Earlier this year, I was introduced to Julia Curran. I learned that she had filmed a 30-minute documentary about sexual assault. I am a giant fan of people who take steps to address the issues they see, so I was instantly eager to watch it.
After watching it, Julia was kind enough to answer some questions, and I am very excited to share our discussion with you all.
Please note that the documentary does share personal accounts of sexual assault.
JAMIE SIVRAIS: Can you tell me a little about you?
JULIA CURRAN: I am currently working as the Social/Digital Marketing Specialist at River City Bank in Louisville, KY. I graduated with a degree in communication from the University of Louisville in 2018. In my free time I love to spend time with my friends and boyfriend, read, draw, and binge watch my favorite shows.
JS: Can you talk about what led you to the decision to create this documentary?
JC: I, like many others, am a survivor of sexual assault. I joined a therapy group on campus filled with strong and amazing women who had gone through the same trauma that I had. When I started telling my story to other girls, more often than not, they had their own story to tell and I think that was what really fueled me to bring awareness to the fact that sexual assault happens so often. I am very interested in film and so I decided that I wanted to use my talent to give other survivors a platform to tell their story. Once I had made the decision that I wanted to make a documentary, I brought it up to one of my professors to make sure that there were no legal issues and he asked if I wanted to produce the documentary for a practicum course, which I accepted.
JS: Was this specific to any particular college or university?
JC: The girls that I interviewed were all from the University of Louisville. As was the PEACC Center Director, Tisha Pletcher.
JS: Do you feel that on-campus support for college students who have experienced sexual assault is sufficient? How could it be better?
JC: I think that I was very lucky to have the PEACC center on U of L’s campus and I know many other students who feel the same way. The support is amazing. The advocates at the PEACC Center refer you to a therapist if that is what you want and they also explain what it would be like if the victim decided to bring their case to the dean or the police and they help you through the process if you need to take a leave of absence from school. They are also there to just listen if that is what you need.
JS: Do you think that COVID has an impact on the ability for survivors to access services?
JC: Absolutely. This has been such a troubling time. People have not been able to have therapy sessions face to face and that can take a toll. I know that the therapists are doing their best and a lot of them offer Zoom sessions, but it’s not the same. It’s especially troubling when some people might not be in a safe place at their home so they feel better going to a therapists’ office and feel safe enough there to express everything that they are feeling.
JS: I’ve had people say to me they don’t need more education because they would never assault someone. However, it is my belief that it’s not enough to not assault people, but we must individually do all we can to ensure we are speaking out about and preventing violence as much as we can. In your opinion, what can college students do to help change a culture that tolerates sexual violence?
JC: The issue, first of all, is that a lot of people don’t understand that coercion is also assault. If you guilt someone into having sex with you, that is not consent. That is fear. There are so many other circumstances that people also don’t realize that you are actually assaulting someone, but they blow it off as a joke, not realizing that they just traumatized someone. Unfortunately, this is an issue that starts from a very young age. If you ask any girl “what age do you remember first being sexualized”, most will reply with a child’s age. I was 10. We need to stop measuring people’s worth by their sex organs. There are way too many people out there who treat others as nothing more than a sex object. If you want to have consensual sex then that is fantastic. However, it needs to be reiterated that we are human beings. We feel emotions and we are more than sex objects for your enjoyment. There is also this culture where society is constantly telling women “don’t drink too much, you’ll get raped”, “don’t go running with both headphones on”, “have your keys in between your fingers, so you can fight off a rapist”. They say all this instead of teaching men not to assault women, and then when a woman is raped, blaming the victim takes place. So to answer your question, we need to have a different mindset on how we treat people. Stop protecting rapists. Believe victims. We also need to stop having to say to people “you should say something if you see something suspicious, because that is someone’s family member or someone’s child and what if it was your family member?”. How about you say something because that person is a human, and we should try to prevent trauma happening to a person?
JS: Unfortunately, so many people don’t know what services are available to them and it can be so incredibly difficult to seek them out and learn about them after something has actually happened. How would you recommend that schools make sure that their new students are fully aware of the resources available to them?
JC: I think it needs to be more prominent. They need to have a ‘sexual violence or something of that nature’ on their website, I think. And when the students have orientation, that needs to be something that is advertised to them. I know that a lot of students have to do modules online before attending a university and I think that having a module about the services that are there for you in case anything happens could be useful. Since this is such a huge issue, I think it just needs to be put higher on the radar of the university. Student services and services for sexual harassment/violence education should be made equally as important as sports, Greek life, and clubs.
JS: I am subscribed to the belief that every single person knows someone who has experienced sexual violence. How do you think people can better equip themselves to support their loved ones?
JC: Again, this goes back to rape culture. We need to get a new mindset out there. We need to be more compassionate. I think that people need to be held more accountable for their actions and that we need to start speaking up. If someone makes a rape joke or sexual harassment joke, shut it down and make sure that they know how inappropriate that is. I’m not sure how to fix the rape culture that exists, but we need to start somewhere and hopefully that will manifest into people realizing that rape culture needs to be eliminated and we need to create a more compassionate and safer place for victims.
JS: There are many colleges, high schools, and communities who are implementing bystander intervention techniques, such as Green Dot. Have you seen any hope in these programs? Have you ever seen a bystander step up and stop someone from being hurt?
JC: I do have hope in these programs because even if the program reaches one person and that person prevents a sexual assault from happening, that is one less person walking around with that trauma. I haven’t seen a bystander step up and help personally, but I have heard many stories and they give me hope. I know a few friends of mine where they’ve been to a bar and saw a girl who looked very uncomfortable when a guy was dancing all over her and so they went over and pretending they knew her and pulled her away from the situation. I’ve also heard of bystanders coming up to a person, pretending that they know them, and they ended up walking with them because they noticed someone following them. These are the acts that we need. We need to protect each other because there is no excuse for the high rate of sexual assaults. It is disgusting and we need to do something about it. Teaching bystanders to intervene is definitely a step in the right direction.
JS: What’s next for you?
JC: My next plan is to make a documentary surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement/racism. I want to make a difference in the world. I will keep fighting for sexual assault victims for the rest of my life. I want to eventually work in the film industry, and I would love to make another documentary about sexual assault and reach as many people as I can. Honestly, what’s next is that I am going to keep living my life while also fighting my hardest for the injustices in this world.