‘Edutaining’ about sexual assault

Kyle Doyle

One in five women will experience a form of sexual assault before they graduate from college, according to a study released in 2011. When “edutainer” Robert Hackenson Jr. learned this statistic, he was at a loss for words.

“When I heard that statistic, I sat back and said, ‘Really?’ That seemed kind of high,” Hackenson said. “So, that’s when I started talking to my wife and my sister and my close friends, and you’d hear stories, and there are stories that just make your stomach turn.”

In an event designed to combine education about sexual assault with entertainment, Hackenson used a series of magic tricks and hypnosis to bring to life startling facts about sexual assault and ways in which it could be prevented

“I kind of looked at this as a way to use the magic and to use the hypnosis skits to break down those barriers, the communication barriers specifically,” Hackenson said. “That way, you can start talking about it—talk about the magic but also the messaging behind it.”

Using a variety of card tricks and illusions, Hackenson made three main points to drive home how people approach the topic of sexual harassment and how to better prevent it from happening in the first place.

He started by dispelling misconceptions of males and misconceptions men have on the topic of sexual assault and how guys can better stop it from happening. He discussed ways to reduce risk, as well as the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol, and then provided his techniques on how to stop sexual assault from happening, which he dubbed the 3 D’s.

The 3 D’s, Hackenson described, stand for direct, delegate and distract, each to be used when it appears a sexual assault is about to happen. Hackenson provided three scenarios in which these were to be used. 

Direct would be walking up to the pair and saying to the assaulter, ‘Hey, knock it off,’ or something to that effect. Delegate would be to walk up to the potential victim’s group of friends and point out what is happening in an effort to get them to put a stop to it without getting directly involved yourself. Distract would be to create a distraction or diversion.

“Turn the lights on, turn the lights off, turn the music on, turn the music off,” Hackenson said. “(Say), ‘Hey, dude your car is getting towed!’ ‘Your mom’s here, I don’t know.’ Whatever it is, break up the situation.”

Throughout his presentation, Hackenson deployed his skills as a magician and hypnotist to help make his points clear. He called members of the audience up to the front at different times to take part in his illusions, each one with their own message from showing that everybody matters, the dangers of posting too much on social media and why respect matters.

The card trick to show that everybody matters involved Hackenson taking a member of the audience and reading off the names of some people he had in a deck of cards. He asked if the names meant anything to the person, and the audience member replied ‘no.’

Hackenson explained that those people were his wife, daughter and mother. He had the person write the name of a women in their life that they cared about, and Hackenson pulled that card out of a box on the other side of the table, wowing the audience.

“It shouldn’t just be those that we really care about; those shouldn’t be the only people we protect,” Hackenson said. “Everyone deserves that same respect.”

Hackenson has been practicing magic since he was a sophomore in high school and got certified as a hypnotist in college. The hypnosis skit involved Hackenson pulling members of the audience up onstage and having them see things in two lights and having two hypnotized people “watch a video” of girl giving someone a lap dance, only to have them look closer and realize it was their daughter.

Audience members enjoyed the way Hackenson explained the topics in a way that was both informative and entertaining.

“It was different, but it helped keep people more engaged,” said GVSU sophomore Christin Gilbert. “Yeah, I’d say (it was effective).”

Hackenson hoped that this event would help generate more talk on the topic and help people become more aware. It wasn’t until the one-in-five statistic came out that Hackenson knew he had to drive the conversation toward spreading awareness and helping people see what is wrong.

“All this is happening, and why don’t I know this?” Hackenson said. “These are the people that are closest to me, and why isn’t that conversation going on?”