Sexual Assault Awareness Month aims to quell fear, shame

A wreath in the entrance to Norris University Center encourages students to tie ribbons in honor of those they know who are victims of assault.

The wreath project ushers in a host of activities for April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month at Northwestern. But its goal is fewer ribbons on next year’s wreath.

Statistics of sexual assault on college campuses nationwide are staggering. According to NU’s Sexual Assault Awareness Education Team, one in four college women will be raped or experience attempted rapes.

With events such as self-defense seminars, movie screenings and rape support groups, organizers said they hope the month helps “create an environment where sexual assault and abuse are not tolerated and men and women are no longer silenced by fear and shame.”

“The goal of the month is to increase awareness about sexism, heterosexism and violence in our own society,” said Becket Bessolo, a program coordinator at the Women’s Center. “By promoting events throughout the month, the goal is that people begin thinking, talking, processing and strategizing how to stop sexual assault.”

Some of the events include:

– a self-defense workshop at Willard Residential College at 7 p.m. today.

Participants will learn to “take charge of their personal safety” on and off campus.

– a discussion April 12 on the process students can follow after they have been assaulted.

Panelists include University Police Detective Donald Stange; Margo Brown, executive secretary for the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System; and Renée Redd, director of the Women’s Center.

– an April 12 screening of “Men, Sex and Rape,” a film about rape in America.

“I hope to get the point across that ‘rape culture’ is embedded in our society,” said Sneha Shah, the program leader for the event. “It’s not something anybody is immune to.”

Like all of April’s events, the film doesn’t vilify men, Shah said, adding that men should participate in the month’s events to learn about the dangers of assault.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s anti-guy,” said Shah, a Weinberg senior. “Men don’t realize how much of a problem sexual assault is until one of their own girlfriends, mothers or daughters becomes a victim.”

– NU’s 12th annual Take Back the Night march April 13, when several hundred students will march across campus to oppose violence and hear the stories of sexual assault survivors.

The march will be followed by an open mic night and coffeehouse at Norris.

Sarah London, who plans to participate in Take Back the Night, said the event shows the progression of sexual awareness at NU.

“Take Back the Night is a great measure of how far the campus has come for sexual awareness,” said London, a Speech sophomore. “It’s important to solidify the campus around a social agenda, and I’m encouraged that this is the issue we come together around.”

In the past, some male students have treated sexual assault awareness programs as events “by women and for women,” London said. Women’s Coalition members said they hope one in five participants in the march this year will be men.

More details about April’s events are available under the wreath at Norris or from Jamie Jimenez, coordinator of NU’s sexual assault education program.