Thursday, March 29, 2018

Vol State Speaks out Against Sexual Assault

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that one in four college women have survived rape or attempted rape. You may have heard of the #MeToo movement, which spread virally on social media in 2017, highlighting the prevalence of sexual violence and assault. #WeBelieveYou is an outgrowth of that movement, and part of a campaign coming to Vol State in April.

“I do think the ‘MeToo’ movement has started the conversation, but we want to encourage that conversation locally,” said Tiffany Zwart, coordinator of Student Support. “The ‘WeBelieveYou’ movement is about making sure that students know that someone is listening, we do believe them, and we’re here to help in whatever way we can. If you have a traumatic experience, like sexual assault, and then you feel like you can’t talk to anybody, or you don’t know where to go, it just builds and can turn into PTSD, anxiety, etc., and those things have serious long term effects.” “Sexual assault is about power. It’s not about the act of sex itself, it’s about power,” said Abby Carson, a work study student in the Office of Student Engagement. “To any victim out there, don’t let them take that power from you. If you are a victim, come forward and say something. Don’t give them that power to keep doing what they’re doing. I want anyone who comes into this office to feel safe. It makes me feel great that the school cares, and that students know they can come to us no matter what." Zwart explains that there are statistics available, yet it’s hard to peg the exact numbers. “Most rapes and sexual assaults are not reported. So of what we have, it’s is like a drop in the bucket. There’s so much more that we don’t know.” Experts say fear is a huge factor that comes into play. Sometimes getting out of a toxic situation may seem scarier than staying in one to victims, especially when children are in the picture, or if there are financial burdens involved. Other times, victims just may be afraid to speak up for fear of being labeled or judged. It is much more common than is noticed, because it often goes undiscussed. There are many reasons people stay silent or remain in a bad situation. “I think we try to pretend like it’s not happening, but it’s happening right under our noses,” said Zwart. “We have resources for counseling; we have resources for Home Safe, the domestic and sexual assault shelter. They provide trauma informed service for those impacted by domestic and sexual abuse, so they are a really great resource for students who’ve experienced that. We’ve also reached out to the Sumner County Drug and Alcohol Coalition, because most abuse happens while someone is under the influence. Treating it as a systematic problem rather than a single issue is a big deal, we have to change the culture all the way around.” For the Sexual Assault Awareness month of April, the Office of Student Engagement promotes the discussion by coordinating multiple events on campus. For Tuesday, April 2nd, wear the color teal to show your commitment to prevent sexual assault. On Thursday, April 5th at 2 p.m. is the “Let’s Talk” event, which is a conversation about sexual assault held in the Mary Cole Nichols Dining Room. On Monday April 16th at 10:30 a.m., sociology professor Jamie Fuston will be hosting an event in the Rochelle Center titled “In Her Shoes,” which will offer a glimpse into the harsh realities of relationship violence. The office of Student Engagement and Support is located in room 215 of the Wood Campus Center, and is available for any student seeking guidance. Don’t stay silent; let your voice be heard. Abby Carson and Tiffany Zwart

-By Rachel Keyes

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