Sexual Assault Support Team Disputes Discussed
To the Editor:
The following is a very abridged version of a letter which I have sent to the membership of the Sexual Assault Support Team. If you would like to see the entire, unabridged letter, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, I would like to clarify that I am writing on behalf of myself as a member of the community, and not in my role as a member of any organization on this campus.
I am writing this letter to explain my presence at and my thoughts on the April 30 meeting of the Sexual Assault Support Team, where many attendees came under attack by “regular members” for their presence. Although I have not been as active in SAST this year as I would have liked to be, I am currently enrolled in the SAST ExCo, and hope to become a SAST beeper counselor. I am committed to the goals of SAST as a supportive environment for survivors, and the SAST hotline has my full support for providing an essential counseling resource to the Oberlin community.
In recent weeks, I have heard a great deal of rumor regarding SAST, and alleged breaches of confidentiality by counselors, which concerned me as a member of many organizations with high standards of, and emphasis on, confidentiality. Thus, on Monday April 30, when I received an e-mail stating the following –– “I have also heard that there are some people that have concerns with our co-chair and how we are running SAST. If you are one of these people tonight’s meeting will be a good place to address these concerns and talk about them as an entire organization.” I decided that this meeting would be an opportunity to learn about how SAST deals with confidentiality.
The alleged breaches of confidentiality which I have heard about alarmed me for several reasons. A breach of confidentiality on the part of a SAST counselor, or a weak definition of confidentiality, damages the validity of an organization committed to providing counseling regarding sexual assault to any member of the Oberlin community. Another reason for my alarm pertains to situations which were discussed during a SAST-sponsored workshop on Queer Domestic Violence led by someone who works for BRAVO (Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization), and during the SAST ExCo. This tactic of abuse is that in which the perpetrator of violence will accuse the non-assaulting partner of being an abuser. Thus it is particularly important that allegations be verified before accusations are publicly made by a survivor support system.
Since the April 30 meeting, SAST has been very vocal about how it supports only survivors, and is not interested in doing anything to help alleged perpetrators. I understand the importance of not questioning the validity of what a survivor says, as a survivor of sexual assault clearly needs to be empowered and trusted. However, this does not make it permissible to publicly accuse someone as a perpetrator without questioning that person and the situation. Although in many times the alleged perpetrator is indeed the perpetrator, it is not worth risking the double abuse which would be caused by a sexual assault counseling service making a false public accusation against someone who is the victim of other types of abuse, or who is innocent. In addition, part of empowering a survivor is allowing them to disclose the identity of their perpetrator when they feel ready –– not when someone who they have trusted in confidence decides to accuse the person the survivor has identified as the perpetrator.
In addition to maintaining confidentiality, it is important for any person who represents a student organization to distinguish between their roles as a friend and as a leader. People who are very involved with an organization are visible to the campus as such, and must therefore approach all encounters with the awareness that they might be seen as a representative of that organization. They must act accordingly, and unless they specify that they are not acting in their capacity as a member of an organization, must behave in a way that would not be at odds with the beliefs of that organization. With recent rumors that people involved with the SAST have been failing to differentiate between their different roles, or that they do not see that there must be a separation between these roles, I felt that my concerns would be best addressed at the April 30 SAST meeting. I came to the meeting not in support of any particular people, nor to invade anyone’s space, but to support confidentiality, and a valuable campus resource. Although I felt anger at the way people in the room were treating each other, my overwhelming response was sadness. I am sad that we are unable to see that we are all working for the same thing, sad that so many people have been so hurt recently, whether intentionally or not, and sad that in the future, people will think twice before trusting anything on this campus which promises confidentiality.
I hope that in the future, we can all have the decency to apologize to each other for past experiences and misunderstandings, and that we can all find a way to rebuild trust on this campus. And most importantly, I hope that we can all take the anger we feel, and direct it at the common goal of eliminating sexual assault from the campus and from the world, rather than alienating and attacking each other.
–Rebecca E. Kwawer
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