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UO Ahead of the Curve

SWAT and sexual violence prevention
Kevin Sullivan
Kevin Sullivan

My “sex education” classes always failed me.

“Your privates are gonna get bigger and you’re gonna start smelling bad,” one of the teachers said during my fifth-grade sex-ed class. At the end, the teachers provided us with a stick of deodorant — thanks, Mr. Johnson.  

In middle school, health classes were more of a “you-need-to-exercise-or-you-will-get-fat-you-pathetic-pear-shape” than about sex at all. 

In high school — I don’t remember. There were a bunch of worksheets that the teacher gave the answers to, and then he would let us out early. Oh, high school. 

In sum, I learned next-to-nothing. It wasn’t until college that the issue of sexual assault was brought to my attention in an educational setting. 

I sat through the “It Can’t Be Rape” play as an incoming freshman just like every other incoming freshman has for years at the UO. I didn’t identify as a feminist; I thought the play was funny but also preachy. Still, it made me question societal standards and opened my mind at least a little.

Fast-forward three years and I was auditioning for the same play that I had seen as an ignorant freshman. What had changed? 

Although I have never survived sexual assault, it has hit close to home. Freshman year my resident assistant was nearly assaulted and a year later a friend confided in me about experiencing a sexual assault.

It made me furious but also hungry to instill positive change within the UO community. 

So, I auditioned for “It Can’t Be Rape.” The play is put on by the UO Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (SWAT), headed by Abigail Leeder, the director of sexual violence prevention education at the UO. Leeder has held the same position since 2005 and says that due to recent events, this is the most attention she has ever received. “It’s wonderful that everyone is passionate about preventing sexual violence, and we know this is a problem on this campus and every other campus,” Leeder says. “My hope is that people continue to care after the spotlight has faded.” 

That is my hope as well. 

I have been part of this production for two years now. More often than not, students come up to us after the show and tell us how amazed, thankful, relieved and comforted they are that we educate people about consent and the beauty of it. 

Those moments when students thank us make me think of my elementary days and wonder what the world would look like if students were taught consent long before they got to college. 

Either way, the UO is doing something right — teaching every incoming freshman that consent is not the absence of a no, but the presence of a yes.