UNIVERSITY R.A.P.E. CENTER REACHES OUT TO COMBAT SEXUAL VIOLENCE
In 1989, in response to student concerns about sexual assault on campus, then-Chancellor Melvin A. Eggers formed a task force on rape. As a task force member, Dolores Card, a counselor who worked with sexually abused children in Syracuse and served on an SU peer sex education committee, proposed that the University create a campus rape counseling center. It was an innovative idea at the time—no such center existed on a college campus.
A year later, SU became the first college in the nation with a rape center. Today, the R.A.P.E. (Rape/Relationship Abuse, Advocacy, Prevention, and Education) Center remains one of only five such campus centers in the country and the only one in New York State. “We decided back then that the students should own this center,” says Card, who served on the center’s advisory board before becoming its director in 1996. “They should not have to go off campus for services.”
Since its inception, the center has supported victims of sexual crimes, providing medical and legal advocacy on a 24-hour, 7-day basis. Prevention education programs to raise awareness about rape, sexual assault, relationship abuse, sexual harassment, and other forms of nonconsensual sexual activity are presented to all segments of the campus community. The center has also expanded its services, adding several programs and staff positions. Along with the director, the staff includes a sexual assault response coordinator, a therapist, a graduate assistant, and several interns. Among the center’s newest initiatives is a relationship abuse program, established in 1998 to help victims of emotional and physical abuse.
In the evening hours, a pool of 25 trained students, faculty, and staff respond to calls to the R.A.P.E. Center hotline. These advocates give information about medical and legal options and support the survivor’s choices. They accompany a survivor to the Health Center, the hospital, or a police agency when indicated. Advocate Michelle Marcoe, a psychology graduate student, speaks with victims, their friends, and sometimes their parents. “People need so much support working through something like this,” she says. “I want to help them and do anything I can in a productive way.”
One of the center’s most popular programs is Every Five Minutes (e5m), an interactive peer education theater group that performs improv scenes about rape, sexual assault, and relationship abuse for first-year students, Greek-letter organizations, classes, residence halls, local high schools, and other campuses around the state.
After performing a scene, actors answer audience questions that lead to an interactive discussion about the scene. Magazine journalism major Erin Drenning ’01 became an e5m actor after seeing the group perform in her residence hall during her freshman year. “Working with e5m shows I did something important when I was here,” Drenning says. “It’s very rewarding because of the lives you touch.”
The group chose its name in 1995, in recognition of the then-current statistic that a woman is raped every 5 minutes. That statistic is now every 1.3 minutes—a figure that fails to surprise Drenning, who says some audience members continue to blame victims for their actions. “We always say that we may not have changed anyone’s views, but maybe we planted a seed for them to think about it,” Drenning says.
Dolores Card stands in front of a sculpture at the R.A.P.E. Center. The piece combines the male and female signs, with purple ribbons tied to it, symbolizing survivors of sexual violence or those who know survivors.
Aside from campus activities, Card and her staff work with academic institutions that don’t have their own rape centers. With a New York State Department of Health grant, Card launched the Intercollegiate Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA), a state and nationwide initiative whose objectives include increasing awareness about sexual assault on college campuses through prevention education programs and providing standardized services for survivors. ICASA has expanded to the international level, with Great Britain and Ireland taking part in the program.
Card sees education as the best way to combat rape and sexual assault on campus. “I want to raise awareness out there all the time,” she says. “Education and counseling are based on empowerment and building life skills.”
Card enjoys the challenges of her complex job. “It’s overwhelming, but exciting,” Card says. “There are survivors all over the world who don’t know what to do when it happens to them. The reality is that they are victims of a crime.”