Where is your line? Line of consent, that is. That was the question of the day on Thursday, Sept. 9, when sexual assault victim and filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman captivated Penn State Abington's student audience with her personal journey from rape victim to activist as told through her 2009 documentary film, "The Line."
Schwartzman travels the world relaying her experience to college students. She's visited Yale, Brown, MIT and more, and has had 30 screenings to date. Both the film and Schwartzman herself speak in a straightforward manner about healthy relationships, sex and the meaning of consent -- a topic not often openly discussed in a language that students respect and understand. The comments and discussion that ensued long after the film was over was evidence that Schwartzman had indeed connected with her target audience.
In the 24-minute film, Schwartzman, a graduate of Columbia University, openly tells the story of her carefree New York college lifestyle. Sex and drugs were as much a part of her college routine as books and classes. A few years after graduation Schwartzman took a job in Israel and willingly went home with a co-worker, and that's when things went awry.
"What's confusing about this assault," said Schwartzman, "is that it started out nice. I chose this guy. I worked with him and then he snapped."
Admittedly, Schwartzman acknowledges she's not a "perfect victim." In her eyes that had no bearing. "No" means "no." But she soon discovered that society thought differently. If she was initially a willing participant, how could her encounter be considered rape?
"I was really clear about it (rape) that night and the next day. But when I started talking with my friends about what happened, they were basically telling me a different story. 'You can't really call it that,' they told me."
"If we still think a woman can't go home with a man, say 'yes' and then say 'no' and not be respected, and if we don't consider that rape, then we have a big problem," said Schwartzman.
As the film continues, Schwartzman confronts her attacker and records the conversation with a hidden camera. "The Line" asks the question: where is the line that defines consent? Prostitutes, survivors and activists -- both male and female -- discuss accountability, justice and today’s "rape culture."
On the website http://whereisyourline.org, Schwartzman shares her director's statement: "Formerly a wild, outspoken and fierce young woman, I sank into silence after my sexual assault. I was blocked, stunned, confused and angry. After this event, my life took a drastic turn, and I wasn't sure I wanted to film it. I kept quiet. When I finally did gain the courage to speak, I was directly and indirectly blamed for what happened. 'The Line' is an intensely personal film. I felt compelled to tell my story when it became clear that as a sexual woman, who is not 'a perfect victim,' I would be blamed for what happened. Using 'The Line,' and the newly launched The Line Campaign to spark dialogue, the viewer is invited to discuss complex scenarios about healthy relationships and sex."
And that's exactly what happened at Penn State Abington after the viewing of Schwartzman's intense documentary. One audience member suggested that participants intending to engage in sexual activity should first ask for consent. “I don't think it kills the mood,” the student shared, “I think it makes it better."
Schwartzman's message to students is simple: "Think twice about your own boundaries and the boundaries of the people you're engaging in relationships with. Be conscious about what is consent. Listen. Let's raise the bar on the kind of conversations we have about sexual assault because this is about respect and everyone's right to be respected."
To see a trailer of the movie, to read Abington students' comments about sexual consent, or for more information on The Line Campaign visit the web address above.