Dealing with Sexual Assault: One performance at a time

Posted in: Sexual Health
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Statistics are grim for women in the United States, especially for college bound women:

  1. 1 in 4 college women will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault.
  2.  25 percent of  women that we love, are survivors.

You might think, wait…., I don’t know anyone that has been raped or sexually assaulted. Actually, you do.  They just haven’t disclosed to you or they haven’t disclosed to you yet.  We all know survivors.

Do we like the way that these women have been treated? No!  But how do we stop it?

The InterACT Performance Troupe, at California State University Long Beach, is helping us stop sexual assault by using 3 simple steps: creating empathy, encouraging bystander intervention and supporting affirmative consent.

  • Creating Empathy:

The number one reason why individuals don’t report a sexual assault: fear that no one is going to believe them.

The InterACT performance includes  interactive practice with audience members.  What do you say one day when your best friend tells you that they have been raped?  Often individuals do not know what to say.  Research shows that there are two ways that people typically respond, they freak out with comments like, “We have to go to the hospital!” “We have to get a rape kit!” “We have to call the Rape Crisis line!”

OR they don’t believe the victim, and say comments like,”Well, it’s your boyfriend, boyfriends don’t rape girlfriends,” “you were wearing some slutty clothing last night,” “Are you sure it was rape?”

Even good friends can be poor listeners and re-victimize the survivor, sometimes blaming the individual for the assault.  The performance has audience members go up on stage and encourages them to practice what they will say/do in this situation, how to be good listeners and trains people to think about their responses in a more thoughtful way.

The Troupe also encourages audience members to empathize with survivors asking: what could be going through the survivor’s mind?  The scene is called ‘Cops in the Head: that negative voice inside your head that instills doubt.”  That voice can sound like: “I’m scared of calling the police,” “I’m confused about what happened,” “what are my friends going to think?” “What are my parents going to think?” “I shouldn’t have been drinking.” At which point the facilitator asks the audience, what do you think the number one reason is that survivors don’t report a sexual assault?

The number one reason why individuals don’t report a sexual assault: is fear that no one is going to believe them. 

  • Bystander Intervention

What does bystander intervention? Stepping in and refusing to leave a situation that you feel could lead to violence.

For example, if you see a boyfriend yelling and threatening their girlfriend, what will you do?  Intervening isn’t easy.   I know that it can be incredibly uncomfortable and hard.  But imagine the alternative, where a friend of yours gets hurt.   The interAct troupe allows audience members to step up against someone that accuses them of “cock-blocking,” “of speaking up about something, that isn’t any of their business.”  Audience members are often creative in their suggestions, they try to take the girlfriend home with them, or they try and calm the boyfriend down.  Sometimes audience members leave, at which point the facilitator asks, what happens if they leave? What could happen? 

Affirmative Consent

California passed the Yes means Yes Bill in September, which changed the definition of consent to “an affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”  The InterACT performance has been able to incorporate the new law into the performance both on college campuses as well as in their shows for the Navy and the Marines.

InterACT Troupes Message for young women 

  • It’s your decision in the moment, by no means will we blame women for not fighting back, its your decision in the moment, but research shows if you fight back you are more likely to get away. It is your decision , whatever you need to do to survive is your choice.
  • Perpetrators of rape are turned on by feeling power over someone, comments like “don’t hurt me, “or please leave me alone” feed into exactly what they want to hear, they want to dominate and feel power over another person.
  • We encourage you to bite, pull, grab, run, scream, punch, kick, etc.  Research shows that even if the perpetrator has a weapon, a knife or gun, you are no more likely to sustain any greater injuries. 

InterAct believes that collectively a society that is empathetic towards rape survivors and sexual assault survivors with individuals that intervene and ultimately promote the establishment of consent will ultimately lead to lower the incidences of rape and a society that challenges rape culture.

The InterAct performance Troupe is directed by Dr. Marc Rich, a professor in the Communication Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach.  InterAct is now the Primary Rape Prevention Program for the Navy and the Marines.

Read more about InterACT: 

CSULB performance troupe delivers sexual assault message 

InterACT Facebook Page 


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