A Conversation With UA’s Rape Crisis Center

While it may not be easy to talk about sexual assault, the conversation is entirely necessary. For college students especially, the topic is one that is both uncomfortable and omnipresent. For decades, colleges and universities have gone to great lengths in order to hide sexual assault statistics or brush reported cases under the carpet. Today, those efforts unfortunately still continue, yet they are being met with a resistance that challenges the status quo each step of the way.

Rape Crisis Centers (RCCs) have emerged across college campuses with vigor in the past decade. With statistics showing one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted during their time in college, it is wholly necessary that these centers are not only made available to students, but are also recognized as vital resources for prevention, education, and support. The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Her Campus Akron is proud to celebrate the efforts that members of our campus community are taking to address this important issue.

Group Picture (L to R): Mike Lee - Direct Service Advocate, Nicole Talley - Direct Service Advocate, Kelsea Daniluk - Education and Outreach Advocate, Zachary Thomas - Education and Outreach Advocate, Jasmine Jones - Support Group Advocate  

The Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties has one of its satellite offices on the campus of The University of Akron (UA). Kelsea Daniluk and Zac Thomas are Education and Outreach Advocates at UA, and sat down to discuss the work they do in relation to informing the student body about sexual assault. As well-versed educators on the topic, they share the many insights they’ve gained and hopes they have in creating a safer, more knowledgeable campus environment.

 

Can you explain the work your office takes on in terms its of day-to-day functions?

Kelsea Daniluk: Zac and I are Education and Outreach advocates. Our job is to work with student organizations and Greek life to do presentations and plan events. We’ve been here since 2014, when the first office opened, but there are still students who don’t know that we’re here, so we do a lot of tabling events so that people know we’re here and here for them. A lot of it is just getting our message out there so that if anyone needs us, they know where to come and they at least know our faces.

We do Akron Experience presentations, which is something we’re working on now. We have about 60 of those this semester, where we talk about consent in general, our services, and how to be an active bystander. We also have direct service advocates. Right now they’re at our Rec Center office. They take walk-ins and work with clients who are currently going through some kind of crisis. They do a lot of crisis management. We focus more on the prevention, and they’re more of the what’s-happening-in-the-moment aspect.

What is the office structure like?

Zac Thomas: Our two offices are super close. We visit their office and they come over here. We always have an intern or volunteer or two here, as well. We have three advocates at the Rec Center office, and one is our support group advocate, so she leads support groups.

KD: In our office here in the Student Union, we have two advocates (Zac and I) and then our manager and a volunteer intern coordinator next door, so we have four in this office.

We’re also all cross-trained. So if they ever need to cover a presentation, they can do that. And then we can help with walk-ins. But we all are required to work the hotline, which is for anyone who calls in if something has happened and they need to talk. We’re all required to do hospital advocacy, so if someone is getting a forensic medical exam done (a.k.a. a rape kit), we sit with them for emotional support; we can help to be that emotional support to help guide them through that. If someone files a police report or needs to go through the court system, and they want someone sitting with them, we can all do that.

How did you become involved with RCC?

ZT: I graduated in spring of 2017, with a Pan-African studies degree with a focus in community development from Kent State. I’ve always been involved in community and outreach roles. Presenting and talking to students was always part of my role as an outreach manager in the past. I knew I wanted to get into higher education. I ended up interviewing for a position here originally as an administrator in a different office. A position opened up here for education and outreach, and when I initially asked about it, the position had been filled already. Three weeks later, they actually ended up bringing me over. I was really happy to do it because it’s education and outreach on a college campus. I get to work with students and I get to help people on top of that.

KD: I graduated from UA with a degree in psychology, and it was actually around my final year that I found out RCC was even on campus. It was pretty new, and hadn’t existed for part of my college career. Instantly I though, “That sounds cool. That’s where I want to work.” When I did my honors research project, I actually worked on [the subject of] sexual assault and athletes. I always knew that I wanted to work with this population, and I wanted to work with sexual assault victims.

I was hired at the Battered Women’s Shelter (BWS) first; we’re all under the same agency, the Hope & Healing agency, which comprises of RCC, BWS, and Adult Protective Services. I worked at BWS for about a year, and then this position opened up, and it was exactly what I wanted to do. Working in the shelter was probably the hardest job I’ll ever have, emotionally and otherwise. But it was a great experience, and I used that knowledge to work on campus. I love working with students; it’s the population I wanted to work with most. It’s really like my dream job.

What were your experiences like in undergrad relating to this issue?

ZT: For many of my leadership roles at Kent, we had to do Green Dot Training. Green Dot is basically active bystander training. If someone is in a situation like a party, for example, and something happens, this is how you react in a way to help a victim. I took the class twice, and then taught it a third time, so I really knew the information. The training with Green Dot directly correlated to my work with RCC here, so I was able to bring that with me to the job.

KD: I didn’t think sexual assault was talked about very much at all. A few years ago, there was a mishandling of a sexual assault complaint [at UA], and that was a big reason our office opened up here. Up until that point especially, I don’t think it was talked about at all. It’s something that many colleges want to sweep under the rug. It’s a problem across all college campuses, not just here. But I think the fear was, “If you talk about it, that means it happens here more than anywhere else.” There’s still that fear with us being here on campus. People will ask, “Why do they have two offices on campus? Does it happen here all the time and they need people for that reason?” That’s not what it’s about at all; we still fit the same statistics as every other campus, it just means we have more resources here available to students. So it’s actually a good thing we’re here.

Have you seen any progress on the issues of fear and stigma?

KD: It’s still hard to talk about. Even doing presentations, we want a lot of participation; we want all of our presentations to be pretty much student-led with us just there to guide it. But it’s still a lot to talk about; some people have a hard time with it.

ZT: Especially when you have a class full of incoming freshmen who don’t know each other or don’t know us. And they don’t want to pay too much attention to what we have to say. I will say that we’ve had more people tell us that they know where our office is, or let us know if they need help with certain things. Or they will attend one of our classes, so it shows people know more about what we’re doing and are reaching out.

KD: We’ve definitely seen more people approaching us for help directly— even collaborating with us on events or wanting a presentation for a group they’re a part of. We see a lot more people reaching out to us, which we think is a huge improvement.

It’s difficult for students to understand that sexual assault can happen to both women and men. How do you try to get this point across?

ZT: Specifically, we had in one of our presentations an image of a male and female with a heart in the middle. There was a concern raised that it was not inclusive since it was one picture, of one type of relationship. We’ll mention that we understand that this is a situation that doesn’t only happen with one type of couple, and we are aware that this happens whether it’s male-to-male, female-to-female, or male-to-female. It happens across every spectrum, and we don’t want people to think that it only happens to one group in one way.

In this idea relating to men, fewer men talk about out assault out of fear of the masculinity model, where you’re supposed to be able to “fight them off” or get asked “are you gay now?” That’s a reason we try to bring it up and address the issue.

KD: We’re always so careful. One of the first things they teach you when you start doing presentations is to use gender-neutral language. All of our examples say things like, “You’re at a party with a friend; you see your friend talking to someone else.” It’s never “you see her talking to him.”

Actually, Zac and a few of our other male advocates work with OHMAN (Ohio Men’s Action Network). They have a few different initiatives, like coaching boys into men, which involves going and teaching high school coaches how to talk to their players about this issue. If we go in one time and give a presentation, who knows how many of them will take what we have to say seriously. But if it’s their own coach talking to them about having healthy relationships and how to communicate, that might really impact their lives. So in working with OHMAN and getting those initiatives going to get men more involved, in a way that it’s not just saying that men need to fight this too, but that male victims need to be recognized as well.

How can students work against a culture of sexual assault?

ZT: As far as being an active bystander, whether it’s as a direct bystander or using the team approach or distraction approaches, and just letting them know that they can be a hero is big. Our definition of hero is basically an active bystander. It’s saying, “If you know how to step in appropriately and not do yourself harm, then do that.” If you’re not a direct person and want to diffuse the situation, look for other people in those situations you can reach out to. We really press that bystander intervention approach.

We also talk about healthy relationships—romantic, friendships, family— and things like communication, honesty, and trust; the different factors that feed into having a healthy relationship. There may be situations where people don’t realize that they’re not in secure relationships. The more we talk about it, the more we hope to spread information and awareness.

KD: We always tell people to trust your gut. If you’re getting a gut feeling about a situation, and something looks off, it’s so important to go with that feeling and do something about it. Like Zac said, that could be getting involved directly; it could be calling the police or campus security. In any way that someone feels comfortable intervening, I think it’s important to do it—safely, though. We emphasize getting involved in a way that makes you feel safe, but that also gets that other person out of that situation.

We have a slide that we present on called, “The Little Things.” It’s all these small phrases people say and hear all the time. “She was asking for it. Boys will be boys. Slut vs. prude.” We really like to lead a discussion on how these words or phrases contribute to rape culture. It’s actually shocking how many people, once we bring it up, are guilty of saying that and now understand how it’s problematic. I think one of the biggest things is first realizing that it’s a problem. Rape culture is everywhere—in [things like] music and movies. It’s probably impossible to avoid it altogether. But understanding when you hear these things how it could be a problem and who it might affect is huge.

Another thing with language is to address it with your friends when you hear it. It can be really awkward, but it’s ok to be the one person to say something even if everyone else is laughing at a problematic joke. Not everyone will be perceptive to it, but at least they thought about it for a second.

ZT: If it’s in the back of their mind, they’re more likely to think about it again and realize.  

What types of events does RCC put on?

KD: In April, we do a ton of tablings just to get our message out there. We promote Walk of Heroes, which is in April. It’s our biggest fundraising event, which is important since we’re a non-profit and we want to be able to keep our services free and available to everyone. We encourage everyone to dress up as their version of a hero, so that could be a Marvel superhero or just wearing your work uniform. It used to be called Walk A Mile In Her Shoes, byt we now call it Walk of Heroes to be more inclusive of male victims and of victims of all races, genders, ages.

We’ll usually do Take Back The Night, which is a walk around campus and ends with speakers who share their stories. It’s about getting people to feel safer walking at night, since you should feel safe and you shouldn’t feel in danger. It’s about taking back your power and your ability to walk without fear. We’ll usually bring in a speaker too.

We’ll bring in speakers throughout the month, and we also table with student organizations. That’s usually when we get a lot of student participation and they want to host events with us.

We also will paint one of our nails a teal color to represent [the statistic that] one in five women will be sexually assaulted throughout her college career. That’s one of my favorite events because it starts such a conversation when people ask why only one of my nails is painted. I think it’s a statistic that shocks a lot of people, so it’s a great way to start the conversation and get people interested.

What do you wish more students at UA knew about RCC?

ZT: I wish RCC was more well-known throughout campus. At the end of the day, somebody might know we have a center, but they might not know the full extent of resources we offer. There are so many services that are a part of our office and opportunities we offer, and I wish students knew that there’s more to our office than just what is in our name. Even with the campus tours, most tour guides don’t mention this place; they don’t know how to talk about it with families. I wish that was something that wasn’t so hard to discuss.

KD: I wish people weren’t afraid to talk to us (laughs). I think people are afraid to talk about sexual assault in general, and we understand that it is a scary thing. But you should know that you can come talk about it with us. Like Zac said, I wish students knew that you don’t have to have gone through this yourself to want to talk to us. We serve co-survivors as well, so if you know someone who is going through this and you’re struggling with what to say to them, you can come talk to us and we’ll help guide you through that. We’ll talk to people if they’re even just having relationship issues.

I also help advise a student organization called CASA (Coalition Against Sexual Assault), so if students want to get more involved in fighting sexual assault, that’s a great way to do it.

 

 

Visit RCC of Medina and Summit Counties' Facebook page here

Photos courtesy of Kelsea Daniluk.