Panel Talks Domestic Violence

The start of November signaled the end of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a campaign that students and faculty capped off Monday night with a panel on domestic and sexual violence.

More than 30 students came together for the panel, which was sponsored by seven on-campus organizations, including The Harvard Foundation, the International Women’s Rights Collective, and the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

Panelists, who each represented a marginalized community, discussed the misconceptions behind sexual violence.

Kendra Graves, member of the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition, said it is a common misconception that individuals know they are being abused but are afraid to speak up. On the contrary, she said, victims and perpetrators may view domestic violence as a norm, not a problem.

“You have to realize that your relationship is abusive,” Graves said.

Sarah Rankin, director of OSAPR, added that certain marginalized populations have extra pressure on them to suppress these experiences for fear of bringing negative attention to their communities.

At Harvard, Rankin said, there is a particular need to re-frame the conversation surrounding healthy relationships and sex.

“There is a certain pressure that men face here around their sexual conquests or experiences,” Rankin said. “We need to have more open conversations about what we’re really trying to get out of relationships.”

Christopher H. Cleveland ’14 asked panelists why sexual abuse may be more common on college campuses. He added that there is a need to focus on sexual encounters between students particularly when alcohol is involved.

“To everyone in the room fighting against this rape culture, this is where we start,” he said. “Let’s put up flyers saying ‘Alcohol: No Sex’.”

But even in communities where sexual violence is acknowledged, panelists said that there is a stigma attached to seeking help, which needs to be fixed.

“Part of the stigmatization rises from the culture of silence that we engage in to protect ourselves,” said Julie Kahn-Schaye, a director at the Transition House, a domestic violence agency in Boston.

To conclude, panel moderator Kirin Gupta ’16 said, “This is definitely a conversation we want to move forward. We need to bring this conversation into our various communities.”

—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at mferreol@college.harvard.edu.

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