Editor’s Note: In the wake of nationwide stay-at-home orders and social distancing, several major United States cities are receiving increased reports of domestic violence. Increased time in the home, frustrations due to job loss and financial hardship as well as government-mandated restrictions on the number of people that can stay in domestic violence shelters are all potential factors in the uptick in cases. We must be aware of the impact domestic violence has on survivors and the resources that are available during this uncertain time.
Content Note: This article contains information about sexual violence. If you would like to talk to a counselor, please call the Counseling and Mental Health Center at (512) 471-3515.
April is Sexual Violence Prevention Month at UT Austin. Most years, Voices Against Violence, a program of the Longhorn Wellness Center, hosts events to prevent sexual violence by educating the campus community about consent and supporting survivors. We partner with other offices and organizations across campus to host events such as Take Back the Night, an annual survivor speak-out. Our events are not able to take place as they normally would this year because of our remote learning and working environment. However, we’ll be honoring Sexual Violence Prevention Month online via our website and social media. We’re exploring the context for prevention, education and awareness of interpersonal violence nationally and at UT Austin.
The first national Sexual Assault Awareness Month was observed in the United States in April 2001. However, the movement to end sexual violence is much longer. Beginning in the 1940s, civil rights leaders such as Rosa Parks led efforts to end sexual violence and other oppression against women of color. In the 1970s, crisis centers where survivors could receive services and support opened. These centers also held events, including the first Take Back the Night rally, to raise awareness about violence and prompt legislative and community action. In the 1980s, the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault began observing Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which was later expanded to the month of April. Every year, educational institutions, crisis centers and other organizations across the country observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Since 2014, Voices Against Violence and UT Austin have recognized April as “Sexual Violence Prevention Month” rather than Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This change reflects our focus on preventing violence and our commitment to creating a campus culture that values consent and healthy relationships. Prevention means focusing not just on individual behaviors, but on changing cultural norms and factors that allow violence to happen. Events like Consent Fest provide opportunities for students to learn about navigating consent.
The 2017 Cultivating Learning & Safe Environments report found that 18% of students at UT Austin had experienced unwanted sexual touching, 7% had experienced attempted rape and 9% had experienced rape. Take Back the Night provides a space for survivors to share their stories without requiring a Title IX report, and for students to have open conversations and express support for each other. Across the country, female and LGBTQ+ students are disproportionately impacted by violence; The report found this to be true at UT as well. Interpersonal violence is inherently tied to other types of oppression, including discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation. Events are often co-sponsored, not just by offices and organizations that explicitly address violence, but also those that serve student communities who are disproportionately impacted by interpersonal violence.
Sexual Violence Prevention Month will look different this year, but there are still ways to get involved. Most importantly, we can educate our communities about consent, commit to respecting each other’s boundaries and support the survivors in our lives. Students can join the Voices Against Violence Student Organization, which meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. (via Zoom), or the Theatre for Dialogue ensemble or academic course in the fall semester. You can also get involved online through activities related to Take Back the Night, virtual trauma-informed yoga and information about consent. For more information, visit the Voices Against Violence calendar or sign up for the listserv at utlists.utexas.edu/sympa/info/vavinfo.
For students seeking support related to interpersonal violence, Voices Against Violence currently offers confidential individual counseling, advocacy services and safety planning by phone and video through the Counseling and Mental Health Center. Student survivors of interpersonal violence can still receive support through the Survivor’s Emergency Fund.