Sexual Assault Awareness Month – Speaking Out for Healing and Health

By: Natasha Paleau, University of Maryland Public Health Graduate Student

Raising awareness about sexual assault is an experience that can be liberating, painful, empowering, disturbing, and enlightening, all at the same time.

Sexual assault is an uncomfortable topic for many, but for those affected by it, and for our community as a whole, it is essential that we address it in order to heal and to grow.

It is through critical dialogue and awareness that we are able to change the culture surrounding sexual assault and prevent future acts of violence.

The University of Maryland is committed to creating a supportive, safe environment for our students and our community. We are showcasing that commitment this month through various on-campus campaigns and events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The UM Clothesline Project is a public art display focused on breaking the silence around sexual assault and domestic violence. The Clothesline Project has been a bi-annual event on the UMD campus since the early 1990’s. The University Health Center Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program organizes the project to honor survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence, and other forms of violence in our community.

This means reaching out to survivors to let them know that they are not alone, and that there are people on campus who care about their story. It also means calling attention to the resources that are available to help.

Whether you are a survivor yourself, or have been impacted by sexual assault in any way, you are welcome to utilize these services:

There are a number of free, confidential helplines for those affected by sexual assault. Of course, if you are involved in a true emergency, always call 9-1-1 first. But if you need any support after an incident, or simply need to talk, these lines are available to help:

  • SARPP operates a 24-hour crisis hotline, where individuals can call to reach a trained sexual assault response and prevention advocate anytime at (301) 741-3442.
  • The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) offers free confidential access to their 24-hour national hotline. You can access this hotline online, or call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
  • The UMD Help Center is not specific to sexual assault, but can be a resource for students who need to talk: (301) 314- 4357.

This month, the campus is also hosting a series of events intended to raise awareness and get Terps to critically and actively think about sexual assault.

Whether or not you know someone who has been affected by sexual assault, it is important that we all employ self-reflection about how our behaviors contribute either to a culture that promotes sexual assault, or a culture that prevents it.

Here are some ways that you can help prevent sexual assault at the University of Maryland, and beyond:

  • Educate yourself and others on the realities of sexual assault.
  • Be mindful of your words. They are powerful, and could contribute to a culture that normalizes sexual assault (i.e. “that test raped me”).
  • Don’t be a bystander. Speak up when you hear or see things that you aren’t comfortable with. Opportunities to intervene range from inappropriate comments or jokes to situations that are potentially dangerous.
  • Stay safe, alert, and connected to protect yourself and others. Use the buddy system when you’re unsure about the safety of a situation.  Mobile apps like Circle of 6, which use GPS coordinates and 6 of your most trusted friends, help you to stay connected should you ever need to reach out for help.
  •  Be supportive to those who speak out about their experiences with sexual assault. We want our community to be a safe space for open dialogue.
  • Remember that men and women are allies in the efforts to end sexual violence. While most acts of sexual violence are perpetrated by men, this does not mean that all men are perpetrators. Men can also be victims of sexual violence, and many men are outspoken advocates for survivors and for prevention.
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