Conversation Empowered with Comedy: Sex Signals and Beating the Blame Game

By Brianna Gleghorn

In a two-day event, Catharsis Productions took a unique approach to discussing sexual assault prevention with the student body at Youngstown State University on Oct. 2 and 3 in Kilcawley Center’s Chestnut Room. 

Anthony DiNicola and Anne Dufault, senior educators with Catharsis Productions, travel worldwide giving sexual assault prevention presentations with an “unorthodox, humor-facilitated and inclusive approach.”

The first-day presentation kicked off with a “Sex Signals” talk, showing students scenarios through skits and examples.

The presenters interrupted the skit to ask the audience for the next step in the scenario.

After each scenario, a discussion was held about what went wrong and how it made the audience feel.   

The two person team used humor to make the taboo conversation more user-friendly and have discussions between students in the audience.

Photo by Heather Newsome/The Jambar

Dufault said the program brings humor and improv into the crowd to break down issues surrounding sexual assault prevention.

“Our motto is ‘fight fire with funny,’” Dufault said. “So it’s the idea that we use humor, improv and we hope to make y’all laugh because if we can laugh at things like gender stereotypes, then we can get a little more comfortable having these conversations.”

According to Dufault, when students realize they have the power to change the culture and make consent a normal conversation, that is “how [they] make Youngstown as amazing and safe as possible.”

“We’re talking about relationships,” DiNicola said.  “We’re talking about silly and funny things that keep us from having these conversations.

According to DiNicola, Catharsis Productions has focused on talking about its core ideas — consent, supporting survivors and being an “upstander” instead of a bystander — for the past 20 years. 

“Instead of talking about being a bystander, standing by and seeing problematic behaviors happen, we talked about being an upstander. Actually intervene when you see something that’s problematic,” DiNicola said.

Michael VanSuch, a freshman biology major, attended the “Sex Signals” presentation and felt the presenters resembled college students.

“They made it seem like they were college students,” VanSuch said. “It wasn’t like some boring sex education class. They actually talked like a real student, and it wasn’t just like a general overview.”

He said the conversation is important to have in a college environment because it’s “more than just a yes.” 

“It’s a big deal,” VanSuch said. “It’s nice for YSU and other [universities] that have events like this to spread awareness and know what consent really is.” 

Dave Couche, a freshman biochemistry major, said the acting was his favorite part of the “Sex Signals” presentation. 

“I think it’s good that we got like voices on both sides that we’re going towards the discussion,” Couche said. “I think it wasn’t really like a one-sided argument. There’s like, talk about problems on both sides, which is a step in the right direction.”

The second presentation, “Beating the Blame Game,” was presented by DiNicola and it analyzed victim blaming.  

Anne Dufault and Anthony DiNicola, from Catharsis Productions, took a unique approach to discussing sexual assault prevention with the student body at Youngstown State University. Photo by Heather Newsome/The Jambar

DiNicola spoke to students about the harmful effects of blaming the victim for each incident and how to respond to the situation. 

“Someone may just need to vent about what happened to them,” DiNicola said. “Or maybe they want to take legal action.”

In DiNicola’s opinion, when people come together instead of blaming another individual, they can help in whatever way they need, whether reporting the incident or talking to a friend.

“When we are laughing and engaging in conversation, we see each other as peers,” DiNicola said. “When we see things that are problematic, or when things are good, … we can encourage the good things and call out the problematic things.”

Students looked at real cases to learn how individuals are at risk of blaming the victim and to not make assumptions or excuses for the perpetrator.

A board with support and reporting resources showed YSU students where to go and who to call on campus if they need to report an incident or if they need someone to talk to.

Liza Askey, a sophomore political science and journalism major, attended the second presentation and said the humor helped ease the tension. 

“I really thought this was beneficial because I feel like it’s often a topic that people are afraid to talk about,” she said. “This program specifically helps to spark a discussion, and it makes us maybe not so afraid to talk about it.”

In Askey’s opinion, the discussion educated students on the topic and how to prevent it from occurring on YSU’s campus.  

“I liked how funny he was,” Askey said. “I feel like [DiNicola] put humor in it, and it’s such a serious topic and it made it more lighthearted and easier to discuss.” 

Resources on campus for filing a report are the YSU Police Department and the Title IX office, and students who need to talk with a counselor can call Student Counseling Services.

“Put us out of a job,” DiNicola said. “We want to fight other battles, and this is one we can’t fight. We have to do the hard work of changing our communities.”