February 11, 2013

Cornell Forms Sexual Assault Support Group

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In the wake of reports of sexual assault on and near campus last semester, Gannett Health Services will provide a 10-week sexual assault support program for women this semester. The support group, which was also offered several years ago, will be open to undergraduate, graduate and professional students at Cornell starting Feb. 12.

“In the last semester, we’ve really had a dialogue on campus about sexual assault and it seemed like the right time to offer [the support group] again,” said Randy Patterson, assistant director for Training, Groups and After-Hours On-Call at Gannett.

Each group will consist of six to eight women and will focus on self-care and the emotional conequences of sexual assault. The group will also address issues such as coping strategies for victims of sexual assault and the surrounding rape, according to Patterson.

“It will be a place certainly where women can talk about their experiences, but there will also be elements of education,” she said.

Recognizing that people cope with sexual assault in different ways, Patterson called the support group a space where there will be flexibility, support and acceptance of each individual’s situation.

“Everybody’s dealing with a different story, so I think that the space they want to create for this group is one where there’s room to have a different experience than the other person,” she said.

Patterson said the group will provide peer-to-peer support, a potential advantage not offered in individual counseling. However, for women who are uncomfortable with the idea of a support group, Gannett also offers individual counseling, she said.

Narda Terrones ’14, women’s issues liaison at-large for the Student Assembly, echoed Patterson’s sentiments.

“Many women might not find talking to a group appealing, which is why Gannett has other individual counseling services,” she said. “However, others might find great power in it, which is why it is important to have a wide variety of services.”

There is not only a need for such resources on campus, but for generating awareness about them, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations at Gannett.

“I think that’s one of the things that all of us learned coming out of last semester … We need to make sure that people can find the wonderful resources that exist so that they can get to them when they’re ready for them,” she said.

Such support groups on campus are also important in recognizing a problem of abuse toward women, according to Terrones. Additionally, she stressed the need to help victims of sexual assault at Cornell with the healing process.

“Since sexual assault is often coated with shame and secrecy, a support group can offer a powerful experience for growth,” she said. “For many of these victims, pain doesn’t simply go away; it has to find a safe outlet.”

Both Dittman and Patterson said the group’s formation was prompted by a need they observed for such a group for women on campus. They said they may decide to extend support services to more groups, such as men and transgender individuals, in the future.

“Although at this point, the clinical need that we’ve identified is really related to women, we may find that, with this open door, we hear from other individuals and we may decide in the future to offer a different group,” Dittman said.

Original Author: Kritika Oberoi