The American Samoa Community College (ASCC) Social Sciences Department and Psychology Club, in collaboration with the Alliance for Strengthening Families, presented a Forum on Sexual Assault on Thursday, April 14th. ASCC students, faculty and administrators came out in support of the event, which featured guest speakers Mrs. Mona Uli representing the Alliance, as well as Mr. Robert Toelupe, Director of the Veterans Center in Ottoville.
Across the nation, April is designated “Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” an annual campaign to raise public awareness on the subject and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. “An event like this is important,” said Psychology instructor and Psychology Club advisor Mr. Derek Helsham, “because one of our institution’s intended learning outcomes is for students to apply what they’ve learned with integrity and to take responsibility for their actions. It’s also a means for them to engage in professional dialogue and participate in a serious community issue. An event like this also emphasizes the need for multiple voices to be heard. With sexual violence now a major public health, human rights, and social justice concern, we hope to educate students to become advocates for those who have been victims.”
Mrs. Uli opened the Forum with an overview of the problem of sexual assault in our community, as well as the many approaches taken by the Alliance to address it. “Sadly, it is still the case that the majority of these cases go unreported,” she reflected, “and among those that do get reported, the perpetrator is typically someone known to the victim, even a close relative. Clearly, we need to create an atmosphere where people can speak out, and where victims are empowered to seek the healing and the justice they deserve.”
Toelupe, who spoke next, advised students that if they enter professions related to Psychology or Social Work, they will routinely be faced with clients who have emotional issues, including victims of sexual assault. Therefore, they should know the five signs of emotional health as a means of assessing the particular issues clients might be struggling with. The five signs are trust, security, self-control and power, self-esteem and intimacy. Toelupe also spoke of aggression and passivity as the two extremes, both unhealthy, that every individual needs to negotiate, and how the changing cultural circumstances of a location like ours places our value system under stress. While his discussion ventured beyond sexual assault per se, he clearly made the point that cultivating better mental and emotional health is a necessary first step to addressing the problem of emotionally unhealthy behavior.
“We’re so fortunate to have people from the ‘front lines’ of this struggle like Mrs. Uli and Mr. Toelupe share their experience and insights with us,” commented Mr. Helsham at the conclusion of the Forum. “The Psychology Club will try to focus on this issue on an ongoing basis, so in the future we will try to offer more events like this.” Mr. Helsham also described how the Psychology Club recently collaborated on an Alliance survey of ASCC students on the subject of sexual assault. “The survey results make it clear how urgent it is for us to continue sending the message that sexual assault is wrong and more needs to be done about it,” he said.
Two days prior to the Forum, members of the Psychology Club conducted a survey on campus of approximately 140 ASCC students. Ensuring confidentiality, the Club discovered that the issue of sexual assault hits far closer to home than they had previously imagined. 25% of the respondents said they had experienced sexual assault of some form, whether rape, attempted rape, molestation or incest. Of the students that reported experiencing sexual assault, 46% said they kept it to themselves because they were afraid or because they didn’t know who they could tell. Only 34% of students surveyed said they felt they could talk to their parents, while 17% said they preferred to talk to siblings, friends or teachers. Many were reluctant to go to clergy, village leaders or sports coaches.
Sixty-two percent of the ASCC students surveyed said Sex Education was not offered at their grade school. Fifty-four percent agreed that it is important to offer sex education in grade school because it’s normal for kids to be curious about sex, and therefore, it helps to educate students beforehand so that when they get older they can make more informed decisions.
Lastly, although 48% agree that rape is completely on the part of the rapist, a surprising 36% felt the victim was also partly to blame because of where they were at the time, what they were wearing, or whether or not they were intoxicated. “This alone tells us that we need more education, awareness and training on the topic of sexual violence,” commented Mrs. Uli. “Rape is never the fault of the victim, regardless of whether the victim is five years old, 25 years old or 50 years old. Rape is not even about sex. It’s a way for one person to exert power and control over another. Most rapists are sexually aggressive to make up for their various insecurities.”
More information on where sexual assault victims can turn for help is available from the Alliance for Strengthening Families, who can be reached at 699-0272. ASCC students seeking support on-campus should contact Lead Counselor Ms. Annie Panama, whose office is located in the Cafeteria Building and whose campus extension is 326.