April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month; sexual assault and gender-based violence are bigger issues than most people realize, and the University of Connecticut does a lot to recognize the significance of this month. Due to the nature of this topic, this article may be triggering for some, so please take care of yourself and consider your mental health before reading.
According to Womenshealth.gov, one in five college-age women will experience sexual assault, but a variety of other sources put the number as high as one in four. In all likelihood, that’s at least one person in your friend group, even if they haven’t told you about it. Students are at the highest risk for sexual assault during their first two semesters at college, and this number rises for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“So many people … think these are rare events,” said Esther Shao, sixth-semester psychology and communication double major and one of the Violence Against Women Prevention Program (VAWPP) ambassadors at the Women’s Center. “It happens a lot. It may have happened to your friends or neighbors. You never know.”
Everyone on this campus has either been personally affected by sexual assault or knows someone who has been, which makes this a personal issue and one you should care deeply about.
One of the key parts of understanding the issue is knowing what sexual assault actually is. The definition can differ state to state, but UConn’s Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence outlines that “Sexual Assault consists of (1) Sexual Contact and/or (2) Sexual Intercourse that occurs without (3) Consent.”
The policy describes consent as an “understandable exchange of affirmative words or actions, which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity. Consent must be informed, freely and actively given.”
Thus, consent is not present if the person is threatened or forced into it, intoxicated or withdraws their consent after previously giving it.
People tend to think that they’re “safe” because they walk home at night with a friend or because we have blue lights spread out everywhere, but this implies that every predator is a stranger waiting for us in a bush. In reality, eight out of 10 rapes are committed by someone who knows the victim.
UConn and the Women’s Center work thoroughly throughout the month to bring awareness and understanding to this campus, as well as to educate the population and let survivors know that they are heard.
Last week, VAWPP finished its second-annual clothing drive titled “Sweats for Survivors” where they collected new and gently-used sweatpants, sweatshirts, socks and more to donate to local crisis centers that help UConn students. The clothing will go to survivors after they have a sexual assault forensic evidence exam, as their clothes are often taken for evidence. This was just the first of many events UConn will hold throughout the month.
Tarana Burke, the creator of the #MeToo Movement, will give a talk at Jorgenson on Wednesday, April 10 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. She will be discussing the origins of the movement, the power of empathy and why sexual violence is so prevalent in our society.
Later in the month, the Women’s Center will be hosting Take Back the Night, its three-part annual event that Shao describes as “an evening of empowerment and healing for the survivors of sexual violence and gender-based violence.”
The event, which Shao helps organize, has a different theme each year. This year’s theme comes from the Mexican proverb “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” The phrase will be printed on T-shirts and handed out to the first 300 people who attend the event.
Take Back The Night will start at 7 p.m. on April 17 in the Student Union Ballroom. After a short introduction about resources and important information, students will begin a march across campus. Participants will hold lit candles and lead chants as they walk.
After the conclusion of the march, the event will continue in the Ballroom where students will be given the chance to speak on stage about their personal experiences and share their stories.
“Everyone’s healing ways are different,” Shao said, explaining that students who want to share can, but that those who don’t feel comfortable can listen and know that they aren’t alone. “Everyone is there supporting each other.”
The final part of the event is the late night coffee house, which takes place in the Women’s Center around 10 p.m. and is a chance for a more personal conversation with around 20-30 students.
“It’s a more private space to share stories, discuss some prompts about gender-based violence and how to be proactive,” Shao said. “It’s to support each other.”
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is an important time to deal with the realities of our society, but this also means the subject matter can be heavy and hard to tackle alone. If you or someone you care about has been affected by sexual assault or gender-based violence, know that there is always help. You can reach out to Student Health Services at 860-486-4700 or Counseling & Mental Health Services at 860-486-4705. Additionally, you can contact the UConn Police at 860-486-4800. All the numbers are available 24/7 to assist you.
Courtney Gavitt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.