “A lot of students may not know the rules, or some may not have had a relationship before and can’t tell right from wrong.”
The culture around sexual assault and domestic violence must change, Salko said, and it starts with university campuses.
“If you don’t have an affirmative yes, then it’s a no,” Salko said about sexual encounters. “I think that until college campuses change the culture, nothing will be done.”
Stevie Berberick, a doctoral candidate in the College of Communications, has taken a different approach to activism by involving the administration.
Berberick said she sees excellent support services for survivors on campus, but says Penn State must figure out how to become a leader in the fight against sexual assault and gender violence.
Every suggestion she has made is already active at Penn State, she said, but they need to be made mandatory.
One suggestion is a general education requirement on sexual assault, she said. Another is mandatory bystander intervention training for new students to prepare them to step in when they see a situation that could potentially lead to a sexual assault. Berberick said the campus already has such training by qualified volunteers.
Berberick has started an online statement of support, has spoken before the board of trustees and the Graduate and Professional Students Association, and emailed many university administrators.
In a society in which women have to take precautions, Berberick said, “I think our goal should be getting to a society where that is no longer necessary.”