Emory Report
October 19, 2009
Volume 62, Number 7

Take Back the Night
Hosted by the student-led Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, Emory’s fifth annual Take Back the Night brings awareness to the problem of sexual violence and supports survivors of sexual assault.

For more information, contact Aline Jesus Rafi.

Tuesday, Oct. 20

Safe, Sane and Consensual: A Conversation about Sex.
7 p.m. Harland Cinema.

Exhibition: Clothesline Project.10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Quad (Rain location: DUC). Through Oct. 22.

Wednesday, Oct. 21
Wonderful Wednesday: Safety and Resource Fair. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Asbury Circle.

Empowering Women to Have Positive Intimate Relationships. Noon.
Center for Women.

Speak Out and Rally.
5 p.m. Quad.


Emory Report homepage  

October 19, 2009
Planting the seed

By Margie Fishman

Aline Jesus Rafi, Emory’s coordinator for Sexual Assault Prevention Education and Response, can recall the details of every case she has handled as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.

Her most memorable experience, however, came during a follow-up call with a student, who told Rafi that her perpetrator been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“This is only the second or third case I’ve had where the person had gone to prison,” explains Rafi. “And I’ve been in the field for nine years.”

Most victims (Rafi prefers the term “survivors”) of sexual violence never report the incident to police, intent on blaming themselves. Even if they do decide to press charges, there is no guarantee the perpetrator will serve time. Sexual violence usually occurs behind closed doors with no other witnesses, Rafi notes, and the evidence must be “airtight.”

Since coming to Emory two years ago, Rafi has focused on promoting healthy, respectful relationships, building a community intolerant of sexual violence. Teaming up with Residence Life Area Director Ben Perlman, she started a discussion group for males to talk about how they can prevent sexual violence. She also helped organize Emory’s fifth annual Take Back the Night Speak Out and Rally coming up on Oct. 21, culminating a week of events dedicated to sexual violence awareness. Sexual Assault Awareness Week kicks off in April, with film screenings, guest speakers and workshops.

Earlier this year, Rafi received the Campus Life Award of Service (CLASS) New Professional Honor, recognizing her outreach efforts.

Part of the Student Health and Counseling Services team, Rafi also is the first point of contact for undergraduate and graduate students dealing with sexual assault, intimate partner violence or stalking. She provides access to medical and mental health resources and offers them support on campus and in the courtroom.

The most underreported crime on campuses nationwide, sexual assault is defined as any contact of a sexual nature without mutual consent. In the majority of cases, the assailant is an acquaintance and at least one partner is intoxicated.

Emory is one of only a few universities with a full-time coordinator devoted to sexual violence issues. Rather than focus on ways to prevent sexual assault, Rafi’s message is one of community empowerment. As she explains, students — in particular, women — have been conditioned to anticipate threats to personal safety.
“Sometimes you can do everything right and still be assaulted,” she says.

Instead, she advises students to challenge degrading comments that blame victims or condone rape, and act quickly when they see a friend in a vulnerable situation. Faculty and staff who are made aware of sexual assault should notify Rafi or Emory Police.

A native of Brazil, Rafi moved to Georgia in 1997 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of West Georgia. During that time, she began working long nights for a local rape crisis center. As the only Spanish-speaking volunteer, Rafi stood by survivors in hospital beds as they received “rape kits,” used to collect evidence. She fetched them blankets, comforted their families, and made their list of options seem less overwhelming.

After earning her master’s degree, Rafi served as director of multicultural outreach and as a victim services coordinator for the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center. Currently, she is a part-time doctoral student in sociology, concentrating in gender sexuality at Georgia State University.

Her volunteer work is an extension of her professional interests. She has served on boards for nonprofit organizations, such as Ahimsa House, which provides shelter to pets involved in domestic violence situations, and Arte Sana, working in sexual violence prevention for the Latino community.

In what spare time she has, Rafi enjoys tap dancing, community theater and traveling abroad.
She understands that speaking out about sexual violence may make some people uncomfortable or cause others to turn away.

“The system is not going to change right away. It’s probably not going to change in my lifetime,” she admits.
“I’m just planting the seed.”