Defense courses could fight sex assault

by Ellen Schmidt

When orientation leader Christina Jensen goes on stage to perform her part in Pieces of the Puzzle — a presentation for students attending the University of Minnesota’s orientation — she starts it off by asking for a word with her rapist.
The English junior’s monologue is part of the school’s program to teach incoming freshmen about sexual assault, alcohol abuse and gender norms in an effort to prevent crime on campus.
The University’s sexual assault prevention programs focus on education, action when an incident occurs and bystander intervention, but they don’t offer courses on resisting sexual assault. On three Canadian college campuses, using methods similar to the University’s but adding training on how to defend oneself against being
sexually assaulted has proven to almost halve the number of those crimes, according to a study published earlier this month.
The researchers put about 450 freshmen women through a 12-hour program focused on defense against sexual assault perpetrators. For every 22 women who participated in the program, one rape on campus could be prevented, the study reported. 
Teaching sexual assault resistance alone won’t prevent assaults from happening in the first place, said Katie Eichele, director of the University of Minnesota’s Aurora Center, which provides counseling, education and other resources concerning sexual assault prevention. 
Although some people feel empowered after taking resistance classes, those who fall victim to sexual assault after learning to defend themselves may feel additional guilt and blame, she said. Self-defense is frequently used as a marketing tool for sexual assault prevention programs to attract students’ attention, she said.
The Canada study only offered the program to women. To change the culture of sexual assault on campus, Eichele said, education on what constitutes sexual assault should be disseminated to all genders.
The majority of sexual assaults occur within the first six weeks of being on campus, Eichele said, and they often include alcohol and involve an acquaintance. 
The University’s programs use these statistics to teach students about which types of sexual assault scenarios are most likely to occur, she said, and the programs focus on freshmen, who make up the most vulnerable population. 
After orientation leaders conclude their Pieces of the Puzzle performances — which include monologues from a female victim and a male rapist — incoming students are presented statistics from the Aurora Center and given time to freely discuss with their peers any personal experiences or thoughts about the topic.
The performance portrays a female victim’s rape experience because nearly all sexual assaults are committed by men, Eichele said.
The play aims to reach all genders and points of view, Christina Jensen said. She plays the part of the rape victim.
“I think it’s really impactful,” she said. “My two cents is to always remind [students] that it isn’t just women — [rape] can happen to any gender identity or sexual identity.”
Eichele said the University’s sexual assault programs would benefit from adding educational elements that influence a broader campus population, but the size of the student body and limited resources make that kind of outreach difficult.
“If I could get students to do a 12-hour course, that would be great,” she said.
Orientation leaders go through a day of sexual assault education to help their students find resources if they experience sexual assault, said Patrick English, orientation leader and architecture senior.
The play’s male rapist says he wasn’t aware his actions were sexual assault prior to being educated. 
His ending line is, “And now, I’m never going to do it again,” English said.