Editor’s Note: This story is the first in the Kansan’s series on sexual assault at the University in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every Monday in April, there will be a new story on the topic.
“What do you need? How can I help? Is there a way I can make you feel comfortable?”
Asking these things to survivors of sexual violence is key to helping those survivors embrace their voice, according to Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center Director Jen Brockman.
In the past year, the voices of sexual assault survivors have been heard in almost every facet of American society. From the USA gymnastics team, to Hollywood, and even at the University on the pages of legal documents that settled a years-long lawsuit between two survivors and the University, which paid $395,000 to survivors who claimed their alleged rapes weren’t responded to correctly.
Now, the idea of survivors embracing their voices is the theme for this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. April has been the month to bring awareness to sexual violence since 2001, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This year’s “Embrace Your Voice” theme has made its way to the University as well.
There are several events scheduled throughout the month by SAPEC, the Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center, and CARE Coordinator Merrill Evans. Evans, who works as an advocate for student survivors of sexual assault at the University, said the month of April allows the work people like her do every day to reach a larger audience.
“Awareness is imperative,” Evans said. “And I think, as a society, you see this kind of shift. Like, let’s prevent these acts of violence from happening instead of just responding to the survivors.”
This shift is one that Evans described as one more focused on prevention. The implementation of mandatory bystander intervention trainings for all University students is an example of this new model making its way to the University, Evans said. More than this, she said, students play a big role through the minor things they do day-to-day in preventing sexual assault.
“I think there are a lot of things that people engage in on a daily basis that are hugely problematic in terms of comments that they make that reinforce rape culture,” Evans said.
Calling out sexist and overtly offensive language is one example of this, according to Evans. Also important, she said, is being aware that there are institutions in place to aid those affected by sexual violence.
In the city of Lawrence alone, there are 12 offices that deal with sexual assault. As Brockman described, there’s a role for everyone to play by raising awareness and acting as activists. Most importantly, however, Brockman said, it’s important to ensure survivors' voices aren’t being left out.
“When folks are coming into this cause because a friend or a loved one has experienced something, they usually come in with a lot of passion, a lot of anger, wanting to burn things down,” Brockman said. “Always remember to give choice to the survivor and keep their narrative.”
— Edited by Britt Redmond