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WWU is giving choice and power back to survivors of sexual assault

Knowing which resources students can access through the Counseling and Wellness Center is a supportive action to take this month

A person sits in a peaceful meadow and contemplates their past. Western offers support to sexual assault victims and survivors through the Counseling and Wellness Center. // Illustration by Melanie Pettyjohn

Content Warning: This article references SA violence 

Western Washington University is acknowledging Sexual Assault Awareness Month by providing confidential Survivor Advocacy Services through the Counseling and Wellness Center for Western students who are experiencing or have experienced sexual violence or abuse.

April is an internationally recognized month dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence and encouraging prevention methods throughout the year. 

This article uses the term survivor when referencing individuals who have experienced or are experiencing sexual violence. It is important to note that “students do not have to identify themselves survivor or use the term sexual assault/violence or violence/abuse to describe their experience to receive support,” said Deidre Evans, Survivor Advocacy Services coordinator for the Counseling and Wellness Center, in an email.

One of the Survivor Advocacy Services available to Western students through the Counseling and Wellness Center is a confidential conversation with a survivor advocate. 

Advocates will share all available resource options relevant to each experience. Examples include legal and reporting options and support groups available through Western that are specific to your experience, according to Evans.

The advocate will also provide emotional support to the survivor, but this will not be the start of any reporting process of the assault if that is not the request. This process is fully student-directed, meaning that the survivor is the one who is in control of what and how much information is shared with the advocate, according to the Survivor Advocacy Services page. 

Shannon Curtin, a third-year student at Western who has had her own experience with sexual violence, said that there are a few different reasons why she did not reach out to Western’s Counseling and Wellness Center. 

“I did not want to spend more time discussing it and thinking about it than I already have in my personal time,” Curtin said. 

Another reason she didn’t reach out was that she felt more comfortable having that conversation and sharing her experience with her friends, who understand how to comfort and support her. 

Evans said some survivors find they would prefer to seek help from friends and family first before or instead of reaching out to Survivor Advocacy Services. 

“Some of those reasons may include: students may not be aware of resources available to them, they have experienced harm from formal systems in the past or that they may not be ready to talk about their experience of violence,” Evans said in an email.

Everyone plays a role in supporting survivors. Western provides resources through the Counseling and Wellness Center for individuals who are concerned for a student’s safety and would like to know more about how to offer support. 

Free 24-hour survivor resources are also available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline, as well as the DVSAS of Whatcom County, where callers can speak directly to an advocacy-based counselor to talk through some of the first steps to take after sexual assault.

Melanie Pettyjohn

Melanie Pettyjohn (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is currently a third-year journalism/news ed major. Outside of reporting on the people of Western, she really enjoys spending time with friends outdoors, hammocking if the weather allows it, and keeping up with her fellow classmates on their college experience. You can reach her at melaniepettyjohn.thefront@gmail.cơm 

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