Sexual assault is a tough reality that affects too many people. Junior interdisciplinary studies major Alexia Petasis call attention to this situation through her dance choreography that showcases the anger, frustration and devastation that results from sexual assault at last week’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month Dance Recital and Talk-Back.
Dancers Sarah Brewer and Miguel Ledesma play victim and perpetrator in this poignant affair. Initially, it is Brewer alone who dances carefree to light, airy music. Ledesma joins her and they seem united and happy in their dance. Then suddenly, the tempo of the music scarily changes and Ledesma begins to attack and control Brewer’s dance. Brewer fights his control at first, but her mouth is covered, sometimes by him or by herself. Ledesma controls Brewer like a doll, lifting her up and manipulating her movements. In the end, Brewer falls to the ground utterly hopeless while Ledesma stridently walks away.
Ledesma and Brewer’s initial collaborative dancing mirrors the issue that sexual assault is often perpetrated by someone the victim knows. This sad fact and other messages of the dance led to a subsequent discussion that engaged the community on these matters. The speakers were Petasis, representatives from TurnAround, Hope Works, student organization We Believe You, UMBC’s Title IX office and the Women’s Center.
Consent was the reigning topic of the discussion. What makes consent complex is that is ever-changing. Unfortunately, in cases where the victim and perpetrator had been dating formerly or were currently dating, sexual assault cases are not handled as seriously as they should be. In the dance, Brewer’s mouth was often covered, withholding her clearest mode of verbal consent. The speakers thought of many different ways to normalize consent. It could be either formulating fun conversations around consent with friends or just having awkward conversations to clarify lines and boundaries. Samantha Black, one of the TurnAround representatives, even challenged the audience to discuss the definition of consent with three different people.
In the aftermath of sexual assault, it is important to listen to the victim’s story. On the subject, Dakota Monsen-Murray from We Believe You gave a statement that victims are less likely to come forward when they do not think they will be believed. Petasis stated that a call to action begins when we “believe [someone] when [they] say something has happened to them.” UMBC’s Women’s Center works to create that ‘larger sense of community’ that lets victims know they will be heard and believed, according to Amelia Meman one of the Women’s Center representatives. The Domestic Violence Center, TurnAround. works to foster a healthy healing environment for victims as well.
Even so, the simplest thing one can do to inspire waves of change is to change oneself. If we work together to normalize consent, the UMBC community and the world can be a more healthful place.