Forum: Get vocal, educated, involved

Erin Burrows

“Raise your hand if you remember being taught about consent in high school.”

I am standing in a room of UT-Austin students, and almost no one raises a hand. This is a portrait of the culture in which we live — one where we often don’t engage in conversations about sexual consent and decision-making.

Consent is necessary in all sexual interactions and consequences of not getting consent are serious and harmful. Any sexual activity without consent is sexual violence. Sexual violence is never the fault of the survivor — no matter what they were drinking, wearing or doing before an assault took place. Consent to one thing does not mean consent to all things. Consent is an enthusiastic, mutual agreement that requires consciousness and clarity.   

Voices Against Violence, a program in the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, works to provide the campus with tools to identify and interrupt interpersonal violence. VAV helps build a campus that values and promotes healthy relationships and consent. VAV offers confidential services for survivors of sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking including counseling and advocacy. The VAV Survivor’s Emergency Fund provides financial assistance to student survivors of interpersonal violence.What can you do to help prevent sexual violence? 

1. BeVocal. Longhorns can choose to intervene when they recognize words and actions that normalize and condone sexual violence. We have the opportunity to intervene when gender-based stereotypes are used as excuses (“boys will be boys”), rape jokes are considered funny, and survivors are blamed for what someone did to them. Choosing to respond to this means finding motivation to take action. Intervention can include talking directly to the person, asking them what they mean or pointing out that it’s not cool, sending a message afterwards, or reporting the incident. Bystander intervention is also applicable when someone may be imminently harmed, including creating a distraction, checking in with the person you’re concerned about and getting other people involved. Learn more at http://www.wellnessnetwork.utexas.edu/BeVocal/

2. Get Educated. Since 2001, VAV has been providing prevention and outreach at UT-Austin. Get Sexy. Get Consent. is a highly interactive program that examines how we negotiate sex, consent, boundaries and safety. Our Healthy Masculinities Project MasculinUT hosts public events with the goal of impacting campus culture to increase acceptance of gender diversity, promote healthy relationships with an emphasis on consent, and prevent interpersonal violence. Additionally, we are offering a new VAV peer-facilitated workshop Interrupting Rape Culture. 

3. Get Involved. VAV’s student organization hosts events throughout the year including rallies and survivor speak-outs. Student leaders are instrumental in organizing campaigns like the recent “Consent is Golden” and “UT Gets Consent” poster campaign. Additionally, your student org can register to host creative fundraisers for the VAV Support Campaign to benefit the VAV Survivor’s Emergency Fund. Follow us on social media @UTAustinVAV on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

To find out more about VAV services, programs and opportunities, see www.cmhc.utexas.edu/vav

Burrows is the prevention and outreach specialist of Voices Against Violence in the Counseling and Mental Health Center.