Student Initiatives for Sexual Assault Support Groups

Annie McDonough, Maroon-News Staff

Breaking the Silence, a movement that was initiated at Colgate by seniors Laura Wojcik, Tess Cumpstone and Cameron Costa, is leading the effort to establish a group that provides survivors of sexual assault and harassment a peer network of support. Members of The Network, the student-led sexual assault and domestic violence awareness group, are also participating in this initiative.

Plans for the group, to be called “Peer Survivor Support,” are in early stages, but Wojcik said the organizers hope to have it up and running by the end of this semester. The core group of students have laid out a tentative process through which individuals can seek comfort and guidance from allies with experience in supporting survivors of sexual assault.

“Right now, we are preparing a core group that will be able to provide support, intending to grow our group over time,” Wojcik said.

As of now, survivors of sexual assault and harassment will be able to reach out for support in a three-step process, according to Wojcik. First, any person in need of assistance can contact the network through the email address [email protected]. Peer survivor support will then respond, asking for preferences about with whom the individual would like to meet – male or female – how many people the individual would like to meet with and details of when and where. Finally, the group will facilitate a meeting time as soon as possible.

“We will meet with you and help in any way we can and is appropriate,” Wojcik said.

This student-led development is a part of a campus-wide effort to raise awareness of the issues of sexual assault and harassment. The Sexual Climate Forum that occured on Monday, October 27 as an attempt to start a campus-wide discussion about sexual assault at Colgate. The event was organized by five Colgate seniors and featured a keynote speech by filmmaker Liz Canner and a panel of Colgate faculty and staff with knowledge on the subject.

Associate Director of the Counseling Center Dawn LaFrance said the concern over the issue of sexual assault was evident at the event, adding that the Counseling Center would be willing to help train the core group behind Peer Survivor Support and to help its members consider the level of involvement the Counseling Center would have.

Sophomore Hannah Bercovici said that a peer-to-peer support group is necessary on campus, judging by how many people identified as victims of sexual assault at the forum.

“One of the main problems seems to be that victims believe they are alone and the stigma behind being sexually assaulted is really degrading,” Bercovici said.

LaFrance said her past effort to offer a therapy group for survivors did not yield a lot of student participation, but that the student-centric nature of the group could make students more willing to seek support.

“Since this is a delicate issue, I am unsure how many students would seek a group as they work through this trauma,” LaFrance said.

In the group’s working mission statement, Wojcik noted the focus of Peer Survivor Support is to provide support, not to replace existing resources available to students or to take the place of professional counseling services. She added that the group’s premiere concern is confidentiality and trust.

“We provide individual peer-to-peer support to those affected by sexual violence, whether first hand or secondary,” Wojcik said. “We believe this is a community issue, and we believe you.”