Nationally, April is proclaimed Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but Voices Against Violence, VAV, aims to put more emphasis on prevention instead of just awareness.
“We really want the focus to be on how we can stop this from happening in the first place,” said Lauren White, interim VAV prevention and outreach specialist. “This doesn’t have to be something that happens, and we really believe that.”
VAV, a program of the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center, is hosting several events on campus this month, including its biggest event of the year, Take Back the Night, where survivors can speak on their experiences.
The events include theatre performances, workshops and discussions and will cover topics such as consent, interpersonal violence, race, mental health, LGBTQ relationships and being an ally.
White said VAV has placed emphasis on viewpoints of different populations and identities, such as people of color and LGBTQ people.
“We have been shifting a little bit from this kind of like one-size-fits-all approach, which just looks at things like red flags, and consent and healthy relationships,” White said. “We’re saying, ‘Okay, how do red flags, how does consent work in the context of a certain population?’”
Diane Kim, social work graduate student and VAV graduate assistant, said the events involve different student organizations across campus, such as the National Alliance on Mental Health on Campus and Women of Excellence, and is a way for campus communities to come together, provide a safe space for survivors and get access to resources available at CMHC.
“I think it says something when you host an event like this and … you’re looking around at all the campus resources and campus communities,” Kim said. “It’s a way to provide a supportive network.”
Last spring, UT Systems released the Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments, CLASE, report, which details the prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct on UT Systems campuses. The report confirmed 15 percent of undergraduate women at UT-Austin reported they had been raped, while 28 percent of undergraduate women at UT-Austin reported being victims of unwanted sexual touching.
White said the CLASE report was a way for VAV to raise awareness and continue existing conversations on the issue of sexual violence.
Anna Lee Carothers, a Plan II and psychology junior, said she was saddened by the results of the CLASE survey, especially given UT’s available campus resources that aim to prevent sexual assault.
“A part of me (was) disheartened, because I know that UT has sought out to prevent these issues,” Carothers said. “Hopefully this gives UT, as well as the students, an incentive to keep speaking out against sexual assault and do better.”
Carothers said she hopes that through the event, students will be exposed to personal stories of sexual assault and be encouraged to speak up against it.
“Hopefully, (students) will hear stories that humanize sexual assault experiences,” Carothers said. “It’s not something you just see in the media, it’s not just something you hear about in politics or from celebrities. It’s something that our neighbors experience, and it’s something that our family and our friends experience.”