Have you noticed teal ribbons around campus this month? They’re to honor Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which happens every April. Preventing and supporting survivors of sexual assault is an important part of my work at CAPS, and we are grateful to partner with our downstairs neighbors at SHOP to support this mission. Today, SAFE at SHOP intern Erica West shares some information on what you can do to help prevent sexual assault at UCSC and in our communities.
Working Together To End Sexual Assault
by Erica West
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and SAFE (Sexual Assault Facts and Education) wants to take this time to spread awareness and support those who have experienced sexual assault. At SAFE we define sexual assault as any unwanted sex act that is attempted or committed without the other person’s consent. Sexual assault is not something we talk about often in our society and so sometimes it may feel like it is a rare occurrence. However 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, sexual assault is also one of the most underreported crimes and so statistics can often be difficult to find and verify. Why do so many people not report their sexual assaults?
For one, sexual assault is an intensely traumatic experience. Those who experience it may feel a loss of power, a violation of their personal space and trust, guilt, or embarrassment. Oftentimes they believe it is their fault, or there was something they could do to prevent their sexual assault. Supporting those in our community who have experienced sexual assault means assuring them that it is not their fault. Reporting one’s sexual assault to law enforcement may entail repeating the story again and again, which can be difficult and retraumatizing. Giving support means believing and validating, not judging, and being patient. Maybe someone wants to tell their BFF, but they aren’t quite ready to go to CAPS. Or maybe someone wants to join a support group but has no interest in pressing charges. It is important for individuals to keep their sense of agency, and for their loved ones to support any decision they make and not pressure them into making one decision over another.
Whether or not we have experienced sexual assault, or know someone who has, April is the perfect time to get involved and help SAFE in educating our fellow students and working to end sexual assault on our campus. Here are a few things you can do:
1. Practice consent! Consent is active, enthusiastic, and based on choice. Giving in because of fear, peer pressure or coercion is not consent. Being unsure, intoxicated, or manipulated is not consent. Consent is only possible only when there is equal power! Communicating openly and honestly with your partner before, during and after sex is a great way to ensure consent.
2. Practice the 3 Ds! SAFE regards bystander intervention as one of the best ways to prevent sexual assault. Stepping in as a bystander when you see something potentially harmful can be difficult, and that’s why SAFE emphasizes the 3 Ds: direct, distract, or delegate. If you see something, you can directly step in and say something as simple as, “Hey, you should back off”. Distract is for those times when you want to check in or prevent a situation, but you don’t want to directly confront what is going on. This can be done in lots of different ways. For example if you see two people fighting and are concerned that it could get physical you could distract by walking up and asking for directions. Finally, you can delegate to someone with more authority, such as your RA or the police, to intervene in the situation.
3. Get involved! SAFE is having a lot of events during April for SAAM. We’re screening movies, holding workshops and events all about spreading awareness and supporting our community. We’re hosting a May 4th workshop about sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence and May 10th we’re hosting our very first Violence Prevention Convention! We hope to see you there. Friend us on Facebook, “SAFE @ SHOP” or email Paige Morehead (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information about our events.
Erica West is a 4th year student at Merrill college, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education. She is currently a volunteer with SAFE and the Condom Co-op, and provides presentations on sexual assault prevention and health relationships.