As we begrudgingly return to campus after fall break – perhaps one filled with visits with family and deep fried Krispy Kreme burgers – we return knowing that we have just two months left of fall semester. This, presumably, will mean lots of studying for exams, lots of time spent with friends before winter break and, hopefully, two months of safety for everyone here at UNC. As we saw at Project Dinah’s Speak Out event on Wednesday, October 12, unfortunately, this last part is often not the case for many of our fellow students.
At the event, we heard members of Project Dinah, Men@Carolina and UNITAS read anonymous stories of UNC students’ experiences with interpersonal violence that had been posted to the blog, speakoutunc.blogspot.com. Some of these stories were reflections of abuse that had occurred years prior, some were about abusive relationships that they had dealt with while at Carolina, others about assaults by so-called friends, and one included words of hope to survivors, letting them know that things will get better. While listening to these incredible stories, I looked around at my friends, acquaintances, and strangers; many sat crying, others comforted crying friends, and others seemed almost shocked – how could these attacks happen at UNC, they seemed to wonder.
How does sexual violence continue to happen with minimal discussion surrounding it in most circles at UNC? Why are there still people who claim that they do not know anyone who is a survivor of interpersonal violence? Earlier this year, The Daily Tar Heel reported that the number of reported assault cases had nearly tripled in 2010 compared to 2009, rising from 6 to 17. While this news may seem frightening, those who work in sexual violence prevention know that the vast majority of sexual assault cases are never reported, so it is likely that the total number of assaults at UNC did not rise; instead, more people may have reported that year. Sadly, as one of those people who lives in the world of sexual violence prevention, I feel as if I personally could name 17 people who were assaulted in 2010, and many of them never reported their attacks. The total number of assaults, then, is most likely significantly higher than the 17 that were reported.
My hope is that, through events like Speak Out, people will become more aware of the prevalence of interpersonal violence as well as the effects that it can have on victims and survivors. Through an increase in education, perhaps survivors will see in these people someone that they can trust to talk to about their own experiences. When people recognize just how huge a problem sexual violence is, then — through their increased education surrounding the topic and recognizing that they have friends who are survivors — it becomes difficult not to join the efforts to eradicate sexual violence from our university – and our community, state, nation, and finally, our world.
I encourage everyone to become HAVEN and One Act trained. You will learn an incredible amount through the Haven training about what sexual violence is and how to be an ally to a survivor of interpersonal violence. Through One Act, you will learn how to be an active bystander and prevent interpersonal violence from occurring in the first place. With more and more Haven allies and more and more members of the UNC community who are both able to recognize dangerous situations and willing to act, perhaps soon we will be proud of being part of a university that is safe for everyone.
More coverage of Relationship Violence Awareness Month events to come!
Alison Grady is a senior peace, war & defense major with minors in philosophy, politics & economics and women’s studies. She is a blogger for the Carolina Women’s Center.