Support, Empowerment, and Action: Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2023

Jane Downey, UD senior and member of PAVE, leading the Take Back the Night march with empowering chants. Photo courtesy of Nikki Huebner.

A PAVE member reflects on UD’s efforts to support victims and end violence

Nikki Huebner Contributing Writer

TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of sexual violence, violence and other potentially triggering topics

We are warned about violence at a young age; violence prevention tips— sometimes solicited and often unsolicited— are thrown our way. Don’t walk alone. Don’t stay out late. Don’t dress provocatively. The list goes on and on. These suggestions do not get to the root of the problem and are counterproductive more than anything. 

These “words of wisdom” can quickly foster a victim-blaming mentality when a friend, a classmate, a loved one or a colleague discloses an incident of power-based personal violence to us. Society encourages people to assume an investigative role via asking probing questions about the person’s experience as though the assault was preventable on their end. 

As we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April, may we respect the experiences of survivors of sexual assault and other forms of power based personal violence by working to name and reduce victim-blaming in our community. 

If you have experienced any form of harassment, assault or violence, know that you are not alone.  The next steps in your journey are in your control however and whenever you feel ready to process it. 

According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Awareness Month was nationally observed for the first time in 2001. However, the movement to recognize and end sexual violence began long before this date. Thanks to the work done in the 40s, 50s and 60s, the movement picked up significant traction in the 70s with the creation of the first rape crisis center, founded in San Francisco, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 

The year 1978 marked the first “Take Back the Night” in the United States, a march and movement to end all forms of violence and demonstrate support of survivors and their healing Fast forward to 2023, SAAM is celebrated in thousands of communities across the world. 

At the University of Dayton, students, faculty and staff gather each April to collaborate on educational and empowering events to honor survivors and work to end violence. 

In educating our Dayton community on consent, Peers Advocating for Violence Education uses the “FRIES” acronym. This acronym explains that consent is Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic and Specific. The group passed out snacks, stickers and other freebies, while a Hanger window display highlighted SAAM through words of encouragement and resources for survivors.

Take Back the Night is a quintessential SAAM event. The evening’s festivities began with an opening speech from Kristen Keen, assistant dean and director of the Brook Center. PAVE and the Brook Center organized this march on our campus to demand recognition of these experiences and action to prevent further acts of violence from taking place. The empowering march was followed by an open mic to share personal experiences of assault or thoughts related to trauma. Reverend Renita Green from Campus Ministry closed the evening with prayer. 

Before the march portion of the event began, attendees gathered to practice chants and prepare. Photo courtesy of Huebner.
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Led by police escort, students and UD staff marched through the student neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Huebner.

PAVE and the YWCA offered popcorn and a screening of “The Hunting Ground,” which focuses on sexual violence on college campuses. Through discussion, this event fostered intentional reflection about these issues across the nation and within our own campus community and what role we can play in addressing violence. 

Various UD offices and organizations also hosted empowerment hours, a Dialogue Zone conversation on rape culture and an event to show solidarity with survivors and distribute resources throughout Monday.  

Today is Denim Day, which was sparked by the Italian Supreme Court’s overturning of a rape conviction as the justices believed the victim’s jeans were so tight, she must have consented and helped the perpetrator remove them. The following day, women in the Italian parliament wore jeans in support of the victim. 

Students are invited to wear jeans to stand in solidarity with survivors, to address victim blaming and rape myths, and stop by PAVE’s jean decoration table outside of KU from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. 

Follow PAVE (@ud_pave) and UD Health and Wellbeing (@ud_healthandwellbeing) to stay connected and learn more! 

How to Support Survivors 

Supporting friends and loved ones who disclose an incident of harassment, assault, or violence to you is crucial in ensuring these individuals can gain resources that will be helpful in working towards healing. 

If you are not sure what to say or how to help, three key phrases to keep in mind are: 

  1. I believe you. 2. It’s not your fault. 3. You have resources

Acknowledging that sexual violence and all types of violence are heavy and difficult to process is valid. It is okay to be unfamiliar with how to respond to these incidents and how to personally access or direct a loved one to resources. However, there are entities on campus that are here to help and streamline this process.

University, Local, and National Resources

Confidential on-campus resources*: Counseling Center, Health Center, ordained ministry in Campus Ministry

*Only confidential when acting within their role

Non-confidential on-campus resources: Equity Compliance, Dean of Students Office, Public Safety, Brook Center

Local and National Hotlines and Resources

YWCA Dayton Crisis Hotline – 937-222-SAFE (7233)

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) – 800-656-HOPE (4673)

Follow this link for more information and additional resources:

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