“Survivor to Thriver” conference empowers victims of sexual assualt

Aaron Schaffer, Photo Editor

The conference “Survivor to Thriver,” addressed awareness, survivor empowerment, and community resources in an effort to confront sexual assault on campus.

Spearheaded by associate professor of psychiatry and Director of the University’s Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership Catherine Cerulli, UR Intercessor Harriette Royer, and Equal Opportunity Compliance Director Morgan Levy, this is the first year such a conference has been held. In an effort to make this an annual event, dates are already reserved for a similar conference in April 2014.

The conference, held Wednesday, April 3, was supported by many campus and local organizations, including the Susan B. Anthony Institute, University Health Services, Women’s Caucus, and the Greater Association of Women Attorneys, among others.

“So many students and faculty supported this conference — which shows amazing coordinated spirit around this issue,” Cerulli said in an email. “We hope UR will become a leader in the area nationwide.”

The conference’s keynote speaker, Maggie Maloy, shared her own story as a survivor of sexual assault and her ongoing struggle to move beyond the violence she suffered nearly two decades ago.

While returning from a morning jog, she was kidnapped at gunpoint, raped twice, and shot five times. She was 15 years old.
“I’m not a thriver yet,” Maloy said.

Now 34, she said she still struggles with the emotional baggage of the violence, although to hear her speak, joking, telling stories of her work with the Justice Department and the Global Institute of Healing Alternatives for Victimaization and Trauma, you would never know it. She currently works as a provider of victim services to survivors of sexual assault.

In her speech, Maloy emphasized empowerment, recounting her interaction with her mother immediately following the assault.

“She empowered the life she saw within me,” Maloy said. “She said, ‘Come on Maggie, you can do this, you can make it…’ That was such a key moment… She saw death on the surface, but she empowered the life within. And that’s what I needed to help me through that day.”

Prior to Maloy’s moving testimony, UR President Joel Seligman shared his remarks on the topic.

“One reads with horror stories about cases of rape in which unconscious and unknowing victims are exploited,” Seligman said. “The trauma that rape victims feel can affect their lives for decades in ways that can be emotionally devastating not only to the victim, but to those [who] love her or him.”

Although he did not explicitly address Professor of Economics Steven Landsburg and his recent blog post, “Censorship, Environmentalism, and Steubenville,” Seligman did allude to the controversy.

“At this university, we work hard to balance our commitment to providing a safe campus — one as free as is reasonably possible from a hostile work environment, discrimination, and harassment — with our commitment to academic freedom,” Seligman said. “Academic freedom is a core value of our university and vital to provide the assurance that one can hold unpopular or provocative views in safety…Statements, for example, that solely are made on private blogs, without use of University resources, without purporting to speak for the University, and not in a manner directed at students or groups of our University community…in all likelihood does not violate our standards. While I respect the right of all in our community to exercise academic freedom, I cannot overstate my hope that our focus will be on preventing future instances of sexual assault. No one who has known an individual who has suffered rape or sexual assault can ever view such crimes as hypothetical questions.”

Ultimately, the conference and Maloy’s speech focused on recovering and healing, a theme that was carried throughout all of the conference events, including  a panel presentation, discussions with local victim resource providers in “caring circles,” and a talk on the spiritual process of healing.

Remus is a member of the class of 2016.



You can contact Angela at aremus@u.rochester.edu.

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