Students attend SafeNet event

Daniel Leonard, Staff writer

Two students from the Women and Crime course recently received full scholarships from SafeNet, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services to victims of domestic violence, to attend their Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) conference. The conference was held Oct. 11 at the Erie Maennerchor Club.

In prior years, one student from social work and one student from criminal justice attended the SafeNet conference, but this year two undergraduate criminal justice students, sophomore Alyssa Jaeger and junior Kelsey Collins, earned scholarships to participate in the conference.

The Women and Crime course, taught by Maria Garase, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, “is designed to expose students to a greater understanding of the unique attributes of women who are victims, women who are offenders, and women who work in the criminal justice system,” Garase said.

In the entirely online course, students are required to read the book “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” which opens up discussions about acquaintance rape, victim blaming, rape myths, Title IX protections and the neurobiology of sexual assault.

Several of the topics the class focuses on were explored in detail at the conference.

Jaeger and Collins attended panel presentations, where they heard doctors and nurses recount their firsthand experiences working with victims in their practices or hospitals.

Another one of the conference speakers was the father of murdered Mercyhurst student Jenni-Lyn Watson. He shared the very personal story of her death in 2010 at the hand of her abusive boyfriend.

“Some of the statistics they presented at the conference were shocking. Most people wouldn’t guess, for example, that the leading cause of death for women within a year of giving birth is homicide,” said Collins. “We learn about these things in class but it’s mostly theory, and hearing the stories of real women who have been through this is so much tougher to learn.”

The increase in recent news stories about sexual assault and harassment by powerful men has raised public awareness of sexual assault and violence.

“This class is always relevant — it just so happens that we see the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment coming to the forefront with people who are easily recognizable to us,” said Garase. “It makes it real, and it shocks the public conscious.”

The annual conference expands the student’s knowledge of Intimate Partner Violence and also has the potential to influence a student’s educational path and career goals.

“My experience at the conference encouraged my initial goals for the future and trajectory for future events I will plan on campus,” said Jaeger. “I think that educating yourself on sexual assault is always relevant for all students. Sexual assault affects one out of four women and roughly one out of six to one out of 10 men. So whether or not there are stories in the news about sexual assault, I still believe that it is important for students to be aware of sexual assault because it does happen commonly in this society, and awareness of an issue can be helpful in preventing these instances from occurring.”