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Dartmouth Event Addresses Sexual Violence Issues



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2019

Hanover — On a day when hundreds of thousands of protesters nationwide advocated for social justice issues during the third annual Women’s March, Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine continued a like-minded tradition on campus.

In its 14th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Geisel hosted a series of presentations surrounding sexual violence issues. Named “Honoring a Survivor’s Narrative: Our Role in Empowering Victims of Sexual Violence,” the two-day program culminated on Saturday inside Oopik Auditorium with presentations from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center psychiatrist Milangel Concepcion; sex trafficking survivor Jasmine Grace Marino; and keynote speaker Alicia Ely Yamin, a lawyer and senior public health professor at Harvard University. The trio covered issues ranging from how social health factors relate to child exploitation to Marino’s escape from a New England sex-trafficking ring and the role of social media in “commodifying” the human body.

The weekend ended in the building lobby with Marino collecting everyday items such as toiletries and clothing for her “Bags of Hope” program, which provides basic necessities to vulnerable women.

A committee of Geisel students and Dartmouth staff had begun work on organizing the program in September, eventually choosing the theme of sexual violence victim empowerment in part because it was topical in light of the sexual assault testimony of Christine Blasey Ford against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Each year, the event strives to push forward the ideals and values that Martin Luther King Jr. held.

“The whole climate, between Dr. Ford’s hearing and everything in the news media about the #MeToo movement — it leaves a lot of issues to address,” said Geisel student committee member Briana Krewson.

Added Valerie Orellana, Dartmouth’s health professions programs coordinator: “These issues go back to the roots of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of human rights advocacy. Empowering sexual violence victims is a human rights issue, and it’s one that victims can’t take on by themselves.”

Marino, the sex trafficking survivor, captivated an audience of about 50 with her story beginning with her as a teenager north of Boston, where she was lured into a prostitution ring by a “boyfriend” who promised riches. Coerced into “turning tricks” at massage parlors, businesses and homes for years while subjected to physical and mental abuse, Marino recounted tribulations including her substance addictions, a forced abortion and her older brother’s death from an overdose.

Eventually, she was able to break out of the prostitution cycle and today is married with five children. Marino now has been sober for nearly 12 years and has authored a book, while her Bags for Hope program has helped vulnerable women throughout eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“No one grows up saying, ‘I want to be a prostitute,’ ” Marino said during the talk. “It happens because of low self-esteem, low self-worth. The No. 1 human need is to feel loved.”

Concepcion, the DHMC psychiatrist, covered some of her findings gathered during global studies projects related to child sex trafficking, including that most of the perpetrators of such crimes in rural areas are victims’ direct relatives.

That got the attention of personnel from WISE, the Lebanon-based gender violence prevention advocacy group.

“Her message was incredibly prudent, because these kinds of victims are living in our neighborhoods,” said Bailey Ray, WISE’s campus advocate at Dartmouth. “It’s happening in our backyards and in places beyond what you might know to look for.”

Yamin, the keynote speaker, described her own experience as a sexual assault victim while a sophomore at Harvard College before discussing societal progress in light of #MeToo, the Women’s March and other initiatives helping to shift social norms.

“When a woman had professional aspirations, it used to be the norm that she would be subjected to harassment, assault or even sexual violence. That is no longer accepted,” said Yamin, who also spoke in an event at Dartmouth last fall and drew an audience of about 75 on Saturday.

Yamin then alluded indirectly to the sexual misbehavior of three now-former science professors who were ousted last year following a sexual misconduct investigation by the college.

In November, seven current and former female students filed a $70 million lawsuit against Dartmouth claiming it ignored the behavior over a period of more than 16 years.

Dartmouth later announced a “Campus Climate and Culture Initiative” to combat similar behavior while denying knowledge of the professors’ actions in a subsequent document.

“It would be a missed opportunity if Dartmouth doesn’t reflect on the underlying causes as for why this happened,” Yamin said.

Orellana, the health professions programs coordinator, said the allegations were discussed early in preparations for the event, as students were choosing.

“Our focus was on (the victims’) bravery for speaking out because it tied into our theme of empowering their narrative,” she said in a text message after Saturday’s event.

Yamin said public backlash toward the #MeToo movement and other initiatives is “a measure of our success.”

“Social change is not linear. Backlash is a sign that we’re pushing boundaries,” she said. “On the other hand, we must constantly be addressing this backlash.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.