FYCARE program teaches freshmen to support rape survivors

(Originally published in the Daily Illini on 9/21/2005)

One in six women at the University will be a victim of sexual assault at some point in their college career, according to Ross Wantland, coordinator of Sexual Assault Education and First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education organizer.

The mandatory rape education workshops have educated freshmen about sexual assault since fall 1996. The program, which runs this semester from Sept. 6 to Nov. 17, is being conducted at several residence halls around campus.

Adam Kaniewski, senior in ALS; Diana Brahm, junior in LAS; and Eric Conway, sophomore in LAS, led the two-hour First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education workshop Sunday at ISR. The trio guided more than 50 University freshmen in an informative discussion about rape.

The facilitators focused the conversation on several topics, including how to support survivors, how to reduce the risk of rape, how to discourage friends from trivializing rape with jokes, how to dispel common misconceptions about rape and how to find resources for survivors and supporters.

After the first hour, males and females split up for private discussions in separate rooms. The separation helps men and women to open up without feeling pressure from the opposite sex, Wantland said.

Wantland, a 28-year-old University alumnus, stressed the importance of rape education. He said there were many misconceptions concerning sexual assault. Wantland said one example is the belief that rapists attack out of nowhere. However, for 80 to 90 percent of recorded rapes, the victim knew the perpetrator.

Wantland said the workshops are in residence halls instead of classrooms to create a more comfortable environment for discussion. They are peer-led to make the information more accessible, he said.

Some men, however, said they feel apprehensive about attending the workshop.

"They have to realize that they're not here because we're trying to stop them from raping people," Conway said. "They're here so they can learn to support survivors and stop the general disregard of sexual assault."

An important aspect of this program is its emphasis on not blaming the victims of rape, Brahm said. Many rape victims incorrectly blame themselves or have friends who blame them.

Most students left the session with a positive outlook.

"I thought it was very informative and helpful," said Sarah Serviss, freshman in LAS. "It helped me know what to do in certain situations."

Trevor Losch, freshman in Engineering, said the workshop changed his view about rape.

"Now I feel like I can help prevent it," Losch said.

Kaniewski said three years ago he was in the same situation as this year's freshmen. He attended a workshop, and it immediately sparked his interest.

Those interested in becoming workshop facilitators should sign up for Wantland's class, Community Health 199B, Kaniewski said.

"Coming to this workshop was kind of like an eye-opening experience and a great way to become educated," Kaniewski said. "I felt like I'd like to be out there educating people in the same way."

The Campus Acquaintance Rape Education program began in 1989 in an optional format after 3,000 students signed the Students Against a Rape Environment's petition to start a rape awareness program.

"In the fall of 1995, there was a pretty public sexual assault and murder of a U of I staff member," Wantland said. "After that, there was money put toward the mandatory first year education program."