Sometimes being theatrical can drive home a point better than any book, lecture or after-school special. That is the premise behind “Until Someone Wakes Up: Myths and Facts of Sexual Assault,” a play that will be presented at the Summit High School Auditorium on Wednesday, April 30.
The play, originally written as a collaborative project by students at Macalester College and their professor, Carolyn Levy, is a series of vignettes based on actual interviews with sexual assault victims and perpetrators.
“The play is written basically with the intention of educating the general population on the prevalence of sexual assault and sort of dispelling some of the myths that are associated with sexual assault,” said Amy Jackson, executive director for Advocates for Victims of Assault, one of the organizations presenting the event.
Students educating students
Jackson said Advocates for Victims of Assault and Summit County Youth and Family Services have collaborated with Summit High School speech and debate students the past few years to present the play.
“We use the high school (speech and debate) department, so we’re having high school students presenting, hopefully, to other high school students on the topic,” Jackson said. “The (speech and debate) department has been amazing and every year they have been more than excited to participate with us. It’s a powerful experience and more so powerful that it’s kids presenting to other kids.”
The five-act play uses monologues and even a bit of humor to help ease students into the topic of sexual assault and gets them talking about the issues of sexual violence, said Dan Eberle, program coordinator for Summit County Youth and Family Services’ Mountain Mentors.
“It is a topic that needs to be brought more into conversation, more into the community,” he said. “The more we talk about it, the more we can address the issues around sexual violence and work toward a healing process. It’s an issue in communities, and we want to see that conversation had, (the topic) talked about more.”
Wendy King, Summit High speech and debate coach, said the play starts with the four actors walking through the auditorium repeating common misconceptions about sexual assault.
“It’s not rape if you know him, it’s not rape if he is your next-door neighbor, it’s not rape if you’re gay — all these kind of things,” King said. “In other words, this is what people will often say — you’ve put yourself in this position, it’s your fault you got raped, you call it rape, but it’s your fault — but this is not the case at all. Just because you know him or just because he’s your neighbor doesn’t mean it’s not rape.”
The speech and debate students have embraced “Until Someone Wakes Up,” King said.
“They are activists, the first kids to line up to say people have their rights and no one should ever accuse them of something because of the way they look or the place they are at, where they are walking, how they are walking,” she said. “They were pretty excited about being a part of this.”
More than a lecture
Jackson said there’s no wrong way to distribute information about sexual assault, but any time information can be communicated in different formats, you have a better chance of it sinking in and kids being able to retain it.
“It is a dramatic storytelling of actual victims’ experiences,” she said. “You can only do so much with a lecture, but when you are able to dramatize something and you have talented kids like we have, being able to demonstrate visibly, not only with words, the impact that rape has on its victims — it’s just a powerful experience.”
The play is very personalized, King said, because it’s two girls talking about a situation that was very intimate where they were completely caught off guard by someone they knew and admitting that they didn’t know how to handle it, how to go about telling people or their parents they actually were raped.
“They were embarrassed themselves even though it wasn’t their fault at all,” King said. “That personalization brings it home to people more than anything. Most victims of sexual assault are embarrassed and feel like they did something wrong.
“There’s probably a lot of people out there who are in a position where they are afraid to speak up and it could impact them for the rest of their lives if something like this happened to them and never got reported. They could feel guilty for something for the rest of their lives, something that wasn’t at all their fault.”
Eberle said sexual assault is a topic that a lot of people aren’t comfortable discussing or bringing up to others, which is why so many acts of sexual violence go unreported.
“Our goal is to make this easier to bring up and talk about and facilitate in conversation to decrease the rates of sexual violence in communities as a whole,” he said.
The idea is not to use scare tactics or see a potential perpetrator in every acquaintance but to educate people about a challenging subject, Jackson said.
“We just think education is empowering and providing people with true information hopefully can help all of us make better decisions when it comes to what we are teaching our kids,” she said.