TASA aims to support sexual assault survivors

In 2013, Jenna Szabo, a senior majoring in human biology, reported that she was sexually assaulted to the Title IX Office and Department of Public Safety at USC. She said the assault was a painful and traumatizing experience, and she struggled to find support on campus. Szabo added that some members of her sorority shamed her for reporting the assault, which only furthered the emotional damage she said she experienced.

(From left to right) Trojans Against Sexual Assault members Anushka Das, Jenna Szabo, Sharad Sundaresan and Tara Ruff table for their organization at the Involvement Fair. Photo courtesy of Tara Ruff.

“I just felt like I had nowhere to go,” Szabo said. “It was just so hard going on campus every day and just … feeling so alone.”

When she was able to connect with other students who had been victims of sexual assault, she was inspired to form an organization to prevent others from experiencing the traumatic isolation that she had felt after her assault.

That organization became Trojans Against Sexual Assault, which Szabo co-founded in 2015 with now-alumnae Diana McAndrews and Cassie Collins.

In the past year, TASA has hosted multiple events, called Healing Nights, to allow survivors and students who support survivors to interact in a safe, open space. They also hosted a presentation from USC’s Title IX Office to talk to students about how the Title IX process works on campus and how it explicitly defines sexual assault. TASA has advocated for affirmative consent movements such as #YesMeansYes.

Tara Ruff, a senior studying journalism and political science, is TASA’s current president. She said the #MeToo movement has helped the club gain traction on campus.

“With #MeToo you’ve seen women and men alike who have been sexually assaulted taking their power back and standing in solidarity with each other,” Ruff said. “Providing a safe space for people to talk about that at a school is really important.”

Ruff said TASA is not just a club for sexual assault survivors.

“This is literally Trojans Against Sexual Assault,” Ruff said. “If you believe in that mission, if you believe in that name, you’re so more than welcome to come to us. We’re here to empower each other and it’s welcome to literally anybody who wants to do that.”

Szabo said that along with limited resources for support, reporting cases of sexual assault is an issue across campuses. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men will experience sexual assault while in college, but more than 90 percent of sexual assault survivors on college campuses do not report their experiences.

Chandra Ingram, a sophomore studying journalism and international relations and the global economy, is a member of TASA’s executive board. She believes an important function of the organization is educating students about the issue of sexual assault on campus. “A lot of guys get really defensive and feel attacked, [but] men are also sexually assaulted,” she said.

Ingram noted that the student body has to lead the way on issues if there is to be any change in the University.

“It starts with the student body,” Ingram said. “What the students rally around and care about is what the University is also going to follow.”