Members of the Green Dot pose for a photo in front of the Student Memorial Center while preparing for activities. Both Green Dot and It’s On Us host numerous events throughout the month and the academic year to raise awareness of sexual violence at Millersville. / Phot Courtesy of the Center for Health Education and Promotion
Signs along the sidewalks show tweets about relationships and domestic violence. Red and green flags decorate the lawns of the houses along North George St, but what do they represent, or what do they stand for?
For those who may be unaware, April is a time of year that may be triggering, but also empowering, for many across the country – it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Sexual and gender-based violence plague the headlines, the streets, and the college campuses of our world, and these incidents of hate and tragedy can happen anywhere. Such a month exists to bring light to violent crimes such as rape, battery, and other forms of power-based violence. College is a time in our lives when we are on our own for the first time in an often unfamiliar environment, so we are especially vulnerable to these crimes, hence why sexual assault awareness so desperately needs to be addressed on college campuses.
In recent years, Millersville University has been ranked by both the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security Report and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report as the safest college campus in Pennsylvania, ranking in the top 20 nationally. However, this does not make MU immune to violent crime among the student body or local residents. According to last year’s campus crime report, the ‘Ville experienced nearly 150 incidents of violent crime, two of which were crimes against women. This is admittedly a small number, but it is still two too many.
While it is fortunate that we attend a college that is considered safe – as much as any campus can be considered safe – the system can only do so much to protect us. These statistics obviously do not take into account crimes that go unreported, nor those that take place off campus, nor incidents that may not warrant a legitimate crime, such as harassment or verbal abuse.
There are a multitude of perspectives, experiences, and understandings going around on various topics related to sexual violence. Most people can agree that sexual assault is morally wrong, but our fear and ignorance has proven to lead to cases being overlooked and ignored, or perpetrators being defended. This pattern of giving passes to perpetrators of sex crimes makes up what people have started referring to as “rape culture,” but sexual assault should not be part of our culture – it is a crime. Sexual assault is a very difficult topic for many, which is why people act on their fears by ignoring it, and basing their knowledge on, at times, incorrect perceptions.
People are led to believe that a perpetrator of sexual violence will always be a man, while his victim is a young, attractive woman. While this may be a relatively common scenario, one must understand that in order to handle sexual and gender-based violence, one must also acknowledge that anyone can commit sexual assault, and anyone can be sexually assaulted. Regardless of who you are or how the world perceives you, your experiences still happened, and they are valid.
On this note, the topic of sexual and gender-based violence is a vital one to be discussed among college students, as we are still growing and developing into adults. Not only should we learn how to protect ourselves and how to protect others, but also how to understand consent, boundaries, and healthy behaviors in order to foster safe and positive relationships with our partners and peers.
Organizations at Millersville University exist to make this education accessible to the community: The flags and signs, for instance, are the creation of Green Dot and It’s On Us, both of which seek to address and prevent power-based violence on campus. These organizations are hosting numerous events on campus this month, including a pledge drive on Monday, April 4, and a keynote speaker event on Thursday, April 7, from sexual assualt prevention consultant and advocate Tim Mousseau. In addition, there will also be a crafting night, scavenger hunt, bingo night, and self-defense classes throughout the month of April, concluding with Millersville’s Week of Action from April 18 to April 22 to raise awareness of sexual and gender-based violence.
“Sexual Assault Awareness Month is important because the topic is tricky to talk about but it’s imperative that we do,” says Kay Igyor, president of It’s On Us and a Karlie’s Angel graduate assistant from the Center for Health Education and Promotion for Green Dot. “Sexual assault awareness and healthy relationship promotion aligns with the goals of these organizations and the intervention strategy that we offer. The training is always free to students and they will receive a certificate of completion.”
Even right outside your door or on your campus, resources are out there, and should not be ignored or taken for granted. Listen to the red flags, as well as the green flags; look at them closely and reflect on your own behaviors and those of others, and see how you can improve your interactions with others in your daily life.
The key to addressing and preventing sexual assault and domestic violence is to be open both in the mind and the ears. Listen to survivors, listen to the concerns of those around you, and do not turn your back when someone may be trying to grab your attention, because they may be calling for help.
You can argue against and blame the system and the culture all you want, but at the end of the day, acts of violence are up to the individual. Above all, understand and respect consent and boundaries, and if you witness someone dare cause harm to another, immediately seek to hold them accountable. Fostering a community of love, support, and compassion should be the ultimate goal, and if we seek to acknowledge and prevent violence of this atrocious kind, then that goal is well within reach.
Even though April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, your health and safety matter year-round; if you or someone else is struggling or in need of support regarding power-based violence, please reach out to the Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-7233 or by texting “START” to 88788. You are loved and supported, so please stay educated and safe out there, readers.