On Feb. 13, five women from across Athens gathered at Zell B. Miller Learning Center Sidney Samuel Thomas Reading Room to discuss violence against women, particularly women of color, and problems survivors face.
According to panelist Caron Hope, assistant director of Health Promotion and Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention, 1 out of 5 people in college experience some form of interpersonal violence.
“Only women [are] taught to walk with our keys and to check the backseat before they get into a car,” said Adrienne Baldwin-White, who served as the panel moderator. “We have to navigate our lives by the threat of violence, but men don’t have to.”
Hosted by Roosevelt @ UGA, a non-partisan, student think tank that emphasizes civic engagement and policy development, the panel talked for nearly 90 minutes to an audience of approximately 25 people. The evening focused on the topic of sexual assault.
Baldwin-White, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, studies sexual violence and assault prevention on college campuses. The other panel members included state House District 117 candidate Mokah-Jasmine Johnson, School of Social Work assistant professor Rosalyn Denise Campbell, president of the Clarke County Board of Education LaKeisha Gantt and Laila Schuler, a bilingual advocate for The Cottage, a sexual assault support center in Athens.
“Sexual assault is violence, it’s not bad sex. We have to change that conversation,” Hope said. “When we talk about sexual assault, we’re actually talking about a violent crime, we’re talking about trauma.”
The panel discussed the challenges survivors face after their assault, such as the barriers of reporting to the authorities, societal stigma and the following mental trauma, which can cause depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, the panel said sexual assault is also a social justice and a political issue because institutions haven’t provided enough resources to women in-need.
The panelists touched on problems experienced by women of color. The panel said a major issue was a lack of safe spaces for black women to report their abuse. The panel also highlighted how
minorities’ struggle to interact with “historically hostile” institutions such as the police and the detrimental nature of black stereotypes.
Campbell, drawing on her counseling and research experience, said black women struggle to report their rapist, if he is black, because the report will perpetuate negative stereotypes about black men and hurt the larger community.
“There’s almost this extra layer of cultural, social [and] racial responsibility that a [black] woman feels that she has to other people … when she’s trying to deal with the the weight of the traumatic experience that she’s had,” Campbell said.
As a Spanish speaker, Schuler helps meet the needs of the Athens community who only speak Spanish, saying the biggest problems Hispanic women face are the language barrier and a fear of speaking about their assault. Additionally, Schuler says the community isn’t aware of resources like The Cottage.
“When it comes to the Hispanic community, what I have done is just let people know that this is a resource and it’s out there,” Schuler said. “If you go to somebody that looks like you, talks like you, you would feel more comfortable.”
Gantt stressed the need for “multi-layer solutions” to address the conditions — such as poverty, access to medical care and low wages — that put women of color at risk for sexual assault. She said not addressing the conditions only focuses on part of the problem.
Schuler encouraged the audience members to help combat sexual assault, wherever their degrees will take them and to “do the best you can there.”
“I just really wish that we could end all sexual violence. But this is not a perfect world, and it never will be,” Schuler said. “But I encourage all of you to do anything and everything that you can in the little places that you can.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated an incorrect date for when the panel discussion happened. The Red & Black regrets this error and it has since been fixed.