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Booklet seeks discussion on sexual assault

Sexual assault is, in general, a silent crime.

Fewer than 50 percent of sexual assault victims will ever speak of the experience to someone else--not even a family member or friend, let alone a member of a law enforcement organization or professional counselor, said Coordinator of Sexual Assault Support Services Jean Leonard. She suggested that an upcoming student publication--a collection of narratives concerning sexual assault--Allison Brim, Ryan Kennedy, Monica Lemmond and Lauren Williams--will provide a venue through which victims can break this silence.

Leonard, who works at the Women's Center, has acted in a limited consulting role for the four Duke sophomores--who hope to publish a "rough" version of their booklet near the end of the semester.

The publication's dialogue-oriented format follows a pattern where anonymous submissions detailing victimization or accounts dealing with another's incident are intermingled with commentaries on the topic. The project's organizers wanted to present a diverse array of stories and perspectives to spark discourse among readers, as well as to increase awareness and dispel common misconceptions of assault.

"One of the goals of this project is to address the opinions of sexual assault, as well as offer facts," Brim said. "We want everybody to take a true look, open their eyes, have misconceptions addressed."

The collection offers assault survivors the opportunity to lift burdens, release anxiety and offer some degree of comfort in sharing their stories with others, in hopes that parts of their own accounts may be recognized by other victims.

"Some victims may find a great deal of comfort in writing about their experiences," said Lemmond. She also mentioned the project leaders plan on incorporating into the publication responses they have already received criticizing their work.

The publication is specific to Duke, a feature that Lemmond and her co-planners think will further the impact on the audience. "A reader can think, 'Wow, this could have happened to someone sitting right next to me in class.' It becomes so much more real and effective," Lemmond said.

Lemmond's anonymous guest column, published in The Chronicle last November, triggered the project. She issued a call for dialogue, urging others with similar experiences to respond. The outcome overwhelmed her.

"I was shocked," Lemmond admitted. "I changed in a lot of ways-I had no idea of the scope of this issue, of how many people were affected by sexual assault."

Encouraged by the responses, the students brainstormed ideas for a publication that would provide extensive outreach, possibly even as a teaching tool in Duke classrooms.

"One of my goals at the beginning was to incorporate sexual assault awareness in a mandatory way so that every student would read and talk about it," said Brim, listing the introduction of a sexual assault awareness component to Writing 20 courses as one of the possibilities they had initially considered.

"I quickly learned it was not possible because of issues concerning academic freedom," Brim added.

The project's organizers instead envision the book's use as a resource in relevant courses.

"We don't want to force it on professors," Kennedy said. "Those who work with topics like sexual assault, crime and violence may be interested, and they could integrate the publication into their courses. We want to leave it up to them on how they do this."

Some professors have already expressed interest in integrating the book in their courses. Bob Korstad, associate professor of public policy, who teaches an ethics course, Policy Choice as Value Conflict, plans to use the text to stimulate discussion on questions such as how gender inequality is reflected in sexual assault crimes.

"I think the whole problem of sexual assault requires a tremendous amount of education," Korstad said, noting that there were limited avenues and places on campus that encouraged students to hold serious discussion.

Students plan to continually update the publication based on the feedback and overall reaction they receive from the student body and other members of the Duke community.

"This is a constant process. I don't think we'll ever have enough," Williams said.

Those interested can e-mail submissions for the publication to ConcernedAtDuke@hotmail.com.

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