Did you know alcohol is the #1 date rape drug? April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and we catch up with educator Jessica Heymann to get the facts on alcohol and sexual assault.
First, what is your role VSC?
I have been a Prevention Education Specialist with VSC for a little over 3 years. In addition to providing direct support for our clients, my primary responsibilities are focused on developing and facilitating prevention education programs for community members throughout Montgomery County. VSC offers violence prevention education programs for students as young as preschool, all school and college aged students, as well as adults. Our vision is to work towards creating a community free from violence, specifically sexual violence, by educating community members about consent, boundaries, healthy communication, and the importance of intervening as a bystander when we see something unsafe happening.
What is your background? How long have you been working in the field of victim services?
I graduated from Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) with a B.S. in Sociology with a minor in Gender Studies. I have been doing prevention work since 2012 when I was a student at SJU, and a member of their student group, the Rape Education and Prevention Program. My time at SJU is directly responsible for the passion I feel for doing this work and it is what led me to working for VSC. I am so glad that I get to continue to work with them through my role as a Prevention Education Specialist with VSC.
Are there specific concerns for victims who have experienced sexual assault when alcohol was involved?
When someone has been sexually assaulted and there was alcohol involved, it can be difficult for the victim to reach out for help. Some victims fear that they will be in trouble for underage drinking or fear they will be treated differently by police or other professionals. Many people have a fear they will be blamed for what happened to them. Some victims may take responsibility for the assault because they consumed alcohol. Furthermore, memory loss, or confusion is common after experiencing trauma, and even more so when alcohol or other drugs are added to the mix. If a victim feels that they cannot remember what happened then they may be less likely to seek help, report to police or take other steps after the assault.
What should people know about drugs, alcohol, and consent? Sex without someone’s consent is not sex—it is sexual assault. A person is not able to consent if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A person cannot receive valid, reliable consent from someone who is intoxicated and does not have capacity to make an active, informed choice about having sex. Some people use drugs and alcohol to help them facilitate the crime and coerce a victim into sexual activity.
Sex without someone’s consent is not sex—it is sexual assault.
When you visit high schools, colleges and universities, how do you educate college students to think about consent as it relates to alcohol and other drugs?
My experience visiting schools throughout Montgomery County has been that middle school, high school and college students want to talk about these issues because many of them are already grappling with them. We strive to provide a balance of giving them the tools to recognize unsafe behaviors when they see them and intervene, with information about how to have healthy interactions with their peers. We talk a lot about the importance of trust, boundaries and respect in our discussions with students. Our goal is to empower students to feel confident about being assertive to advocate for themselves and their right to have their boundaries respected. Whenever we discuss sexual assault and how you can support a friend who has experienced it, we are balancing that discussion by talking about enthusiastic consent and how you can be confident that your partner is not only okay with participating, but enthusiastic about being with you! What support and services are available for victims of sexual assault at VSC? We help anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault. Services include free of charge counseling, advocacy and a 24/7 hotline. Advocacy services help victims navigate the criminal justice system by providing emotional support and sharing resources available to them. We offer support in-person at court, hospitals and police departments. Counseling services are available to victims and their loved ones as well as group counseling. Prevention and training is available to help prevent sexual assault and help educate professionals on crime and trauma. Our 24/7 hotline is 1-888-521-0983; please do not hesitate to call or share this number with others.