Is sexual abuse a topic we don’t want to discuss?
That’s what Susan Russell, artistic director for Cultural Conversations, suggested in light of attendance at this year’s festival, which was focused on sexual abuse. She told The Daily Collegian on Saturday at the Downtown Theatre Center that this year’s attendance for the week-long festival was the lowest it has ever been. Russell said for the past three years, she has sold out every show and had lines out the door of people waiting to be admitted. She found herself wondering if she had found a topic that no one wants to talk about.
We think she is on to something.
There has been so much talk on campus over the last year about sexual abuse because of the Jerry Sandusky case. The conversation is about Coach Joe Paterno’s innocence or guilt, sanctions handed down by the NCAA or too much media attention on central Pennsylvania.
The conversation is rarely about the root of the problem – sexual abuse. Yes, students mourned for those who suffered of child sexual abuse last November and were appalled to read testimony from boys who Sandusky abused during his trial in June. But the conversation always ends quickly and turns to moving forward.
We can’t just move forward because sexual abuse still occurs, even on Penn State’s campus and surrounding communities. It’s never going to just get easier to discuss sexual abuse, so we should take advantage of events like Cultural Conversations when they are offered.
During Cultural Conversations, community members performed a play that featured a collection of viewpoints from community members about sexual abuse, as well as the Sandusky case. Rather than actors portraying characters in a plot, the play featured snippets of conversation and dramatic representation.
Events like this are different and possibly easier ways of delving into an issue as difficult as sexual abuse. It’s extremely intimidating to have to sit in a room and just open up to strangers and won’t necessarily help everyone.
It’s often difficult to get behind the issue of sexual abuse because they are nameless. On about a weekly basis, local police report that anonymous people were sexually assaulted, but those stories are often forgotten.
It’s understandable in some respects because we are unable to connect to these faceless men and women who are assaulted or harassed. But those faceless individuals could be your classmate, neighbor or friend. There needs to continue to be events like Cultural Conversations, where there are activists and survivors, to help put a face to those who have suffered.