David Lisak, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts–Boston, has studied the causes and consequences of personal violence for 25 years. Lisak spoke Tuesday morning at the “Confronting the Reality of Sexual Violence” seminar in the Weasler Auditorium to expose the issues surround sexual assault on a national level.
“It affects every community,” Lisak said. “But we have to think (about whether) it is confronted with honesty and commitment.”
Lisak has served as a consultant to judicial, prosecutor and law enforcement education programs in the U.S. and trained the military on sexual assault cases. He said many instances of sexual assault involve planning and premeditation, but alcohol consistently remains a common element in non-stranger rapes.
Lisak said the dilemma in tackling the sexual assault issue lies in how institutions like Marquette, with no real criminal justice system, can respond to a violent crime.
Lynn O’Brien, Marquette’s coordinator of sexual violence prevention and treatment services, said Lisak’s efforts and expertise are critical to understanding the issue at hand.
“Given that over 275 people attended Dr. Lisak’s presentation Tuesday morning, we feel confident that this speaks volumes to the ongoing need members of our community feel to learning more about this important issue,” O’Brien said.
Like Lisak, O’Brien added that sexual assault and related crimes are fairly widespread issues.
“Sexual violence affects everyone, and ending it requires a commitment from people of all genders,” O’Brien said.
According to Marquette’s DPS reports, the number of reported sexual assaults increased from five in 2007 to 10 in 2011. In response to this and to widespread criticism regarding the handling of sexual assault allegations against student athletes in spring 2011, the university mandated sexual assault online training programs for all first-year students. They also introduced bystander intervention training for student groups interested in learning how to prevent sexual violence.
Both Lisak and Marquette’s programs try to educate people on sexual assault by pointing out that sexual predators are few in number, and the majority of sexual assaults are commited by serial offenders.
O’Brien said education and understanding are key to ending the violence and becoming more than bystanders.
“This is one of our responsibilities as we assist students in becoming ‘men and women for others,’” O’Brien said. “We feel confident that this program (the seminar) was another valuable contribution in meeting that commitment.”
Susannah Bartlow, the director of Marquette’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, said the realities of sexual assault are more extensive than we may think.
“This is an issue on all college campuses, and I think it’s always good to talk about these things early and often,” Bartlow said. “The more we can educate one another and grow as a community in our response, the better.”
Bartlow said Lisak’s most valuable point was his effort to express sexual violence as a moral issue and not just one of breaking policy.
“For us on a Jesuit, Catholic campus, it’s critical to explore with honesty and integrity the deep moral questions, and (sexual violence) is definitely one of them,” Bartlow said.
Bartlow said her organization decided to sponsor this seminar to help achieve its goal of supporting and educating the Marquette community on gender, sex and sexuality. The seminar was sponsored by the Counseling Center, the Department of Public Safety, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, Marquette Student Government and the Women and Gender Studies program.
“Dr. Lisak is one of the leading researchers and policy experts in the field of sexual violence prevention, so it was a natural fit,” Bartlow said.
Bartlow said the gender of the advocate is ultimately unimportant in addressing sexual violence.
“Even though women and transgendered people are in the majority as survivors, gender identity isn’t the factor that determines how useful an insight would be,” Bartlow said. “Sometimes our gendered experiences play a part, but so do research, clarity, compassion and respect for differences. It’s important to ask why we would be surprised or take note when men speak up against sexual violence.”