One AU freshman is working to open students’ eyes and mouths about sexual abuse in relationships.
Jessica Hollander believes it is time to “break the silence” about sexual abuse and unhealthy relationships. To do this, she has started an independent study with the Women’s Initiative and the Women’s and Gender Studies department with the goal of starting some sort of program or organization to increase awareness of unhealthy relationships.
Representatives of the Women’s Initiative were unavailable for comment.
Gaye Young, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, is actively involved in the academic aspect of Hollander’s project.
“Date rape and sexual abuse is highly visible on college campuses, particularly now,” Young said. “To have someone like Jessica Hollander’s background and capabilities, it puts us ahead of the game.”
The focal point of “Breaking the Silence” is to first recognize that sexual abuse and date rape are problems, then to do something to bring the problems to an end, Hollander said. She plans to take a “bystander approach” with the program and to educate the community and victims that sexual abuse “is not OK,” and discourage potential and actual abusers.
“It is time for the student body to begin to talk about this,” Hollander said. She fears that most students will not come forward because they have either been in an abusive relationship or know of someone who is inflicting abuse on another person in a relationship.
The proposed program is a branch of the Mentors and Violence Program (MVP) at Northeastern University in Boston. MVP was founded by Jackson Katz, who worked with male college athletes and high-school students.
One in four women are sexually abused and 80 to 90 percent go unreported, Hollander said.
“This is everybody’s issue,” she said. “If the general public does not talk about this, then people won’t tell their stories.”
Hollander is focusing on social sororities and fraternities at AU. She has met with Danny Kelley, coordinator of Greek Life, to set up a program where his office would be actively involved in helping to promote both the program and sexual awareness within the Greek community and the general student body, she said.
Greek organizations have a large voice on campus and they are not always sought after for programs like what Hollander is initiating, she said.
“It’s time for those groups to take on this project,” she said.
The Intra-fraternity Council, the board that oversees all fraternity functions, is currently working with Hollander to schedule events where all the fraternities on campus would be involved.
Louis Ostrowsky, the council’s risk management officer, said the council was planning to co-sponsor an event with Hollander for the Safe Spring Break Week, but scheduling complications prevented an event. The group plans to work with Hollander to plan a future event.
Hollander sees “a huge [gender] gap between AU women’s groups that are active in promoting awareness of sexual abuse and campus groups made up of men, which are not active. Since both men and women are in relationships but genders are important, she said.
Young said the relation that “Breaking the Silence” will potentially have with the Greek community is an “appropriate standpoint,” since the Greek community is a “large and identifiable” community at AU.