In October 2014 McLaine Rich, then a junior at the University of Maryland, attended a social event with her sorority. That night, she was sexually assaulted.
Rich — a 2016 alumna — had never met anyone else who faced a similar experience until she started talking to people about it, she said, and in the weeks after sharing her story with her sorority, some 30 girls said they were also survivors.
Rich founded Preventing Sexual Assault, an on-campus organization, and on Monday night, students filled the second floor of Cornerstone Grill and Loft for “Real Talk,” an event to address the issue on the campus.
“Preventing sexual assault doesn’t mean telling people to not drink or telling people to not dress a certain way,” she said. “Preventing sexual assault is about how it happens in real life situations and what we can actually do to stop it.”
“Real Talk” is run as “an open-style community discussion,” said Nikki Wolfrey, a PSA member and senior government and politics major. The event aims to create an environment where everyone is comfortable talking about sexual assault, she said.
Rich created PSA because she was frustrated with the sexual assault reporting process and wanted to bring awareness to the issue. A girl can dress the way she wants and live her life the way she wants without asking for anything, specifically sex, she said.
PSA hosted two “Real Talk” events last semester, PSA President Cristina Johnson said. In April, the group also hosted Occupy McKeldin to educate students about sexual assault and provide survivors with an outlet. In October, it held its second annual Slut Walk to raise awareness about victim-blaming and support sexual assault victims.
“We hold [Real Talk] specifically at a bar not to talk about alcohol’s influence or role in sexual assault, but more to just show that this topic shouldn’t be stigmatized; it should be a more normalized part of conversation,” she said.
Tables at the event were covered in tweets from the #MeToo movement, where people shared on social media their stories of sexual misconduct in response to several accusations from celebrities against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
“Okay, I’m gonna need this to change from #Metoo to #whohasntbeen because obviously sexual harassment is as common as eating breakfast,” one tweet read. “To all the women sharing stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment, thank you for your bravery to speak up. You are not alone. #MeToo,” read another.
PSA treasurer Roshan Mathew, a sophomore enrolled in letters and sciences, stressed understanding the meaning of consent. He said he knows people who have been sexually assaulted and saw the event as “an opportunity for women to express their thoughts, and for men to hear from a woman’s perspective.”
Johnson said she hoped the event would spur a discussion about what sexual assault is and what consent is.
“I want to form a community of people [where] no one feels like they’re alone on this issue,” the senior journalism major said. “This is a place where you feel like there are other people going through what you’re going through.”