Consent, safety topic of Sexual Assault Awareness Month seminar

By Jshania Owens, Staff Writer

With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Contra Costa College Student Equity Program hosted a Sexual Assault Awareness and Intervention workshop in the Fireside Hall April 11.

Contra Costa County Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves and Victim Witness Program assistant Marlen Valenzuela hosted the two-hour event, which offered an insightful look into the prevention of sexual assault.

Graves, who works on sexual assault, domestic abuse and child abuse cases discussed the awareness of sexual assault on college campuses and issues of intoxication and how it confuses the concept of consent between two people.

The district attorney also talked about the importance of reporting incidents to local authorities and ending the culture of victim blaming.

“One in five women are victims of rape or attempted rape,” Graves said. “Ninety percent of the victims are under 30 years old and one-third are between the ages of 17 and 19 years old. The impact of rape on a survivor lasts a lifetime.”

He said, “Young men wreck their (victims’) lives, trust and respect for people,” he said about men who choose to become irresponsible in situations where they act against consent.

The case against Brock Turner, a Stanford University swimmer who was sentenced to six months incarceration after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, was also explored.

“Passing laws don’t solve problems,” Graves said. “Assaulters don’t care about the consequences. People have the power to effect change. ‘No’ is always going to mean ‘no.’”

Graves discussed actions that people can take to stop sexual assault from happening.

At the workshop, Graves asked attendees if they had ever stopped a friend from drinking and driving.

He talked about being a designated friend and steps people can take to avoid getting into questionable situations, like refusing to take a drink offered by stranger or leaving a party or event with someone they just met.

“If a guy gets drunk, we say it’s just boys being boys. If a woman is doing the same, she’s a ‘hoe’ and it’s her fault if something happens to her,” he said. “No one deserves to be raped, regardless of whether they were drunk or not.”

Consent was also discussed.

“Affirmative consent is required (for sex),” Graves said. “Legal consent requires the understanding of what someone says and does, and the capability of their consent.”

“Rape survivors don’t (usually) report or they report the crime much later,” he said. “Eighty to 90 percent of victims know their assailant. They can be friends, classmates, partners, acquaintances.”

Victim blaming also causes people to not report a rape out of fear of being judged. The reactions of survivors were also talked about.

“Frozen fright happens when the victim freezes as it happens. They’re left in mental paralysis.”

A quote was shown from a survivor describing her feelings of terror and helplessness when she was raped and how making the right decision in the immediate aftermath can be imperative.

Valenzuela talked about what to do after an attack.

“You must get medical help and resources to check for any injuries and STDs,” she said, “Counseling also makes a difference.”

Two video clips were shown from the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which details the reports of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses.

They showed two women from Harvard and Florida State universities who told stories of being attacked on campus and the lack of action taken by their respective schools.

At CCC, there is no overt way for students who don’t know where the intercom boxes are located to signal help when an attack is impending.

Psychology major Tayler Meulpolder said, “On campus I don’t see anything. They have that new intercom system, but that is not even completely working. Most people here use the buddy system, but that’s just because we don’t have anything else.”

Graves encouraged everyone to watch for signs, as well as the actions taken by the victims in the videos, which led to the attacks. He pointed out the involvement of alcohol in both videos.

“Men are also victims of sexual assault,” he said, “with most of them being gay. Men usually won’t report assault due to perception, fear of judgment, unfair treatment or a belief that they won’t be believed.”

Masculinity and sexual identity also play a role in uniting the societal views of men and sexual assault.

Graves pointed out the flaws in society that tied in with the aftermath for the Florida State victim who faced backlash from her community, including victim blaming.

He also explained rules for people planning to drink or have friends who are visibly intoxicated at a party.

“If someone is drunk, don’t leave them in a situation where they can be taken advantage of.

“Guys need to ask themselves — ‘would she do this sober?’”

Bystanders and friends can also help by encouraging the victims to get counseling.

“We need to keep having forums like the one we had today to increase awareness,” Graves said. “We cannot solve problems if we do not discuss them openly and directly. The younger generation are the ones best situated to break through the stigmas in society and change the way society views sexual assault.”

Valenzuela also talked about the California Victim Compensation Board, which assists victims who have been injured or threatened with expenses and services like medical care, mental health counseling and job retraining.