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Using Student-Made Films to Confront Campus Sexual Assault


After she was sexually assaulted, college student Katya Palsi dove into “guerilla” activism in an effort to heal and to prevent rapes on campus. “I posted statistics and stories anywhere I could get a captive audience,” Palsi explains, “bathroom stalls, desks in classrooms, benches, cafeteria napkin dispensers—anything I could think of or get my hands on.”

But Palsi, an art major at Rowan University, in southern New Jersey, wanted more. “Once the reality of it all sunk in for me, I realized I was compelled to do something. I was driven mad by the thought that this was happening constantly to people all over the world, not just young women, but men too—of all ages, ethnicities, and demographics. I knew I had the passion to make a positive change.”

Palsi wanted to reach a larger audience. She researched every sexual assault group and program she could find—which has become easier to do given the growing activism on the issue on college campuses. She found PACT5—or, rather, the main organizer, Rowan University Professor Ned Eckhardt, found her. “He came across my guerilla activism and somehow found me by asking other professors and students, and approached me with the opportunity to make a documentary,” Palsi said.

Eckhardt initiated PACT5 (Preventing Assault on Campus Together) two years ago as a way to give students a way to use the medium of film to do something about sexual assault. “Many students care about the world around them,” he said. “They want to make a difference, and a documentary gives them an opportunity for their voices to be heard.” He contacted professors he knew at five schools—Rowan University, California State University at Northridge, Western State Colorado University, Northern Illinois University, and Framingham State University in Massachusetts. These professors made a commitment to help students make their own films to raise awareness. The result is ten short films, including Palsi’s own courageous story of recovery, “ Katalyst.” Practically overnight after its September launch, PACT5’s social media campaign, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Tumblr, got 400 universities to sign on to using the videos in rape awareness and prevention campaigns.

One faculty adviser who joined PACT5, Northern Illinois University Communications Professor Laura Vazquez, said that many campuses were eager to have access to “new videos that would engage students in meaningful dialogue regarding sexual behavior.”

“PACT5 is more than just videos, though,” said Vazquez. “We want everyone to take the Pact—an agreement to put an end to university rapes—so we can stop sexual assault that is all too common on college campuses.” In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five college women have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault.

Vazquez said, “What we are hoping to do is start a conversation about the subject. Many students are reluctant to talk about it, yet it is important to discuss issues like consent and bystander intervention. It is our hope that these films do that in a positive way.”

In the PACT5 films, there is plenty of advice and support for women who have been raped, but many of the videos are aimed at male “bystanders” and challenge men to change their own behavior. “Men are a huge target for prevention because they’re the ones who are keeping rape culture going,” said Eckhardt.

A recent report on sexual assault resources on Texas campuses found that at many colleges, rape prevention programs are focused on counseling women to be careful. “Few prevention programs target men or encourage bystanders to intervene, despite demonstrated success of such programs in changing behaviors,” said Cortney Franklin, co-author of the report. “Universities have traditionally put the onus of prevention on the victim, with less attention on promoting education that instructs would-be perpetrators about why it is inappropriate to coerce sex from women."

Students at California State University at Northridge made “ 1000 Times No: Students Giving Voice to a Silent Epidemic,” which chronicles a campus Clothesline Project event, in which students express their feelings and experiences about sexual assault on T-shirts, which are displayed on a clothesline. It also feature clips from the “ Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” campaign, a parade of men walking in high heels to raise awareness and money for rape prevention programs.

Perspectives,” one of three offerings from Framingham State University, airs students’ perspectives on consent. The role that alcohol plays in judgment and consent figures prominently. Northern Illinois University’s “ Red Blooded Men” explores, according to its student filmmaker Alexandra Forni, “men dealing with what men perceive of as ‘true masculinity’ and how those perceptions play into a larger culture of rape and sexual assault acceptance.” A second NIU video, “In Motion,” gives an unflinching portrayal of an acquaintance rape and its aftermath for the victim and perpetrator. Forni said, “I have always been interested in activist filmmaking. Both pieces together sought to raise awareness of rape cultures on college campuses by educating both men and women of their rights and their responsibilities when it came to consensual sex.”

Palsi has been pleased with audience reactions. “I’ve had a lot of survivors reach out and thank me for what PACT5 is doing,” she said.

Eckhardt points out, “If you can get the word out to a young person in high school, they won’t bring that rape culture with them to college.” To that end, Palsi is taking the messages of PACT5 to a younger crowd. “I’m currently working on adapting PACT5 for younger audiences,” she said, “and will discuss these programs with school administrators, therapists, and guidance counselors.”

More articles by Category: Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Sexualized violence, Film, Rape



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