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Thursday, May 13, 2021

April marks eighth year of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

By Emily Jackson

CW: Sexual assault

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is “Embrace Your Voice,” according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Sexual assault is a type of sexual violence, along with dating violence, domestic violence and stalking, according to Western’s Policy 1600.04.[1].

Its definition: “any actual or attempted sexual contact or behavior with another person without that person’s consent,” according to the same Western policy.

Peer Health Educators Blair Murphy, Emma Rutherford and Jake Thompson in Red Square to promote NSAAM // Photo by Emily Jackson

Jon Dukes is the men’s violence prevention & mental health promotion specialist with Western’s Prevention and Wellness Services.

He said people tend to think violence is nonexistent where they live. For this reason, awareness can help people grasp the proximity of physical and sexual violence.

“Yes, this is a national problem. Yes, this is a Hollywood problem,” he said. “But it’s also a Washington state problem. It’s also a Bellingham problem. It’s also a Western problem.”

Dukes said we all need to support survivors of physical and sexual violence.

Dukes and Michelle Langstraat oversee Consultation and Sexual Assault Support and assist survivors of physical or sexual violence, he said. Dukes has also worked with several Western students who are helping spread awareness as peer health educators, he said.

Senior Jake Thomson became a peer health educator three years ago.

Part of his role is to facilitate events, participate in discussion panels and help with violence prevention training for student athletes, Thomson said.

These athlete trainings teach both violence prevention and bystander intervention, he said.

“Change is slow,” Thomson said. “But no matter what you do, you can make an impact on someone, even if you can’t see it right away.”

Students who want to get involved can apply to volunteer through the PWS website, Dukes said. They can also get involved in clubs like Amnesty International and the Planned Parenthood Generation clubs, he said.

A campus-wide email addressed National Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 4. The email was sent by Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, vice provost of Equal Opportunity & Employment Diversity and Title IX and ADA coordinator.

“Sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, and sexual violence —including sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking — are antithetical to our values and are prohibited by Western policy,” Guenter-Schlesinger said in the email.

Guenter-Schlesinger’s email included reporting options and resources for survivors of sexual violence. It also contained links to three of Western’s policies on ensuring equal opportunity, reporting discrimination and preventing and responding to sex discrimination.

One of these prevention efforts is Haven, an online sexual violence prevention training, according to the PWS website.

Last year, Western’s Haven Training was administered to all incoming students, including freshmen, transfer and graduate students, Dukes said.

Training all incoming students will help them all gain the same core information and skill training on the critical issue, PWS Director Elva Munro said in an email.

“Assessment of the Haven training demonstrates that the training is effective,” she said.

Aggregate data reports from EverFi, the parent company for the Haven training, show that Haven is increasing Western students’ awareness, knowledge and skills, she said.

Munro said according to student feedback, 83 percent of Western students agreed that completing Haven gave them increased understanding of school policies related to the issues covered in the training.

National Sexual Assault Awareness Month   began in April 2010 under former President Barack Obama, according to a White House press release.

I urge all Americans to reach out to victims, learn more about this crime, and speak out against it,” Obama said in the release.

The campaigns vary each year, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. The 2010 and 2015 National Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaigns both focused on preventing sexual assault on higher education and college campuses, the website said.

Sexual assault resources can be found here. 

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