GVSU hosts annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week

GVL / Sheila Babbitt
Sexual assault survivors and supporters listen to other survivors share their stories at the Survivor Speak event in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Week on monday April 2nd, 2018.

GVL / Sheila Babbitt Sexual assault survivors and supporters listen to other survivors share their stories at the Survivor Speak event in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Week on monday April 2nd, 2018.

Ty Konell

For the last nine years, April has been Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Taking advantage of that awareness and applying it to Grand Valley State University, a consent education and sexual assault prevention student organization implemented Sexual Assault Awareness Week, which has been observed at GVSU since 2009.

A myriad of events pertaining to sexual assault, consent and bystander intervention are taking place now through Friday, April 6. Two consent education organizations, Campus for Consent and It’s on Us as Lakers, have each lined up several interactive events, discussions and keynote speeches for the week.

Sexual Assault Awareness Week was brought to fruition by a GVSU student organization during the same year that April was named the national month for sexual assault awareness.

“President Obama was the first to declare Sexual Assault Awareness Month in 2009, and our organization, under its previous name, Eyes Wide Open, actually created Sexual Assault Awareness Week at GVSU that same year,” said Jessica Goodwin, vice president of programming for Campus for Consent.

At GVSU, observing Sexual Assault Awareness Week may be a catalyst for dialogue and understanding.

“Honoring Sexual Assault Awareness Week at Grand Valley offers the potential to bring in a lot of students who otherwise might not know a lot about the prevalence of sexual violence on campus and get them to start tough dialogues that they continue after the events are over,” Goodwin said. 

“We’ve had a lot of different reactions from attendees throughout the years that really let us know that this stuff needs to be talked about.”

Goodwin said the toughest part of being involved in the organization is watching her peers at GVSU lose the drive to make change because of the demands of being a college student.

“The hardest part is seeing a lot of passion for sexual assault prevention when something bad happens and watching people just kind of forget about it rather than getting involved,” she said. “Getting people active and involved is really tough because it is hard work emotionally, and people are already dealing with that just being in college.”

However, being a college student means more than learning just academics, and members of sexual assault prevention groups say learning consent education and bystander intervention is of utmost importance at all universities.

“It doesn’t only matter at GVSU. It matters on every college campus,” said Madeline Vervaeke, member of It’s on Us as Lakers. “I dream of a student body that is constantly looking out for each other, and I think that Sexual Assault Awareness Week will help impact those students who are participating with us. Bystander intervention is a huge aspect of preventing sexual assault, and if everyone was trained in this, or mostly everyone, then I feel like a lot of sexual assaults would be prevented.”

The members of these sexual assault prevention organizations strive to provide students with information about sex and sexual assault that may not have been provided in their K-12 school years. 

“Consent education is never talked about in school, especially in the sexual education programs,”  Vervaeke said. “I feel as if more people were educated about sex the correct way and learn that they are allowed to make decisions about their bodies, we would not have nearly as many assaults.

“The sex-ed program specifically leans towards abstinence only, basically telling you not to have sex and ‘Here are the STDs you will get if you do.’ We are not given the tools to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to sex, and those are so important. If we were taught about this throughout all of our schooling before we get to college, sexual assaults will significantly decrease.”

Goodwin said there is still work to do and that all people should be involved in preventing assault.

“I think sexual assault awareness and prevention is something that everyone should be passionate about just based on its prevalence,” she said. “Consent education is really important to me because I started to see friends and peers experience sexual abuse as far back as middle school and not even realize it because we’re not taught about consent.

“There is a large population in the U.S. that still don’t think assaulting someone while they’re unconscious or pressuring someone into sex is sexual assault (and/or) rape, and that’s unacceptable.”