Local partnership provides counseling for students

Rebecca Dunphy, News Editor

With the COVID-19 pandemic there has been much talk about the “green,” “yellow,” and “red” phases by the Pennsylvania government. While Erie County has been out of the “red” for some time now, there is another red zone that is just beginning.

In terms of sexual assault and dating violence, the “red zone” refers to the first six weeks of the semester where college freshmen are at an increased risk of victimization. In this period, females are most likely to be assaulted or raped, which is of particular concern considering that college-aged women are already more likely to be a victim of intimate partner violence.

Though students are expected to maintain social distancing and follow rules about visitation, it is still important for students to understand what resources are available on campus if violence or assault were to occur, should the need arise.

The Mercyhurst Empowerment and Prevention Program (MEPP) is currently offering counseling services through their partnership with Crime Victim Center and Safe Net. This was made possible through a grant provided by the Office of Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice.

“A stipulation of receiving these funds is that the university has active working relationships with the sexual assault and domestic violence agencies in their community. Having said that, CVC and SafeNet has already served Erie and the University community for many years,” said MEPP project manager, Michael Madonia.

On Tuesdays, SafeNet counselor Karen Swager will be holding office hours from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. On Thursdays, Amy Blackman from the Crime Victim Center will be holding her dedicated office hours from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Students can direct message these counselors on Microsoft Teams or call them during office hours to set up an appointment.

Swager can be reached at (814) 454-8161 and Blackman’s number is (814) 455- 9414.

Services are offered free of charge and survivors can be confident that anything discussed will be kept confidential.

Beyond knowledge of the services available, students should also be aware of what constitutes sexual assault and the importance of consent.

It is a common misconception that rape and sexual assault only occur at the hands of a stranger, yet studies show that college students are more likely to be victimized by someone they know. This does not make it any less criminal, nor does it decrease the validity, trauma or seriousness of the assault.

Though the only way to prevent rape is to stop rapists, there are some important things to keep in mind with any interaction. Clear, verbal consent is of the utmost importance and must be communicated prior to engaging in any sexual act.

The rules of consent can be most easily remembered through the acronym F.R.I.E.S. Consent must be freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific.

“All the same rules of consent apply now during the pandemic as before,” said Madonia. “These rules apply to sexting, sending nude pictures, phone sex and any other kind of sexual behavior that is not in person.”

Sending unsolicited nude photos, though virtual, still is a form of harassment and should be reported immediately to campus police and the Title IX Office.

Another thing to keep in mind during this global health pandemic is that if any person is being pressured to break COVID guidelines this is a red flag.

“Pressure should not be part of the chemistry in a healthy relationship,” Madonia said.

No matter whether sexual or domestic violence happens personally or to a friend, students should feel confident reaching out to Police and Safety, counselors, or the Title IX Office.

For more information on MEPP contact project manager Michael Madonia at (814) 824- 2354 or emailing mmadonia@ mercyhurst.edu.