Ending the Silence: Bringing Awareness to Sexual Assault

Kristen Price, a freshman student at NAU, shows her support for sexual assault awareness month by wearing her black dress.

It is happening nationwide. Organizations all around the country are putting on events in April to bring awareness. Northern Arizona University is no exception.

People walked around campus in little black dresses. Everywhere you looked, there was at least one person who wore one, with a button to explain why. Chanting and screaming, people spreading awareness around campus and in downtown Flagstaff through their rally. Signs gave slogans to their angered words. The march ended with a proclamation accompanied with more yells in support as well as an award ceremony to recognize those who have brought awareness to this issue.

These were the reactions to last year's sexual assault awareness month events. NAU Health Promotions is hoping to get more support and participation from students for this year's events.

“It's time to start talking about sexual assault,” said Sarah Norby, the graduate assistant for Sexual Assault Relationship Violence. “It's time to stop the silence and bring awareness about the issue.”

This month is Sexual Assault Awareness month and Health Promotions wants to spread that awareness. Norby plans and organizes these events.

There will be bystander training, Little Black Dress and Take Back the Night. All of these events are planned with different messages.

Throughout this month there will be different bystander trainings. These programs are designed to give students the resources they need to help friends who are in risky situations. People will learn how to keep their friends and themselves safe. This training consists of an interactive discussion to help better prepare people for any possible incidents. Dates and times for these trainings are posted on Health Promotions online events calendar.

One of their most popular events is Little Black Dress. On April 7, students wore black attire to show their support. The message they are getting out is that a victim is never asking to be raped, no matter what she is wearing.

"Sexual assault is usually looked over, and small events like this can have a big effect,” said freshman psychology major Kristen Price, who participated in the event.

Stephanie Bosic, another freshman psychology major, also felt motivated to take a stance in this event. "It's dumb how over-sexualized everything is. It's stupid how different stereotypes are put with different clothing,” she said.

Another main event is Take Back the Night on April 14. This international event calls to end violence against women. Since most attacks happen at night, this event wants to make the night a little safer so women are less afraid of going out at night. Two main components make up this event: a march and ceremony.

The march went downtown and around campus, ending at 1899 Bar and Grill, where a proclamation about sexual assault was made. After the proclamation, the ceremony started. This portion consisted of awards, guest appearances, more information and food. The awards were given out to one NAU student and one NAU staff and one community member for their contribution towards sexual assault prevention and healthy relationships. Books, T-shirts and gift certificates were raffled as door prizes for those who came.

“Last year I participated for volunteer experience,” Emma Lowther, President of Campus Health Education Club (CHEC), said. “I was surprised by the turnout. There were lots of passionate people and community support.”

Through all of these events, one message is clear: stop the silence.

“CHEC focuses on general health,” Lowther said. “Students are not comfortable talking about it. These events make it easier to reach a large number of students. We want to make this a positive month of April.”

Planning and organizing all of these events takes a lot of work. The Flagstaff community is willing to help out. Victim Witness Service for Coconino County, Northland Family Help Center and Northern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (NACASA) are assisting Health Promotions with putting on some of these events.

Victim Witness Service helps with the march and proclamation for Take Back the Night. “We are marching to bring awareness to issues such as sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and sexual violence,” said Hollie Vargas, Sexual Violence

Victim Advocate for Victim Witness Service, “It’s time for a change and this is one way to create that change.”

Northland Family Center is also helping to put on Take Back the Night. They help with the presentation, according to Sydney Tolchinsky, the Community Education Coordinator for Northland Family Help Center.

“Women lack safety at night,” Tolchinsky said, “We want to show our community that we are not going to stand for violence against women.”

NACASA has been helping with most of the events planned this month at NAU. They are helping out at Take Back the Night as well as Little Black Dress, tabling and Gender Violence discussion panel.

“We plan and organize the annual Take Back the Night,” Kara Ransom-Wright, NACASA Program Coordinator said. “People come together to march, chant, provide education about sexual assault, celebrate healing and try to end rape culture through outreach and education.”

One of their interns tables for the White Ribbon Campaign. They will be asking men to sign pledges saying that they will not assault women. They will be given white ribbons to demonstrate their support in stopping sexual assault.

“It’s important to make people aware of the prevalence and gravity of this social problem… with the ultimate goal of eliminating sexual assault,” said Ransom-Wright. With all the awareness being spread, one question is brought to mind: is this helping to drop the rate of attacks? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no. Between cases reported to university police, university officials and other law enforcement, the numbers have gone up. In 2012, 16 cases were reported, an increase from 12 in 2011 and 11 in 2010.

It's important to keep in mind that not all cases are reported. There might be an increase in reported cases, but a decrease in unreported cases. With all of this in mind, it is hard to judge the success of the messages being spread.

“The best way to judge the outreach of our message is by the number of complaints,” Norby said, “People who do not like your message will call and complain.

This way we know that people who do not know our message are receiving it, even if they do not like it.”

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