EWU breaks the silence of sexual assault

By Kaitlyn Engen, Reporter

EWU Health, Wellness & Prevention Services and the Scary Feminists Club have joined forces to host Sexual Assault Action Week– April 23-27– headed by Health Education coordinator Lindsey Fulton.

A survey conducted by EWU Health, Wellness & Prevention found that 1 in 10 students have experienced some sort of sexual violence.

“We can get ahead of the problem,” Hannah Stephens said. president of the Scary Feminists Club who has worked in sexual assault advocacy for four years at EWU.

“This is a pervasive issue,” said Fulton. “It really could start younger, but college is a time when it really becomes prevalent. It’s important that if we’re going to do something, we do it now.”

This week’s events will carry weighted themes and topics that intend to change how students view sexual assault and uplift sexual assault victims.

The people behind this year’s Action Week are emphasizing the issue of victim-blaming in sexual assault cases. There are two events in particular, “Denim Day” and the “What Were You Wearing?” art installation, where they hope to do just that.

The “What Were You Wearing?” art installation, open to students all week in the JFK Library, displays the outfits of anonymous victims the night of their attacks. The installation aims to convey the message that a victim’s outfit choice is not a determinate as to whether a sexual assault happens.  

“The ‘What Were You Wearing?’ is setting aside a myth that victims were ‘asking for it’ or deserved to be raped because they were wearing something provocative. No one ever deserves to be raped, no one is ever asking to be a victim of rape,” said Michelle Helmerick, student support and advocacy manager at EWU who spends about half her time working directly with sexual assault victims.   

“Denim Day” on Wednesday, headed by Stephens, observes the story of an 18-year-old sexual assault victim from Italy whose case went to the Supreme Court in 1999. Her perpetrator’s release due to the judge’s statement that the victim’s tight jeans made the rape consensual sparked protest in Rome the next day.

Globally, people now wear jeans on “Denim Day” to commemorate and address misconceptions about sexual assault.

“‘Denim Day’ is to recognize the different reasons that there are little to no convictions made by perpetrators for snap judgements,” Stephens said.. “We [Action Week committee] have been shifting a focus away on victim-blaming and teaching women how to help themselves.”

Victims’ fears of being blamed, disregarded or even punished themselves could be a factor leading them to not report their assaults. This means that sexual assault may be more prevalent than what the statistics show.

“Victim-blaming is real, and it happens a lot more than it should,” K9 officer Tiffini Archie said, who handles trauma-based incidents on campus. “When somebody is a victim of any other crime, we don’t ask ‘well, what did you do to become that victim?’”

During Action Week, victims can be reassured that they have a variety of resources and support at EWU throughout their healing processes.

“They may not want to go the legal route with it, but we can get them the resources that they need to help heal, and that’s our biggest thing, is the healing process,” said Archie. “We want them to know that at the end of the day that ‘we believe you’. We are going to listen to what you have to say. We’re not worried about the actions that took place before that. We’re worried about what happened to you.”

With the discussions and events that will be available to students this week, EWU hopes to continue to break the silence of sexual assault on and off campus.

“This is just one week out of the entire year, but these are conversations we need to continue having throughout the year. Even though it is a difficult topic to discuss, we should be discussing it,” Fulton said.

An enduring conversation at EWU can create a larger blanket of support for sexual assault victims, which might encourage more victims to speak up against hidden injustices.   

“Change comes about because of education,” said Helmerick. “Change looks like people feeling more comfortable to come forward. I hope to see lots of people on Wednesday wearing denim.”