By Devon White
Here at the Women’s Center, my fellow staff members and I are annually trained on Safe Space protocols and on the appropriate steps and resources used to handle the Violence Prevention and Response needs for our student body. Everyone from our Executive Director down has been trained on these initiatives and understands the necessity to have this support in place here at UMKC to help make it a learning environment free of violence, harassment and sexual misconduct.
The mission of the Violence Prevention and Response Project at the UMKC is to strengthen the University and community response to gender-based and sexual violence through victim support services, advocacy, training, education, and outreach to the campus and community. My first Violence Prevention and Response training was enlightening, educational and metaphorically placed me in the shoes of a survivor of abuse. The Victim Services Adjudication Advisor Michelle Kroner and Program Coordinator, Kerra McCorkle, gave us an exercise that reverberates in my mind days later. Near the end of our training session, all of the student assistants were told to pair off and select a Listener and a Speaker role in which to conduct the exercise. I cheerfully looked to my co-worker sitting next to me and said, “Let’s be partners!” and agreed to be the Speaker. None of us had a clue what we were about to do, but we excitedly paired off and moved to the four corners of the room. Then the VPR Program Coordinator told us out of the blue: “Now, Speakers tell your Listener about your first sexual experience!” The room that was buzzing with energy mere seconds ago screeched to a silent halt. We all blinked, peering at the Program Coordinator inquisitively to make sure we heard her right. I heard a few uncomfortable laughs fill the room and we all seemed to instantly draw into ourselves. Someone asked: “Um, can I whisper it?” and another of my peers requested that the conference room doors be closed. Being the only guy doing this exercise, I was already censoring my response down to the bare essentials and leaving out anything uncomfortable or too personal that I didn’t want my avid Listener to know. Fortunately, Kerra cut off my response when she called out for all of us to stop right as we got started.
Once we regrouped at the table we were asked how that exercise made us feel, and how much information we were willing to share. Some of us remarked that we were reluctant to share such personal information and others expressed their need to rush through the process and get it over with. We quickly learned how a survivor of abuse may feel when seeking help and explaining their traumatic experiences: a purposeful or unintentional lack of details, a desire to rush through the explanation of the experience, not to mention the intense discomfort that accompanied sharing such sensitive information with a stranger. Our experience did not include the stigma that victims of violence and abuse suffer when trying to piece together a narrative of their experience.
National Domestic Violence Month has drawn to a close, but with one in four women (25%) at risk of experiencing domestic violence in her lifetime, the battle for awareness and prevention is far from over. Prevention and risk reduction are vital in creating a safe campus and community for those affected by sexual violence. It is often difficult for survivors to tell their story so it’s our responsibility to create a safe atmosphere in which to do so. We must all learn how to compassionately respond to survivors of abuse in their moment of need. If you’re looking for resources or want to learn more about UMKC’S Violence Prevention and Response Project visit their website.