Krista Shaw, Contributing Writer
A presentation and discussion session entitled “Help UD Define Sexual Violence” was held on Thursday, April 3, as the first event of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The session focused on defining what constitutes consent to sexual activity and devising appropriate sanctions to deal with cases of rape or other forms of sexual violence. Director of student life Dore Madere began the session by inviting students to take an active role in deciding future school policies and reviewing current ones.
The University of Dallas currently has no definite sanctions in place to handle instances of sexual violence even though, statistically, 1 in 5 college women is a victim of sexual assault. The Office of Student Life is currently working to develop a comprehensive policy against sexual violence and to help counteract it at UD by participating in Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) this April.
According to a session handout, consent is defined by UD as “clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.” Verbal consent is the most highly recommended form, and consent cannot be given by a person who is incapacitated in any way, including in cases of mental incapacitation due to alcohol. It is the job of UD students to determine whether this definition of consent is adequate and to then decide what punishments should be enforced in cases of sexual violence.
This session included an interactive presentation by leaders from the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center Bobbie Villareal (an attorney and former prosecutor) and Juliana Martinez (an advocate in the Family Violence Division of the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office). Both women reminded students that the college environment includes unique risks due to what Villareal termed a “close-knit victim pool” and alcohol, “the number one date rape drug.” The high number of people living in close quarters and the presence of potentially mentally incapacitating substances makes rape more prevalent and possibly more difficult to define. Villareal affirmed that regardless of circumstances, rape is an “intentional criminal act.”
Martinez compared rape occurring in the presence of alcohol to robbery under the same conditions. “If a drunk man robs me, he is still guilty. If I get violated when I’m drunk and the other guy is drunk, that is not an excuse,” Martinez said.
Villareal and Martinez helped to dispel common misconceptions about sexual violence and what leads to it. They spoke of “rape culture,” in which sexual violence is subtly sanctioned by social norms. They especially pointed to how narrow ideas of how men and women ought to act contribute to rape culture and reminded students that a woman’s or man’s way of dressing or behaving cannot be confused for consent to sexual activity.
Villareal and Martinez pointed out another aspet of rape culture: “Dealing with this issue means we need to be good citizens and be good to each other,” said Villareal, while encouraging students to act if they saw or heard of someone who might be at risk or if they heard about an offense that had occurred.
Martinez urged students to watch out for their friends in questionable situations. “Make that girl that you recognize from your dorm go home with you. She may hate you tonight, but she’ll thank you tomorrow,” said Martinez.
After the presentations, Madere, Villareal and Martinez encouraged students to share their opinions and questions about how the university should move forward.
Some students expressed concern about UD’s definition of consent and thought that it should include some way of differentiating between cases in which alcohol is involved and those in which it is not. Other students were more anxious to set sanctions for perpetrators of sexual violence, with several who spoke advocating a policy of expulsion.
“It’s against our state law, federal law, school policy and culture. It’s one of the worst things a person can do to another human being. Why is expulsion not our automatic policy?” asked freshman Quincy Gholston.
Regardless of what sanctions are established, Villareal emphasized the need for a set policy and for awareness among the student body: “If I report, what can I expect the school to do? These are the things you need to know.” Madere is currently in the process of setting up a task force to research and decide the best course of action.
The topic of UD’s future policy will be revisited at other SAAM events including separate men’s and women’s talks on Tuesday April 8 at 7 p.m. in Gregory Hall and Jerome Hall, respectively.