Students create club for sexual assault survivors

Chapman students Bradley Ledford and Cassandra Thibeault cofounded Healing Overcoming Preventing Enabling (H.O.P.E.), a new club on campus that provides a support system for survivors of sexual assault. Graphic by Emma Reith

Healing Overcoming Preventing Enabling (H.O.P.E) is a new campus organization, which, though not yet official, aims to provide a support system for survivors of sexual assault.

After his sister was sexually assaulted in high school, junior Bradley Ledford decided to cofound Healing Overcoming Preventing Enabling, or H.O.P.E., at Chapman.After supporting his sister following her assault and seeing how that helped her transition into college, Ledford said he wanted to give other college students who have experienced assault a chance to have the same support system.

H.O.P.E. is not yet an official campus organization, Ledford said. Founders, Ledford, a junior health science major, and cofounder Cassandra Thibeault, a sophomore business major, are “ironing out the details.”

“We don’t have a hierarchy with therapist and victim, rather, it’s just students and friends helping each other through similar experiences,” Ledford said. “We think that’s very important for the healing process.”

Many victims of sexual assault feel as though they don’t have a support group, and therefore are less likely to report it, according to Psychology Today. Out of 12 national sexual violence organizations on college campuses, only one group, End Rape On Campus, provides direct support for victims. The majority of groups focus on prevention and awareness. For example, Chapman’s Public Safety provides a Rape Aggression and Defense (R.A.D.) workshop, where females learn the basics of self-defense. Thibeault, who is a sexual assault survivor herself, believes that Chapman needs a stronger emotional support system for survivors of sexual assault.

“Not everybody gets a really awesome group of friends to jump in and support them, like my friends did for me,” Thibeault said. “After going through something so difficult and traumatic, I was inspired to help other victims who are going through that.”

Thibeault said she was inspired to start the club after attending Chapman’s Creating A Rape-Free Environment for Students (C.A.R.E.S.) meeting. At the meeting, she watched as girls struggled to share their stories and express their feelings. She saw how “broken” their faces were, she said.

“I saw them and something clicked,” Thibeault said. “I was like, ‘It’s not about me anymore, it’s not about my story, it’s about voicing their feelings and what they’re trying to express.’”

Thibeault and Ledford said they have received some push back on the club. After reaching out to several instructors, many said that there is already a similar club on campus, Thibeault said. H.O.P.E. will take things in a different direction, she said.

“In my experience, I had a really hard time going to events about awareness when the event was so fresh in my mind,” Thibeault said. “We’re trying to make that differentiation, I know what C.A.R.E.S. does is amazing but it’s not directly for the people who experienced sexual assault. We want to continue awareness, but we also want to step in and care for those people.”

C.A.R.E.S., which is not a club but a department, is overseen by Dani Smith, the school’s rape crisis counselor. Smith and C.A.R.E.S. focus on awareness and prevention of sexual assault.

“It’s never the survivor’s fault,” Smith said. “Often the survivors blame themselves. Yes, we talk about preventing, but there is nothing you can do that warrants someone to hurt you.”

Victims sometimes still see their attackers on campus, which is very difficult and triggering, Thibeault said.

In response to this, she and Ledford want to implement “big brother” and “big sister” programs, which would include walking with someone to and from a class where they know they’ll see their attacker, or after a night class, Thibeault said. Their goal is to provide something more casual, like a big sibling who is looking out for a little sibling, Ledford said.

These older club members, big sisters and brothers, will be set up with younger club members, similar to bigs and littles in sororities and fraternities. The underclassmen will text when they are going out and the big brother or sister will make sure they are safe, check on them while they’re out and text them to make sure they’ve gotten home, Ledford said.

“I’ve personally had friends who have texted or called and said that they weren’t sure where they were and sounded like they weren’t present enough to get back safely,” Ledford said. “I think having a big sister or brother program available, for freshmen especially, would help them not only feel safer, but actually be safer, since someone is touching base with them.”

Ultimately, the founders of H.O.P.E. want to change how things are on college campuses everywhere. They said they hope to change the mindset of those who view women as objects.

“We want to have a domino effect,” Thibeault said. “The more talk there is, the more awareness, the more noise we make, the less it will happen. People will realize that this is a very real issue in our world and it’s not something that can be hidden anymore.”