Dialogue On Assault Adds Jesuit Voice

One in five women have been assaulted on college campuses, according to The Washington Post. Of the 150 women who could fill Merkert 127, the statistic has it that approximately 30 have been sexually assaulted or know someone who has been affected by sexual violence.

On Wednesday evening, the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) and Bystander Intervention Education sponsored a panel discussion called Jesuit Reflection: Sexual Assault at Boston College, in the Merkert lecture hall.

The panel was moderated by assistant professor of French, Regine Jean-Charles, and consisted of four Jesuits: Rev. James Keenan, S.J., Rev. Frederick Enman, S.J., Rev. Christopher Ryan, S.J., and Roy Joseph. The panel intended to present the Jesuits thoughts on the impact of sexual assault on both genders on campus. The panelists emphasized their desire to foster dialogue about sexual assault on campus outside of the event, and strongly encouraged questions within the panel discussion.

Keenan said that of all sexual assaults on campuses reported in the country, an overwhelming number happen at parties and that most offenders are serial rapists, with an offender admitting on average six attacks. All of the panelists agreed that the issue of sexual assault was rampant—it happens everyday, somewhere.

“It happens among those who are well educated, among those who are here on this Catholic campus, on this Jesuit campus, among those who have had good upbringings,” Joseph said.

An important part of the panelists’ attitude towards sexual assault stems, logically, from religious doctrine. Enman pointed to the 2002 pastoral letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops titled “When I Call For Help” as an important way to view violence against women.

The letter, written as a response to domestic violence against women, strongly condemns all types of violence against women, both physical and emotional. Whether inside the house or not, any type of violence directed toward women is never justified, the bishops said. In addition to never being justifiable, violence against women was sinful, and oftentimes a crime.

The bishops called for a moral revolution in response to replace a culture of violence. Enman and the other panelists all support this change, but do not believe such a revolution has occurred yet.

In response, the Jesuits noted that the Church is an institution that has a large role to play in realizing this moral revolution. Bishops need get involved on a local level with their dioceses, Keenan said, and really push to open dialogue within their communities.

The core values being attacked by sexual assault are the same values that are at the core of the Church and other faith communities, Keenan said.

While the Church has its fair share of work to do, communities such as BC can take up the initiative on their own.
He said that professors need to foster better relationships with their students outside of the classroom, because right now, professors are removed from material other than what they teach.

Sexual assault needs to be brought into the classroom and be a central part of the discussion, he said.

“If we were to find out all of a sudden to find out that one out of five [students] had Ebola, we’d be talking about that in class,” Keenan said. “If we found out that one in five [students] had HIV/AIDS, we’d be talking about that. Why is that sexual assault cannot come into the classroom?”

The issue of the Church as a male-dominated institution attempting to comment on an act experienced predominantly by females frustrated some students, one of whom raised the question of why there seems to be an effort to stall the feminization of the Church.

In the past, Enman said, there was a strong female presence in the Church, considering it was commonly referred to as the Holy Mother Church.

He said it would be prudent to examine the femininity of the church in the past and compare it to now, and then contrast it to what that state actually should be.

Keenan added that women have also been strong forces to push the church forward, but have never been rewarded leadership roles within the church. Keenan said that until women have leadership roles close to the Pope, this culture will never change.

Keenan has spent a lot of effort researching and talking about HIV/AIDS in relation to the Church, and closed with comments on the Church’s inefficient approach to rather simple sexual issues.

In terms of help after the contraction of HIV or after being sexually assaulted, the Catholic Church is very good at helping victims. But on the other side of the spectrum, the Church does almost nothing in terms of helping prevent such occurrences.

“We know a great deal about sexuality. We understand it. We are sexual beings, but there is something about the institutional Church’s inability to talk about sexuality except in a very, very, idealistic framework,” Keenan said.

Featured Image by Clare Kim / Heights Staff

March 19, 2015