Health & Wellness

How A Path 2 Courage is working to raise awareness and prevent sexual assault

The exhibit, hosted in collaboration with The Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative and Breaking Silence, is a way for people to hear the stories of both survivors and perpetrators.

Headphones set up at the entrance of the Breaking Silence exhibit.

When she was a senior at her all-girls high school in Los Angeles in 2020, USC junior Sophie Pollack could sense a large gap when it came to conversations about the sexual assault of women. Pollack, who was assaulted at a party after someone spiked her drink in middle school, took matters into her own hands creating her organization, A Path 2 Courage, to educate others about sexual assault and domestic violence.

She started off with an online event during the pandemic. The event highlighted different ways to intervene in situations involving sexual assault, ways to help survivors heal and how to inspire others to get involved with becoming an advocate for change.

Pollack is currently putting this into practice by working with USC fraternities to give chapter presentations. The response is unexpected – and overwhelmingly positive.

This past semester she already gave 14 presentations on campus. In addition to her new member wellness day, where she presented to all the active fraternities’ new members.

Every time she tells her story, she reopens her trauma in hopes of spreading awareness and helping someone else who is struggling. It also helps her heal herself.

Telling her story publicly is its own form of trauma therapy, Pollack says.

“I’ve done a bunch of group sessions and trauma therapy. But it was extremely healing, being able to finally put words to my emotions and be able to talk about my story publicly without feeling guilt and shame,” she says.

Pollack is continuing to do this with the events she holds on campus, and some are even sponsored by fraternities. Late last month, she hosted an exhibit in collaboration with The Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative and Breaking Silence. The importance of having fraternities funding the event is motivation in itself, Pollack says. “They’re paying for it so it’s more motivating for them to actually come and invest time in the exhibit.”

The exhibit, which lasted four days, focuses on bringing awareness to sexual assault and domestic violence, especially on college campuses. When you first walk into the space where the exhibit is held, the third floor of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center (TCC), you are offered a pair of headphones and an iPod. This technology guides you through the nine makeshift rooms of the exhibit and allows you to hear the stories of both survivors and perpetrators.

Each room is set up to correspond to the setting of the story being told, really immersing you in the first-hand narrative. The result is not only hearing these stories but feeling as if you’re experiencing them unfolding. The visual scene that is set makes the words that much more powerful.

USC junior Yasmin Gohar, who is the president of communication and social media for A Path 2 Courage, described her experience walking through the exhibit. “I heard from both the perspective of a victim and a perpetrator of sexual assault and domestic violence. Listening to both sides, I realized that oftentimes it can occur when we least expect it. Ali’s story, the founder of Breaking Silence, stood out to me most as it discussed sexual assault in a college situation. This is especially important to highlight on campus as many incoming and current college students are naive and unfamiliar with life beyond their homes.”

While the stories do recount explicit details of violence and assault, the exhibit is meant to create a safe space where people can understand and connect with these experiences. With the increase of sexual assault cases, Pollack explains, it is important to have these spaces available for students.

The ultimate goal is not simply to allow survivors to tell their truth, but to try to prevent sexual assault altogether. Gohar feels that the concept of this exhibit is especially important. “This exhibit was vital to have at USC, especially in light of everything occurring with domestic violence, assault, and women’s reproductive rights. Although it’s a complex topic to grasp and discuss, it’s essential to put it in the spotlight and get people to listen. I was not expecting to hear the stories I did, and they moved me more than I imagined they would,” Gohar said.

After walking through the exhibit there were spaces for reflection, a chance to talk to a specialist and any of the founders, and opportunities to engage with various resources offered through USC Student Health and the Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX.