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Elon junior wins award from rape prevention organization

Delaney McHugo created a public service announcement for a class assignment and was honored for her work when she entered the video in a contest sponsored by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

A sexual assault takes place every two minutes in the United States. A quarter of all women are assaulted in college. Not even half of those crimes are reported. And according to advocacy groups, when it comes to the offenders themselves, 97 percent never go to jail.

Elon University junior Delaney McHugo doesn’t wallow in the numbers. The co-president of a feminist student group on campus instead chooses to combat them, and earlier this fall, her cinema production class assignment won both McHugo and Elon University honors from a national nonprofit organization dedicated to rape prevention and recovery.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network named McHugo’s stop-motion public service announcement the best from among hundreds of entries in the 2013 RAINN Day Multimedia Contest. The 41-second clip shows two stick figures huddled under an umbrella protecting them from “rain” showering them with the glum statistics.

The power of the PSA, however, is found in the advice it then shares to help prevent sexual assault. “Consent” is imperative, the video states. It requires clear communication, is offered freely and willingly, does not involve impaired decision making, comes step by step, and is subject to change.

The contest coincided with “RAINN Day” on Sept. 26, 2013, RAINN’s annual day of action to raise awareness and educate students about sexual violence on college campuses.

“RAINN Day is all about empowering students to educate their peers about sexual violence prevention and recovery and Delaney did just that with her stop-motion animated PSA,” RAINN spokeswoman Megan Erhardt said in congratulating McHugo and the university. “Delaney, her fellow classmates and other supporters are expanding the momentum and buzz from RAINN Day by sharing the PSA online and spreading RAINN’s message of hope.”

It was an accolade McHugo never anticipated. After she posted the PSA online for class, her fellow officers in the student group Feminists for Equality, Change and Transformation brought the video to RAINN’s attention through social media. RAINN responded by encouraging McHugo to enter the contest.

After naming McHugo its winner, RAINN then shared the link on its own social media accounts and included it in newsletters. MTV, a co-sponsor of RAINN Day 2013, showcased the PSA in its "Act" blog on the music television channel's website.

Elon University junior Delaney McHugo

Key for McHugo was creating a public service announcement that was gender neutral and informational. She said that making the message appeal to both men and women was imperative in teaching consent.

“I didn’t want people to think I was blaming anyone. A lot of times, when you talk about sexual assault, men in the room say, ‘whoa, that’s not me!’” said the the cinema and creative writing double major from Medway, Mass. “It’s so important to bring light to this issue and this was a good platform.”

Sexual assault is a spectrum, she added. Media often portrays assault as a distinct, violent act, but it’s much more often a subtle crime. Assault can involve coercion and temptation, she said. It includes manipulation - “If you really love me, you’d do ‘blank,’” she said - and never occurs in a vacuum. Often, in college, alcohol is a contributing factor.

“Consent, for a lot of people, is tricky and hard to nail down,” said McHugo, adding that her advocacy has been an incredible experience. “The number of friends and people I’ve met through this cause - and the number of survivors I now know - has been astounding.”

Elon University administrators lauded McHugo's creativity and dedication to raising awareness of sexual assaults. In addition to co-leading EFFECT, McHugo serves as a SPARKS peer educator on campus where she focuses her energy on promoting and teaching healthy interpersonal relationships.

"This video moves the conversation from one of blame or judgment to one of positive, proactive communication," said Whitney Gregory, director of health promotion and student concerns outreach. "The focus and responsibility is placed squarely on each person to obtain consent. Through her work in student organizations and in her academic coursework, Delaney serves as a powerful voice for educating students about preventing sexual violence in all of its forms."

Eric Townsend,
11/16/2013 9:00 AM