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Raising sex-assault awareness

BY NORA HEATON | APRIL 14, 2010 7:30 AM

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Flashing signs describing sexual acts is a sure way to get some college students’ attention.

But the student actors of Iowa Student Interactive Theatre Experience are looking for more than shock value.

“It’s another tool to do outreach to the community,” said Jamie Schlote, a group coordinator. “We talk about sexual assault, stalking, partner violence — they’re not fun issues, but we try to make our presentation a little more entertaining.”

The troupe held a performance for approximately 20 University of Iowa students Tuesday night at Rienow Hall. The event coincides with April’s status as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

And there was plenty of laughter — audience members spoke up to rank partner acts by level of intimacy, from farting in front of each other to anal sex.

But the group also discussed more serious issues.

At the start of the performance, UI senior Sonja Assouline, one of the group’s facilitators, asked audience members to stand up if they or someone they knew had been abused by a partner. Of the roughly 20 people in attendance, around seven stood up.

According to the UI Rape Victim Advocacy Program’s website, between one-fourth and one-fifth of college women are victims of completed or attempted rape during their college years.

The performance aimed to demonstrate that although those women’s predicaments are very real, they are not always taken seriously.

Four students — Elena Newton, Mallory Burggraaf, Divya Kunapuil, and Molly Shapleigh — played four women discussing a friend who has revealed she was raped.

“She totally deserved it,” said Burggraaf, a sophomore who played an unsympathetic friend.

Shapleigh’s character agreed, saying the victim’s revealing clothing was evidence that she probably lied about the assault.

When the scene ended, the actors fielded questions from the audience, speaking as their characters, and tension in the room rose.

Some audience members told facilitators that hearing the degradation and minimizing in the scene was offensive — despite knowing the sentiments expressed during the skit were those of fictional characters.

“We tend to blame the victim and not necessarily the perpetrator,” said UI junior Claire Murphy, who attended the performance with friends. “Women don’t stand up for each other as much as we should. We should be each other’s advocates.”

RVAP will sponsor other sexual-assault awareness initiatives throughout the month, including a clothesline with educational messages printed on T-shirts, and the annual Take Back the Night walk.

A “Vote YES for Consent” banner, in which participants will pledge to obtain affirmative consent, is at Old Capitol Town Center, and it will circulate around campus, said Diane Funk, assistant director of RVAP.

The theater group is a great way to relay RVAP’s message of safe, consensual sex, she said.

“I kind of think of [the troupe] as like planting little seeds, said Shapleigh, a UI junior who has been involved with the group since its conception last year. “We’re not trying to change the world. But culture in general is created by students, so when we do groups like that its really beneficial.”


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