On September 10, 2016, UCB hosted a panel to broaden the understanding of sexual assault. A panel of UCB teachers and performers discussed their personal experiences, a lawyer and former Assistant District Attorney answered questions about reporting sexual assault to the police and a psychologist provided information about treatment. UCB will host a follow-up panel on the topics of Sexism and Sexual Harassment in early 2017.
Below are answers to selected, anonymous questions from the sexual assault panel. We hope you find them helpful.
How do you deal with comedic content, particularly improv scenes that can be personally triggering? Does this happen to you frequently?
I am lucky in the sense that this doesn't happen to me frequently. Part of my journey with sexual assault was not connecting to my assault emotionally, so I was almost never triggered, (because I was disconnected). Nowadays I am (again, very luckily) coming out the other side of my assault, having put a lot of time and energy into healing. While I don't feel triggered in the traditional sense, I am hyper aware of scenes that reference non-consensual sex, or any kind of sexual violence/assault. Whether I am coaching or in that scene, I call it out. I don't "go along with the joke.” I don't pretend it's not happening. I call it out and try to steer the scene in a different direction. – UCB Performer
I prefer to explicitly acknowledge what's happening-- if we're talking about things that I find triggering or think might be triggering for the audience, I explicitly say, "this is/could be triggering" or label it as upsetting or make it otherwise clear that whatever it is that's happening that's upsetting isn't the funny thing. Also, I think it is okay to say no to things-- if someone tries to pimp me into a scenario or make physical contact that makes me uncomfortable in a way that I think affects my mental health, I say no in character and just let my character feel what I feel-- whether that's upset or uncomfortable or something similar. – UCB Performer
How does your experience affect your comedy and artistic outputs?
Like any pain or trauma, I truly believe that if you can heal from it, you will be a stronger, more empathetic person. I believe that my assault has affected my comedy only in the sense that I am now part of the many comedians and people who believe sexual violence doesn't belong in improv comedy. If you are a seasoned, seasoned comedian and believe you can tackle the topic in a way that is both funny AND healing, then sure. But that's probably not going to happen in an improv scene in a basement at 10 o'clock on a Tuesday. –UCB Performer
What is something a teacher, coach, director or other leader in the comedy community has said in a class or team that made you feel safer in that context?
Personally, I have been very inspired by the way the community is changing. Coaches and teachers are calling out micro aggressions regularly. The UCB is genuinely trying to catch up to its own growth, and provide its teachers with the proper language and tools to note these things. I recently audited a 101 class with Zack Willis, and he did a great job on day 1 of outlining what is, and is not acceptable in scenes. Sure enough, a fairly misogynistic scene happened later, and he did a great job of calling it out. I hear many other teachers are doing the same. I believe the theatre is really putting priority on setting clear guidelines in 101, and that's huge. –UCB Performer
I've felt safer when teachers have explicitly laid out parameters at the beginning of the class (the first day of a class, for example) saying to be mindful of unwanted physical contact, and saying that we can go to them privately with any concerns as well. –UCB Performer
What impact has your experiences had on your perspective (enjoyment or discomfort) on other people's comedy?
As a white, straight-presenting, cis woman, I have been really privileged throughout my life. Privilege can often come with blinders towards offensive humor. You are so used to not being oppressed, that you don't see how certain comedy is using the identity or trauma of an oppressed person as part of the joke. It's shitty, old, and something I think people are slowly waking up to. My experience with assault, having my agency and voice taken from me, has helped to make me more sensitive to humor that only benefits the people in a position of power. I am not suggesting that every privileged person needs to be traumatized in order to have empathy, or that I am now immune from offending others -- but my assault helped me develop a deeper, more widespread empathy for oppression, and a sensitivity for when someone's identity/experience is being used as a joke. In short: I don't find it funny to make fun of people's identity or trauma! –UCB Performer
If you have had friends in the community tell you about an assault they suffered from another improviser, how would you advise moving forward?
I would definitely tell them to report it through UCB. I would also try to assure them that the UCB wants to help them, and wants the community to be as safe as possible. –UCB Performer
As a man, how can I support women and stand up against sexual assault in our community?
I really believe in the idea of it starting in all-male spaces. I think a male voice who is willing to speak out against violent or misogynistic conversation or humor, EVEN in the presence of only men, is probably the most powerful voice at this point. Women have shouted, rallied, written, protested - but the men who need the most adjustment are also the ones who will listen to another man WAY before they listen to a woman. So speak out against this shit! Tell your friend his joke wasn't funny. Leave a conversation you find offensive and SAY why. –UCB Performer
What are ways we can support each other in the comedy community, whether we are survivors or not?
Create safe spaces for women and for everyone. Prioritize diversity of all kinds in your shows and groups. Educate yourself on consent and take consent very seriously. As a man, educate yourself on toxic masculinity and be willing to examine yourself for it, (both in scenes and in everyday life). Practice empathy! –UCB Performer
What are the spaces you find people are most willing to share their stories with you?
I think people tend to open up about this on Facebook (often in messages). Sometimes people also share their stories after shows, especially shows that include personal stories or themed shows related to different social justice issues. –UCB Performer
How can you help someone who you know has been sexually assaulted several times but won't seek out help, even if they are aware that they have been assaulted?
Making the decision to seek counseling can be a difficult process. Often survivors do not want to believe that they were impacted by the assault, and/or they want to believe that they are managing their feelings about what happened. If this is the case, they are likely to brush off your efforts to encourage treatment. Some survivors do manage to get past an assault without seeking treatment, but for others the emotional consequences of being victimized catch up with them.
As a friend, you may be in a good position to notice ways in which someone seems altered by the experience. This information may be a useful way in which to speak with your friend about why you think treatment might be helpful. Perhaps he or she has become withdrawn and isolated, or is drinking or using substances in a more a pronounced way, or appears overly anxious or depressed. Talking about some of these specific observations might engage your friend in a productive conversation about getting help. If you are very worried about your friend, don't hesitate to share that information, too. If your friend is fearful about seeking treatment and of talking about what happened, it can also be good to remind your friend that he or she does not need to talk about anything uncomfortable until ready to do so.
Maybe your friend might prefer to be in a group to hear about how others have responded to being assaulted. It is very easy for survivors to think that they are alone in their reactions. Groups can provide an opportunity to see how this is not the case.
You may also be asking about how you can be helpful yourself. It is always valuable to have a non-judgmental friend. Letting your friend know that you are there to provide support is sometimes the most beneficial help you can offer. –Lisa Litt, Ph.D., Psychologist
Are there some general counseling resources that you can refer folks to?
For general counseling, if you have insurance, you can start with your list of network behavioral health providers. Websites such as Psychology Today also offer descriptions of providers in your neighborhood along with some of their specialties. If you need to look for low-fee therapy, some clinics and hospitals offer sliding scale options based on financial ability to pay. Doctoral training programs and psychoanalytic institutes in New York City also offer low-fee therapy with trainees under experienced supervision and can be a very good option. –Lisa Litt, Ph.D., Psychologist
How can you find a good therapist who specializes in sexual assault?
For sexual assault resources, consider:
• Crime Victims Treatment Centers (CVTC): http://www.cvtcnyc.org
• Institute for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS): istss.org
• Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): rainn.org
• The Sidran Institute: https://www.sidran.org
Some of these resources provide treatment directly, and some provide names of providers with expertise in working with trauma. Some of psychoanalytic institutes also have programs to work with survivors of violence. If there is someone you trust in the mental health community, don’t be afraid to ask that person to help you locate an experienced provider. –Lisa Litt, Ph.D., Psychologist
If you have questions about UCB panels or how to report misconduct through UCB, you may contact Marissa Tunis, UCB Director of Student Affairs at email@example.com.