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WSU recognizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Students holding signs as they march across the WSU Pullman campus during Take Back the Night.
Students march during Take Back the Night in 2019. Photo by Duy T. Nguyen

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Washington State University Pullman is recognizing the month with a series of events designed to raise awareness of sexual violence. 

According to a 2019 survey of nearly 182,000 students from the Association of American Universities (AAU), 13% of students have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact, with higher rates for women-identifying students and trans and gender nonconforming/non-binary students (25.9% and 22.8%, respectively). A 2021 paper on the impact of sexual assault on academic outcomes found that students who experience sexual assault are more likely to drop out of school, have lower GPAs, and experience mental health challenges.

The studies also found that prevention programs, education, and awareness events like Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) can help decrease rates of sexual violence on campus by teaching community members about the impact of sexual assault, the role everyone plays in preventing it, and how to better support survivors.

“Sexual Assault Awareness Month raises awareness so people can learn about how they can support survivors in their own community and how they can contribute to a bigger social and cultural change to stop violence from happening,” said Taylor Ellsworth, a health education specialist with Health Promotion. 

Education and activism

This year’s SAAM events are being coordinated by Health Promotion, the Women*s Center, CAMP, and other partners around campus. They kicked off March 22 with the Bandana Project, organized at WSU by the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) in collaboration with MEChA and The Crimson Group. The project asks people to decorate white bandanas with art and words of encouragement for women farmworkers who have experienced sexual assault. The decorated bandanas will be displayed in the CUB throughout the month of April.

“Many women who are harassed don’t say anything because they’re afraid to get in trouble with immigration or lose their jobs,” said Maritay Mendoza-Quiroz, CAMP coordinator. “With this project, we wanted to show support to women in the fields who are being harassed, to create awareness and show that community that we’re here for them.”

Other events during the month that will occur are a resource fair April 4 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Terrell Mall, sex and consent workshops on April 7, Take Back the Night on April 14, and Denim Day on April 27.

Faculty and staff are invited to get involved in several of the events, including a free public screening of “The Hunting Ground,” a 2015 documentary about sexual assault on college campuses, and educational workshops from Health Promotion. The Count on Cougs Bystander Intervention workshop on April 22 will teach participants to recognize warning signs of gender-based violence and ways to take action, and the Supporting Survivors workshop on April 29 will help participants understand how they can support students and colleagues who are survivors of sexual violence.

For a complete list of events, visit the SAAM webpage.

‘All of us have a role’

Research shows that education and prevention programs like those offered during SAAM can change attitudes about sexual assault and boost students’ belief in the importance of intervention. Giving people tools they can use to prevent sexual violence and support survivors throughout the year is key to empowering students, faculty, and staff to create cultural change on campus.

“All of us have a role in preventing sexual violence, and knowing that we are all responsible for stopping this problem can help us make actionable changes in our spaces,” Ellsworth said.

Some of those actionable changes include getting educated about violence prevention and survivor support, displaying resources in prominent spaces to make them more accessible, and, for faculty and staff, reviewing their reporting requirements and ensuring they know what, when, and how to report incidents of sexual assault.

Ultimately, Ellsworth said, the goal is to empower people to “hold their community accountable for problematic behaviors and be advocates for survivors in their own circles.”

For more information on SAAM and resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault and need support, please contact Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse. You can also visit the Civil Rights and Compliance website for information on advocacy, support, and reporting.

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