A new campus support group hopes to create a safe space for students affected by sexual assault in the recent or distant past.
ASSK, Assault Survivor Support at Knox, promises confidentiality, education and emotional backing, according to the group’s advisor Tianna Cervantez.
The seed for the group was planted about a year ago, she said, when a group of students approached her with an interest in creating an outlet on campus specific to sexual assault.
“You go around campus and you hear things: ‘I wish there was a hotline’ or
‘I wish there was someone at the Counseling Center specific to trauma,’” said Cervantez. “While all three counselors are very well versed in trauma counseling, I think there is a perception by some people on campus that they want somebody that is specifically trained for this.”
Cervantez came to Knox in the winter of 2008 with a Master’s degree in social work with a concentration in violence prevention. She hopes to grant those affected by sexual assault an opportunity to work with their peers in an environment that has not previously been available on campus.
“Maybe they’ve done a lot of counseling and they feel that they’re past it, but at times maybe they just want to vent,” she said. “We’re trying to stay awayfrom this sense of a therapy, this sense of a counseling because that’s not what we’re here for. It’s more of a safe space for people who have been a victim of sexual assault; they’re able to come in and share that space with a group of people who know what they’re feeling.”
Cervantez expressed pride in the students who came together to form the group at a time when the discussion of sexual assault was less present at Knox.
“This in no way was a response to what’s going on on campus because it has been in the works for over a year. It just happened that we were ready to launch this this term after all of this stuff had actually happened,” she said. “It was just something that was important to them.”
All those interested in the group will remain confidential as well as meeting times and locations. Meetings will last approximately an hour and will be comprised of group discussion and education. Should more than 20 students express interest in the group, two separate sessions will be organized.
“You really don’t know what to expect until you get all the ladies into the room,” said Cervantez.
Education, according to Cervantez, is essential to the function of the group.
“Survivors tend to be the hardest critics of others,” she said. Educating attendees will provide a fresh lens for those who have experienced sexual assault to view their experiences and those of others.
“Hopefully this group will add validation to survivor’s stories, give them the support to move through their situation and to look past it and to be able to say ‘I’m a survivor but that doesn’t define me,’” she said.
Cervantez hopes that this organization will refresh those affected by sexual assault and grant them an opportunity to express themselves in a new way.
“Maybe something triggered me; maybe there was a smell on campus or a song that I heard; maybe something happened that just brought me back to that moment and I need a safe space to go talk to and feel like other people understand me rather than putting it all on my roommate who might not be prepared to talk about it,” she said.
She acknowledged that oftentimes roommates and friends might be the first place someone affected by sexual assault might turn.
“At that point they might just feel trusting enough to let you into that world with them,” she said. “My advice would be to take a deep breath, be honest with your roommate. They’re probably just looking for someone to listen to them for that moment and if you’re comfortable listening, then go ahead and just be there with them.”
“If you find that you’re not comfortable or able to hear it for whatever reason, whether you have a past or not, it’s okay to be honest with your roommate,” she continued. “Say, ‘I really care about you a lot and I’m sorry that that happened to you, I’m just not sure how I am able to help or how you want me to help.’”
Trust is of the utmost, according to Cervantez, but she also stressed the importance of recognizing the many kinds of sexual assault as well as its stages.
“Just like there are grieving stages for death, you can look and there are grieving stages for sexual assault,” she said.
ASSK aims to educate its attendees and Cervantez hopes to teach Knox that sexual assault can mean many things.
“It’s just being able to understand all these nuances,” she said. “What I want people to be aware of and what hopefully this group is going to allow people to learn how to handle is, just because you weren’t grabbed on a corner by a stranger and forced by knife point to have sex with someone doesn’t mean that what you went through is any less traumatic or any less important for you to acknowledge, or for it to be acknowledged.”
ASSK hopes to become a regular resource on campus.