Voices empowered for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual assault on college campuses is never an easy topic to talk about. Every year it is estimated that 25 percent of women are sexually assaulted on college campuses.

“College-age women are at higher risk of assault than women their age who are not on campus,” said ­Jessica Amo, director of the Women’s Resource Center at Portland State.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and PSU will be hosting workshops, panel discussions, film screenings and collaborative conversations throughout the month to raise awareness and provide support for victims of sexual assault.

These events are intended to facilitate a healthy and informed discussion around the topic of sexual assault, as well as offer tools and resources for students who have been assaulted.
SAAM kicked off on April 1 with a bake sale between Neuberger Hall and Smith Memorial Student Union and culminates on April 24 with the Take Back the Night rally.

Events will range in subject matter, such as street harassment, queer consent, men as feminist allies and victims’ rights on campus, among others. “How to Have Sex…and Pizza” on April 6 was hosted by the Office of Dean of Student Life and sought to define consent with the addition of a free pizza lunch.

“The event is intended to promote awareness of law and policy around consent-based sexual activities,” said Domanic Thomas, assistant dean of student life. “Our hope is to define consent in a way that is positive and educational for all students, in addition to developing strategies in recognizing and interrupting behaviors that may violate our community standards.”

This year, award-winning slam poetry artists Sister Outsider will perform and speak at Take Back the Night. The powerful duo uses their words and art to communicate what some victims often remain silent about.

“Art is redemptive, period. Particularly for marginalized people; especially for women…especially for survivors who have had to move so much bramble out of the way just to say anything at all,” said Dominique Christina of Sister Outsider in an email. “I think we ‘empower’ women and victims to find their voice by using our own. In doing so, we permission others.”

According to a study by New York State Coalition against Sexual Assault, statistics show that one in four women will be or have been a victim of sexual assault during a traditional four-year-college academic career. Of those attacks, 80 percent of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, usually when alcohol is involved, and typically do not get reported.

There is often a misunderstanding that speaking up about the assault causes the victim more shame, embarrassment and humiliation. Because sexual violence on college campuses is often committed by someone the victim knows, there is an even deeper level of shame or embarrassment in reporting the attack. Victims often think no one will believe it was rape if the assault was caused by a friend or classmate.

“I’ve had a student say that not having her friends believe her was worse than the assault,” Amo said. “Especially when [our culture] gives so many messages that they are responsible for being assaulted. I see a lot of self-blame and a lot of minimization. People get a lot of messages that they should just move on.”

The large misconception is that rape can only be defined as such if physical violence is used. According to Amo, rape can be defined as violations of consent or any time there is physical or sexual contact without effective consent.

So how does someone know if they have consent?

“Consent needs to be mutually understood,” Amo said. “Silence is not consent. If somebody is feeling afraid or nervous or unable to identify a boundary, then it’s the responsibility of the person that they’re with, or the person who’s initiating contact, to stop and ask some explicit questions until they can get really clear on whether or not consent is in place.”

No should always mean no, regardless of alcohol consumption or fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Feeling threatened or unsafe in any situation is an immediate sign to remove oneself from the situation. It is always OK to care more about your own safety and well-being than being worried you might offend or upset someone.

“I’ve heard so many stories of young women waking up and not knowing what happened, knowing they’re naked, there’s someone beside them, or blacking out and coming to while someone is assaulting them but not naming it as assault,” said Virginia Martin, assistant director at the WRC. “I think a lot of folks don’t name it, and that’s why it continues.”

Reporting and naming what happened as assault is an incredibly scary and vulnerable thing to do, but survivors of sexual assault need to know they are not alone in the process.

“Often the first responses people get [after a sexual assault] define whether or not people will seek help,” Amo said. “We also know statistically that students are much more likely to tell their friends than they are to tell any professional staff.”

SAAM will culminate in an event called Take Back the Night, a national organization committed to empowering victims of sexual assault to speak out against violence and empower them to no longer fear the night. Marches are held across college campuses and neighborhoods to bring back a feeling of safety and community support.

Amanda Blaugher, program director for Take Back the Night, said that for some, simply showing up to the event is the first step toward healing.

“At Take Back the Night we promote healing by taking control of the one aspect that is holding you back and releasing that hurt from you,” said Blaugher. “At many Take Back the Night events, part of the event includes a hurt-to-healing component, where survivors write down the thing that is holding them back and releasing it by lighting a small piece of paper on fire.”

Assault or abuse of any kind, be it physical, sexual or emotional, is never okay. Supporting a friend or loved one through the aftermath of sexual assault is the most loving thing you can do for them. Sit with them. Grieve with them.

Listen to them.

“The people who have ­gotten that response from their friends are the people who have felt most supported,” Amo said, “and are actually more likely to make a report when the time is right for them.”

Students should know about all resources available to them, both on campus and off. All these resources can be found at pdx.edu/sexual-assault. Additional SAAM event listings can be found at bit.ly/psusaam15.

Featured SAAM ’15 Events

International Anti-Street Harassment Week
April 12–18
Students will rally together the week of April 12 to bring awareness to how street harassments affect us all and how teaming up with our local community to bring harassment to an end is an effective tool.

Trauma-Informed Self Care
Women’s Resource Center
1802 SW 10th Ave.
April 14, 2–3:30 p.m.
The WRC will be offering a lecture on how trauma affects the body, particularly the nervous system. They will provide tools on how to control responses, as well as creating ways to cope on a daily basis.

Get Your Queer Consent On
Women’s Resource Center
1802 SW 10th Ave.
April 15, 2–3:30 p.m.
The Queer Resource Center will team up with the Women’s Resource Center to engage in an informative yet fun workshop focusing on what sex, dating and consent look like. Students of all sexualities are welcome and invited to attend.

Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Across Campus, Civil, and Criminal Justice Systems
Native American Student and Community Center
710 SW Jackson St.
April 21, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
A panel discussion on victims’ rights after sexual assault. The panel will be opened by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and will feature speakers such as district attorneys, the executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute and the chief of Campus Public Safety at PSU, among others.

Grounding through Zines—You Don’t Have to Do it All Yourself
Women’s Resource Center
1802 SW 10th Ave.
April 21, 4:15–6 p.m.
This workshop will be a great tool in offering ways to help survivors of sexual assault better manage times of anxiety, stress and lack of stability. Zine templates will be available to create a personal guide on how to manage the aftereffects of assault.

Sex work: the Intersections of Safety and Stigma
Academic and Student Recreation Center
1800 SW 6th Ave.
April 22, 4–5:30 p.m.
The Women’s Resource Center will be teaming up with the graduate School of Social Work to create a space to explore how the current sex trade industry is affecting the social service environment. This community panel will feature members of current and past fields of the sex trade industry.

Take Back the Night
Native American Student and Community Center
710 SW Jackson St.
April 23, 5:30–8 p.m.
Students and members of the community are encouraged to come together to encourage and support survivors of sexual assault as they tell their stories. Slam poetry duo Sister Outsider will perform.