PAVE trains students in sexual assault awareness
When Jenny Hansen’s friend told her the story of an unwanted sexual experience, she didn’t call it rape, saying, “I shouldn’t have drank so much.”
Wendy Seay, a sexual assault nurse examiner at Meriter Hospital, speaks to a class about the medical tests and services provided to rape and sexual assault victims after an assault. The student-led peer education class is one of the outreach programs of the student organization Promoting Awareness and Victim Empowerment (PAVE).
Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart
Hansen repeatedly tried to explain to her friend that the incident wasn’t her fault. But no matter what Hansen said, her friend just kept blaming herself.
At that moment, Hansen decided join the fight against sexual assault. She went through Promoting Awareness and Victim Empowerment (PAVE) training and became a PAVE facilitator.
“What happened to [my friend] wasn’t her fault, but she didn’t see it that way. That’s when I decided to really make this happen,” Hansen says. “When I began my facilitator training, it blew my mind. Time and time again after a facilitation I heard someone say, ‘That was me, and I didn’t know why I felt so bad about what happened.'”
A year and a half after her PAVE training, Hansen is now the coordinator of an academic class designed to train peer educators on sexual assault issues.
The one-credit course through the social work department is specially designed by students, for students, to educate their peers on sexual assault and domestic violence issues. Every other week for two hours, classmates learn how to identify sexual assault as well as the social causes and effects of what PAVE calls a “rape culture.”
The class is also designed to create new student leaders who can go into the community to teach others about sexual assault prevention. Students learn to lead group discussions as well as how to write newspaper op-ed pieces and how to be involved in advocacy for the issue.
PAVE created the class in the fall of 2004 to try to create and retain student leaders in sexual assault prevention. The class has almost tripled in size from seven students to 20, and interest keeps growing.
“Every semester it (PAVE) gets bigger,” says Libbie Watkins, a 2004 class member. “It’s getting to be a big network with a lot of support.”
Watkins explains that this “network” is what first attracted her to PAVE.
“It’s a huge campus here. Coming in as a freshman I felt that I was alone fighting sexual assault,” Watkins says. “[After PAVE] I realized there are a lot of people fighting with me. I’m not alone feeling victimized.”
As part of the class, each participant is required to facilitate two sexual assault awareness programs that are pre-planned by PAVE and also create and facilitate one program of their own. Programs are designed to create an open discussion about sexual assault and are often used in University Housing and in the Greek system.
In addition to facilitations, PAVE also has a number of other ways of spreading their message. One of their biggest campaigns promotes sexual consent through suckers with the message: “Asking is the first thing you do with your mouth.” PAVE also has numerous poster campaigns throughout the year many revolving around the idea of men and women working together to end sexual assault. During October, domestic violence month, and April, sexual assault awareness month, the group sets up displays on Library Mall to educate their peers as well as helping other groups with their awareness projects.
Hansen says that October and April are PAVE’s busiest months. She explains that both sexual assault and domestic abuse have the same fundamental core.
“They are about power and control. Who has it, who doesn’t,” Hansen says. “It is one person feeling entitled to power over another, or feeling entitled to a woman’s body or power over a woman or child.”
In most cases the abuser is a man asserting power over a woman, but Hansen is quick to point out that fighting sexual assault is not a battle of the sexes.
“Abusers are the minority of men,” Hansen says. “Men are really the solution to this problem.”
In fact, the PAVE class has seen increasing amounts of male interest. This semester there are two male class members, and every year more men are getting involved in PAVE.
Ramphis Marerro, a current PAVE class member, agrees that men are the solution to the problem of sexual assault.
“As a man, I think that we can better influence the decision of our peers,” Marerros says. “It is much easier for a man to tell another man that he should not take advantage or abuse a woman.”
Hansen says that although the class is about education and outreach, it is also about classmates and peers supporting each other during their struggles to understand sexual assault.
“This is such emotional work, and we need to support each other,” Hansen says. “Nobody walks away after talking about rape with a smile on their face.”
Laura Dunn, a current student in the class and a survivor of sexual assault, understands the support PAVE provides. After PAVE spoke in one of her classes, her life changed.
“Without that brave person sharing with me the truth of sexual assault, I would never have moved from victim to survivor,” Dunn says. “Facilitations reach out to students on campus who have been victims, who will become victims, and those who may never have known about sexual assault had they not heard from us. By facilitating these classes ourselves we are learning to become leaders and educators in our communities.”
Students interested in taking the PAVE course can contact Jenny Hansen.