September 13, 2012Vol. 43, Issue 1

Someone You Know

Jesse Dizard

Jesse Dizard

As anthropology professor Jesse Dizard’s two daughters grow up, he worries more and more about the incredibly high rates of sexual assault in the United States. “This is something that has been bothering me for a long time,” he says.

Dizard started working his research on the topic into his course lectures and then worked with students doing archival research. He wanted his research to be more than “just another academic journal article,” but rather something more accessible to students that could promote a public discussion—a film.

Working with a “dedicated and savvy” group of students (including assistant directors Hannah Clause and Nicole Hook, editor Santy Gray, and photographer Jack Goldberg), Dizard created the documentary Someone You Know.

He and his students worked through the Advanced Laboratory for Visual Anthropology, using the lab’s state-of-the-art video cameras and other equipment. They interviewed more than 30 people for the video, and cut more than 45 hours of footage into a 22-minute film. Brian Brazeal, Anthropology, served as executive producer.

In retrospect, Dizard says, laughing, “I should have just done the article. This was a lot more work!”

The result of their work is a documentary about sexual assault in the United States, particularly on college campuses. It features many people from the CSU, Chico community, including students, counselors, campus police, and survivors of sexual assault. “People in the community were happy to talk to us,” says Dizard. “It was very brave of them; they took a risk. They didn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

"It was very brave of them; they took a risk. They didn’t want this to happen to anyone else."

“Participating in the project was meaningful to me, as I work with so many students who are survivors of sexual assault,” says Mimi Bommersbach, a counselor at the Counseling and Wellness Center, who has seen more than 100 survivors in her 10 years on campus.

“I know how life-altering and devastating these crimes can be for survivors. I know that perpetrators and their friends minimize the very deleterious outcomes while survivors are experiencing multiple severe losses (e.g., self-esteem, sense of safety, ability to trust themselves and others). I hope this video will be used on our campus to create awareness and more dialogue about the ubiquity and severity of this crime.”

Andy Houghtby, interim operations lieutenant at the University Police Department, also appears in the video. “The CSU, Chico police department and I take campus safety and security very seriously,” he says. “We want to provide the campus community with as much information to keep them as safe as possible, and this film is another tool to bring attention to this serious topic.” 

Jesse Dizard with his daughters, Nadia, 10, and Jasmine, 8, at Crater Lake.

Jesse Dizard with his daughters, Nadia, 10, and Jasmine, 8, at Crater Lake.

Someone You Know looks closely at the troubling realities of sexual assault: Women are most likely to be attacked by someone they know, and often trust. Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. One out of six American women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime.

The goal of the movie is to get people talking and thinking in a way that a journal article would not.“The advantage of film is really an accident of biology,” says Dizard. “Experience of culture is highly visual. People take to a visual representation very readily. Film brings us into the lived reality of other cultures—it is the next best thing to being there.”

This is particularly effective in his classes, he says. “As a teacher, I find film useful to draw students in and then say, ‘OK, let’s start reading.’ “

Although Someone You Know features commentary from people in Chico, “It’s not about Chico—it’s about the American culture.”

“My intention is not to bash Chico,” he adds. “If anything, I think we are doing an exemplary job here. But why can’t we do better? Why can't we change these public health statistics?”

Someone You Know will be broadcast Nov. 8 at 9 pm on KIXE channel 9. Public screenings on campus are being planned for this fall. ■

—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications