Sexual assault is hard to talk about, especially for survivors. But when one in five women are sexually assaulted in college, the topic must be addressed. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Sonoma State University is holding several events to initiate conversation about the uncomfortable subject.
Visually, banners are up on light poles around campus and student-made shirts decrying sexual violence are hanging up in the Student Center plaza as part of the clothesline project from April 6 to 9, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The shirts were made by students over the past 10 years, many of whom are survivors of a sexual assault.
Laura Williams, clinical director and crisis advocate at Counseling and Psychological Services at SSU, runs a sexual assault survivor group on campus. "But most of them wouldn't want to come make shirts," she says. "There's a lot of shame and guilt associated with sexual assault."
She's not talking about shame and guilt for those who commit assaults--she's talking about the victims.
"The immediate response by victims is often, 'Oh, I shouldn't have had so much to drink,' or they shouldn't have been wearing certain clothes or shouldn't have been flirting with him," says Williams. "It puts the blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator."
Enter the Yes Means Yes campaign. California became the first state to sign this college consent legislation into law last year. It states that consent is mutual, defining it as "an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision." It applies to all colleges and universities that accept financial aid from the state. The California State University and University of California systems adopted similar standards earlier in the year and supported the legislation.
"We've been saying this for a long time," says Williams. Yes Means Yes is an important step in helping victims of sexual assault come forward. "I hear a lot of stories about women who were incapacitated by alcohol and feel like it's their fault for not saying no," she says. "It's pretty sick that anyone would want to have sex with someone who can't say yes or may be passed out."
Yes Means Yes also says that silence, which doesn't include the word "no," does not imply consent. "Often, people will freeze up when they are assaulted," says Williams. "It's a biological response to fear, especially if the victim has been traumatized before."
According to a 2014 Justice Department report, only about 20 percent of campus sexual assault victims go to police. As for the one in five sexual assault statistic, Williams hopes it's less. But, she says, "It that's true, then that's horrifying."
Sexual Assault Awareness Month events:
April 6-9: Clothesline Project. An interactive artistic expression speaking out against violence against women. Student Center plaza, all day.
April 13: Pussy Power. Inspirational art and thoughts on empowered society by Favianna Rodriguez. Cooperage, 2-4 p.m.
April 14: Healthy Sexuality. Author and activist Jaclyn Friedman talks about enthusiastic consent. Student Center Ballroom A, 7 p.m.
April 15: Assertiveness Training. Interactive workshop on basic assertiveness skills. HUB lounge, 4-5 p.m.
April 21: Bro Code. National speaker D. Tom Keith talks about the "Bro Code" in relationships. Warren Auditorium, Ives Hall, 7 p.m.
April 22: Hunting Ground. Documentary examines the phenomenon of campus sexual assaults. Student Center Ballrooms B & C, 5 p.m.
April 29: Denim Day. Wear denim in solidarity with sexual assault survivors. Campus-wide, all day.
April 30: Take Back the Night. Rally and speak out against all forms of sexual violence. Student Center Ballroom A, 8 p.m.