By Shawn McFarland
Sexual assault is despicable. It’s arguably one of the most heinous features of society. It can be difficult to talk about. Some find it uncomfortable, even embarrassing.
But the victims of these unfortunate crimes don’t have to remain silent or go through it alone. At Springfield College, the Counseling Center and Sexual Assault Victims Advocates offer a shoulder to lean on, as well as advice and help when needed.
The Counseling Center, located in the Towne Health Center, offers free, professional and confidential counseling to both undergraduate and graduate students. While the service does much more than just work with sexual assault victims, the counselors have the ability to work with very specific cases.
“To put it into direct terms, if someone comes over to meet with us, we are a place that it will stay private,” Director of Counseling Brian Krylowicz said. “When we’re dealing with sexual assault, we’re a great place to start. We’re going to encourage people to pursue legal means or medical checks. We’re a place where if someone is like, ‘I don’t know what I want to do,’ we can stop the moment and figure out what you want to do before you go somewhere.”
In the 2015-16 school year, 12 percent of the student body used the Counseling Center’s services. While that does extend to more than sexual assault, Krylowicz explained that some students come in with more than just problems which occurred while at Springfield College.
“We also have people that will come in with something that had happened with sexual assault four years ago while they were at home, and they want to talk about it,” he said. “A lot of times it’s like, ‘a year ago, this happened,’ and they’re ready to start talking about it.”
As Krylowicz alluded to, it can sometimes take years for victims to be ready to discuss what happened to them. It’s often someone they already know who assaulted them, sometimes even someone they were dating. Victims can shy away from talking about the assault, but the Counseling Center assures students that it’s okay to come talk with them.
“The hardest part is sometimes saying it out loud,” Krylowicz said. “Sometimes people will come in here and describe an ‘awkward sexual situation.’ As they’re talking a little more, they start using different words. When people reach the point of ‘sexual assault’ or ‘rape,’ those are very strong words for anybody.”
In addition to that, there’s the stigma that “something has to be done,” when students come to the Counseling Center. While it is recommended that medical or legal help is pursued, the center can offer a simple starting point for students dealing with problems.
“We are a place that if you just don’t know what to do, come here,” Krylowicz said. “We will think in your head with you.”
In addition to the Counseling Center, Sexual Assault Victims Advocates, or SAVA, offer a service specifically geared towards those who have been sexually assaulted.
Just four years old, SAVA is a group of full-time faculty members at Springfield who volunteer their time. Members range from health center staff members, all the way to professors.
Unlike the Counseling Center, SAVA isn’t specifically counseling. Rather, it’s more hands on: SAVA’s can go to the hospital with victims, or go through the criminal process if they choose to do so.
“It’s someone to walk next to you,” Jayna Punturiero said. She has been a member of SAVA for two years, and was a co-director last year.
SAVA is on call seven days a week, 24 hours per day. Each member takes a turn being on call; all the SAVA calls are forwarded to their phone.
As Punturiero explained, SAVA is a sorely underutilized program on campus.
“It’s not being used as often as [sexual assault] is happening, for sure,” she said. “Which is the hard part about sexual assault; resources aren’t utilized as much.”
Punturiero added that one of the positives of SAVA is that it is localized to Springfield College. It’s on campus, and members are easily accessible given that they are full-time employees in various areas of the school.
“It’s such a bubble where we work and where students come,” she said. “It’s sort of in-house. Say they touch base with Susan Joel (a sociology professor) who is a SAVA here. She will follow up with them, they can go to see her. It’s closer, it’s on campus and they know these folks.”
While there are services in the county that work similarly to SAVA, Punturiero believes there is a value to having a member of the Springfield College community work closely with you instead.
Between the Counseling Center and SAVA, Springfield College does have a heightened focus on issues of sexual assault. But more can still be done. Punturiero added that adding more SAVA’s would be beneficial, so that the group could reach out to the Springfield College community more.
“I’m someone who believes we can always be doing more,” she said. “It’s not to say that the things we’re doing are bad. The things that we are doing are important. The fact that we just hired a Title IX coordinator is great. But I just think that more can be done.”
Krylowicz added that more education would be welcomed, specifically geared towards the male population on campus.
“Sexual assault is really a male problem, not a female problem,” he said. “We don’t do enough of really targeting men. A lot of the sexual assault stuff goes into how to make females more aware of the situation. We target towards them as if they have to be responsible. We as guys have to step up.”
Krylowicz explained that the Counseling Center is open to suggestions. Students will often approach with ideas and suggestions, and the center is more than happy to hear the campus’ ideas and thoughts.
He continued, “As a college, we do a decent job with this. As a person that’s being sexually assaulted, we aren’t doing nearly enough.”