Changing cultural norms, advocating for social justice and reducing violence in society seem like a tall order for one person. But when it comes to sexual violence, everyone can help end its stigma by simply doing one thing: Start by believing.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a great time to help prevent and respond to sexual violence by pledging to Start by Believing, participating in adult coloring book events featuring pages with messages for victims/survivors, and supporting the Feminist Community’s annual Clothesline Project and Take Back the Night.

Sexual Misconduct Prevention Coordinator Emily Erickson and her student violence prevention advocates at the University of St. Thomas will host the coloring events Tuesdays, April 19 and April 26, in the Anderson Student Center during convo hour.

St. Thomas’ FemCom will decorate and display shirts demonstrating different types of violence for the Clothesline Project and will host a march and rally for Take Back the Night toward the end of the month.

How do you Start By Believing?

Ramsey County recently partnered with community groups to promote the national Start By Believing campaign, designed by End Violence Against Women International, to change and improve how people respond to victims and survivors of sexual violence.

The program emphasizes that there is no shame when someone loses a loved one, is victim to a burglary or is diagnosed with cancer; they are never blamed for “bringing it on themselves.” Yet this is what victims and survivors of rape and other sexual assault may be accused of when they build the courage to confide in someone.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health began promoting the campaign this month. The Ramsey County web page dedicated to “starting by believing” states, “When victims encounter compassionate responses, they heal faster and it opens doors for others to report, giving the criminal justice system a chance to hold perpetrators accountable.”

According to the Start By Believing campaign, you can change your response to sexual violence by pledging to listen, believe and help.

“I will listen

  • By being open to what people tell me.
  • By compassionately understanding, without judgment or blame.

I will believe

  • By acknowledging their experiences and accepting what I am told.
  • By expressing concern and affirming their feelings.

I will help

  • By offering to help them get support to address their immediate safety and physical and mental well-being.
  • By respecting an adult’s right to decide what to do next. If they are children, I will contact the authorities immediately.

Help prevent and respond to sexual violence by pledging to Start by Believing, attending a Green Dot violence prevention training at the University of St. Thomas and turning every month into Sexual Assault Awareness Month, because each day of the year is a chance to be aware of and advocate against sexual violence.

If you or someone you know experiences sexual violence, on-campus places to report are the St. Thomas Dean of Students, the Department of Public Safety, Department of Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator Nora Fitzpatrick. Other St. Thomas resources are the completely confidential Counseling and Psychological Services and Health Services.

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