As Sexual Assault Awareness Month comes to a close, UVM students are creating a space for survivors of sexual assault to share their stories.
Junior Katherine Freeman hosted a speak out April 25 inside the Davis Center.
Survivors will come together to open up about their experience and create awareness about this issue, Freeman said.
“As a sexual assault survivor, I personally don’t feel represented by the school at all,” she said.
UVM`s failure to fully acknowledge the effects of on-campus sexual assault hinders the ability of survivors to seek support, Freeman said.
“Before I was sexually assaulted I didn’t know where the Women’s Center was,” said senior Cecilia Baker, who presented at the speak out. “I didn’t know what their services consisted of, I didn’t know what would happen if I reported it.”
In addition to taking steps like better staffing the Women’s Center and posting flyers with resource information, UVM must do a more thorough job of educating about sexual assault, Freeman said.
“It is a difficult conversation, but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it is going to go away,” she said. “We need to have these conversations about sexual assault.”
Some of the ways the school approaches these problems, such as treating the blue light system as a definitive fix, accomplishes nothing, Freeman said.
UVM`s difficulty with addressing sexual assault is not isolated; it is a problem in our society as a whole, Baker said.
“I know of people at other universities who were told not to report,” she said. “UVM doesn`t do that.”
It is not only institutions who struggle with speaking about sexual assault, Baker said.
“When I bring up my assault, people don’t know how to react,” she said. “I’ve had people end conversations, I’ve had people walk out of the room.”
Though she organized the ceremony without the help of an on-campus group, Freeman received assistance from staff at the women’s center, including Campus Victim’s Advocate Judy Rickstad,and other “awesome women warriors,” she said.
Despite being a largely independent organizer, Freeman is determined to push on, and plans to apply for numerous grants over the summer, she said.
Both Baker and Freeman highlighted the importance of creating a community of support between survivors, though this speak out is only the beginning of a larger conversation, Freeman said.
“We don’t want to be treated like we’re broken or like we’re any different,” Baker said. “All we want is support.”