Margaux Parmentier

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — A student produced documentary at Winthrop University attempts to tell the story of sexual assault through the stories of women on campus who have experienced sexual violence.

More than 70 people attended a screening of the film April 15, which was part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Jessica Battista, a senior mass communication major, produced the 28-minute film entitled “The Voices of Sexual Assault,” because she is a sexual assault survivor.

It all started when she chose sexual assault as the topic of a 3-minute video for the final assignment in a documentary film class.

“From that 3-minute documentary, I realized I wanted to do something bigger than this. I wanted to interview more people, I wanted to do more research and it just happened,” Battista said.

She interviewed eight women throughout the semester who shared their experiences with sexual assault after they responded to a message on the Winthrop Facebook page explaining the project.

“I wanted my girls’ stories to be heard,” said Battista, of the women she called “survivors,” rather than victims.

“Jess wanted very much to use her talents to be sure that students and staff know that there are students on our campus who have had traumatic experiences that include sexual assault,” said Beverly Holbrook, counselor at the Office of Victims Assistance (or OVA).

“As one of the students said to me after the event; ‘It’s one thing to know sexual assault happens, but to know that it happens among our own peers here at Winthrop is eye opening.’ Tonight’s program made it real.”

Following the screening, Battista, Holbrook and four of the women featured in the film participated in a panel discussion that encouraged students to not be afraid to speak up and make their voices heard.

Many of the panelists stressed that victims of sexual assault are not responsible for what happened to them.

“It was important to talk about (sexual assault) and to not make it a taboo,” said Mathilde Rovira, a junior integrated marketing communication major, who attended the screening.

Holbrook said the event was well attended, because students care about the subject, even if it’s something many people don’t like to talk about.

“They recognize that they are responsible to make the campus a safe place for all students. I truly believe that this is the generation of young people that will change the culture,” said Holbrook.

“Learning about sexual assault is very important,” said Katherine Poulnot, a senior psychology major, who attended the event. “(The documentary) just made me feel I had to go out there and help as many people as I can.”

Batista said this is the first step in her fight raise awareness about sexual assault.

“I’m proud to say I’m going to try make a change in this world, with one documentary at a time,” said Battista.

“Jess is an amazing young woman who found her passion as she worked through her own pain. Now Jess is determined to help others find their voices and reclaim their power,” Holbrook said.

She said anyone who has been touched by sexual assault, intimate partner violence or abuse is encouraged to visit the Office of Victims Assistance in the Crawford Building.

“I think the most important service we offer is unconditional regard for each person that comes to our office, as we help them sort through and make sense of what has happened to them. We recognize their need for support and for encouragement,” said Holbrook.