GCJD takes on sexual assault for Spring campaign

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Sam Houston State’s Global Center for Journalism and Democracy will campaign for sexual assault awareness throughout the month of April. GCJD has collaborated with several other organizations on campus in order to carry out the campaign.

“Over the years, many organizations from sororities to counseling centers to the Title 9 organization have hosted events that focus on sexual assault, so we brought all of those activities together,” Executive Director of GCJD Kelli Arena said. “These were student organizations, departments within colleges, sororities and fraternities, a combination of faculty, staff, and students who all came together to come up with an agenda.”

The community is also participating in the sexual assault campaign. On March 14, Walker County read a proclamation declaring the month of April to be Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and on March 15 the mayor and the city of Huntsville read a proclamation declaring the same.

“We’ve heard that we had the most people from Sam ever at both the county and city proclamation,” Arena said. “It was very well received by the community; they were really excited that we were able to get that many people to show up.”

The Global Center for Journalism and Democracy has a class, where each semester the students ask the student body what issues they feel should be discussed more on campus. The responses help determine the topic of their campaigns such as their previous mental health and immigration campaigns.

“Sexual assault came up repeatedly as something that Sam students thought needed to be discussed more openly and was something that we needed to raise awareness about,” Arena said. “This is an issue that is not easy to talk about–a lot of people just don’t want to talk about it, but it needs to be discussed.”

The theme for the sexual assault campaign is “Start by Believing.”

The theme is a national movement urged at law enforcement partners who are undergoing training on how to handle sexual assault cases.

“When a police officer approaches any situation, they’re supposed to start at a point of neutrality,” Arena said. “This whole ‘Start by Believing’ movement is trying to push them to just believe a person when they first come and report something; it’s not to deal with that sexual assault survivor with any amount of skepticism or negativity.”

According to Arena, this campaign is not limited to law enforcement, it goes for anyone who may come in contact with someone who has been sexually assaulted.

“If we start by believing, then we react in a concerned, more positive way,” Arena said. “There’s research that shows that everything that happens after that results in more efficient healing for the survivor.”

Statistics show that one in four women are sexually assaulted. Most sexual assaulters are repeat offenders.

“If we want to stop this from happening, our reaction matters a great deal,” Arena said. “Our aim is to educate, to inform, to inspire, and to get people to move toward change.”

To educate and get people involved with the campaign, GCJD is hosting Ignite the Night on April 5.

Ignite the night will have performances by the Austin-based band Rattletree, comedy from the nationally known CoMeTry, dance performances by NobleMotion and then attendents will march in support of sexual assault victims.

“I’m excited for Ignite the Night [because] it’s been one of the bigger events these past years,” project leader Jeremy Villanueva said. “I hope that [students] gain more knowledge on what sexual assault is and what role they can play in helping to reduce those numbers. I also hope they go to the events and actually apply it to where it is much more than statistic that they forget about the next week.”

There are many other events occurring throughout April in coordination with the campaign, including a student talent show called “Not a Number” in the LSC Theater on April 6, Alpha Chi Omega’s Flag Football Tournament on April 10, “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” on April 19, and “Denim Day” on April 27.
The campaign is advocating for male victims as well.

“One of the things that we are hoping to get across in this campaign is that women are not the only victims of sexual assault, men are as well,” Arena said. “We’ve seen some statistics that show while one in four women is sexually assaulted, one out of six men are as well, but men have a much harder time reporting and talking about that.”

Because women are typically assaulted by the opposite sex, there is the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, but the campaign is gender neutral. Men are typically assaulted by both females and other males.

At the events, there will be donation tables where people can donate toiletries and other necessities. There will be a drawing as well as t-shirts, teal ribbons and booklets with information about sexual assault.

“Every semester we have students who walk into our office and volunteer time,” Arena said. “They are excited about the projects that we’re working on; they’re excited about the mission of the Center and they volunteer their time without getting credit, without getting paid and without getting any recognition.”

To advertise for the campaign, GCJD has been trading free hot dogs for Facebook shares, posting yard signs and setting table tents in the eating areas.

“To be able to break through with any sort of message regardless of how important it is, is difficult and there’s no better way to help students appreciate the challenges of informing and educating the public than to take them through the ropes,” Arena said. “Lessons are best learned in the field and not theoretically.”