UNC kicked off its recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month on Sunday with tabling in the Carolina Union by One Act and Heels United. In addition to signing pledges and handing out ribbons, this month will include workshops about sexual violence prevention, lectures and a Slut Walk.
These events are hosted by Safe at UNC, student groups, sororities, Chapel Hill Public Library and more. Many workshops focus on supporting sexual assault survivors and training students on how to identify warning signs.
“What I love about SAAM is that there is an event for everyone,” said Shelley Gist Kennedy, the program coordinator for the Carolina Women’s Center, which will host a variety of events for the month. “We work to cultivate a calendar of diverse events and awareness initiatives to reach as many people as possible during the month of April. We encourage people to look through the full calendar at safe.unc.edu and find something that interests them, whether that’s a training (session), discussion, film screening or lecture.”
For survivors of sexual assault, this month is particularly important. Junior Emma Hayes has been a victim of sexual assault three times in her life — twice when she was 14. She said fear of stigma and questions about what actually constituted rape or assault prevented her from reporting the incidents.
“SAAM is so crucial because it breaks that barrier that might be the thing standing between someone speaking up and someone staying quiet for fear of judgement,” Hayes said. “SAAM is also really comforting as a survivor, because it shows me that there are a lot of people who care about me and other survivors, and that while assault is horrible and definitely something no one wants to think about, people are willing to think and talk about it to support victims.”
The Orange County Rape Crisis Center will host workshops on April 14 and 21 titled “Supporting Those Who Say #MeToo,” which is centered around how to respond to survivors who have shared a sexual assault experience. Since the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement has been quickly gaining momentum, encouraging survivors to speak up about assault, regardless of when it took place.
“As #MeToo is becoming a more significant part of our culture, our norms surrounding consent and rape culture are being challenged, which is a great thing,” said graduate student Taylor Hamlet. “The more we as a society talk about sexual assault, which Sexual Assault Awareness Month encourages, the faster we can transition to a cultural definition of consent more representative of folks’ needs and experiences.”
Organizers of SAAM hope the results of workshops and discussions this month will continue to manifest in the months and years to come.
“While April is a designated month to highlight awareness of sexual assault, we also need to make sure that we’re doing prevention and response work all year round,” Kennedy said. “So one of our goals in April is to start conversations, initiatives and people’s involvement in work that will continue beyond SAAM.”