Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Shock, denial, fear and anxiety are all emotions that race through a victim’s mind surrounding their victimization. Without adequate help and resources, many survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault or intimate partner violence are trapped in a time capsule – unable to move forward because of the weight of past events.The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) states that “sexual violence violates a person’s trust and feeling of safety. It occurs any time a person is forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into unwanted sexual activity. The continuum of sexual violence includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, statutory rape, martial or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism.”‘
Someone who is a victim of sexual abuse, sexual assault or intimate partner violence is faced with a healing process that is filled with overwhelming turmoil and confusion. With little or no help, a survivor’s emotions can drive them to feel like they are “going crazy.”
According to PCAR, “chances that a woman will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being sexually assaulted are between 50 percent and 95 percent.” Instead of ignoring such emotions, survivors are encouraged to acknowledge and work through them in an effort to cope with their victimization and move forward.
According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network (RAINN), college-age women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted. In response to these staggering numbers, West Chester University’s Women’s Center has introduced Survivor Space, a safe environment on campus for survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault or intimate partner violence. Survivor Space serves as a meeting place for survivors, who are interested in working through any difficulties that have stemmed from their victimization.
The entire WCU campus is welcome to attend Survivor Space every Monday night from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Women’s Center located in room 220 of Lawrence Hall. The Women’s Center offers confidential support, assistance, and safe space for WCU women in crisis as well as a resource for educating the campus on women related issues.
The peer support group is facilitated by Meg Panichelli, Women’s Center Program Coordinator, and Ashley Manta, Women’s Center Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Coordinator. Both Panichelli and Manta are survivors of sexual assault, which triggered their interest in working with the Women’s Center to create a place for survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault or intimate partner violence.
“Even someone who is educated and self-aware can still be victimized,” said Manta. “It can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. I saw a need for a group on campus of survivors supporting survivors. We aren’t counselors or therapists – the counseling center is on campus for that. We’re just a group of women who have lived through trauma, and are trying to rebuild our lives and ourselves.”
Peer support groups can help survivors in gaining additional insight, interaction and support to deal with issues related to victimization and encourage them to begin to take control of their lives. Whether it’s a recent experience or one that happened years ago and is still impacts the woman’s life, Survivor Space offers survivors a place to explore the impact that their victimization had on their lives, relate with others who have experienced similar traumas, ask questions, and offer advice.
Some topics of discussion include coping mechanisms for dealing with emotions surrounding their victimization, how their victimization affects current relationships, and how to create safe places and relationships in their life.
“I hope survivors and participants in the group are able to find the support, in whichever form that may take,” said Panichelli. “I hope they find validation, community, and strategies for handling the various feelings and emotions that accompany experiencing sexual assault or abuse.”
For more information about Survivor Space, contact the Women’s Center at 610-436-2122 or email Meg Panichelli at MP387778@wcupa.edu.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, sexual assault or intimate partner violence, call one of the following numbers: National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE or the Crime Victim’s Center of Chester County, Inc.: (610) 692-1926.
Melissa Stack is a fourth-year student majoring in communications with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at MS626731@wcupa.edu.