Campaign aims to end silence about sexual assault

Picture your next class. Is it a big lecture with 80-plus students? Or is it a smaller class, with enrollment closer to 20? Now, let’s assume half the students in that class are female. Even in a class of 20, two of those female students have been or will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.

“You Have a Voice,” a campus-wide campaign created by student-run ad agency Flypaper, was launched this spring in an effort to raise awareness of sexual assault. Adviser Jody Mattern partnered with Hendrix Health Center to address the problem of sexual assault on MSUM’s campus and to encourage those affected to report it. The campaign revolves around “muted group theory,” or the idea that a widespread problem can be silenced by social taboos.

“In the beginning of this campaign, we made a list of them, from his friends hating you to no one believing you,” Mattern said. “They just cause women to be less likely to speak up. Because no one speaks up, people aren’t aware of the extent of the problem.”

Hendrix Health Center, however, is aware of the problem. In the University of Minnesota’s 2011 College Student Health Survey, 976 MSUM students were surveyed on different aspects of their personal health. The survey found that one in five female students had experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, but fewer than half reported it.

Lynn Peterson, Hendrix Health Center’s coordinator for sexual assault services, works directly with sexual assault survivors to counsel and advocate for them. For her, the survey’s findings are especially troubling.

“It’s a still-hidden crime across our country,” Peterson said. “Most assaults go unreported, and then those that are reported and go into the legal system—most are not prosecuted or convicted.”

Carol Grimm, director of health and wellness at Hendrix, thinks a more local problem could be the small-town mentality of a campus MSUM’s size.

“We believe we have a really safe campus, so if you’re saying, ‘You know what, let’s talk about that. Maybe we don’t have a really safe environment,’ people get defensive,” Grimm said. “That’s why awareness campaigns have to be focused on bringing everyone together for the conversation.”

Due to the silence surrounding this issue, Flypaper adopted the tagline “You Have a Voice” for its campaign. This addressed the problem of the muted group, and encouraged those affected by assault to speak up about their experiences. Tactics also included a short biography of Peterson and provided information about the services offered at Hendrix Health Center.

One of the concerns for the campaign was the sensitive nature of the topic. Posters and other tactics had to be worded in a way that didn’t blame the victim or promote fear. Rather, the focus needed to be on encouragement and hope.

“The idea of the campaign was to get people to speak up, and we thought we could do that by focusing on Lynn (Peterson), so that people would have a face to associate with it and realize that it’s non-judgmental,” Mattern said.

Another challenge was reaching students in a way that would cut through the pool of information on campus. With awareness as a goal, the campaign needed to be sure it was effectively getting through to students. Peterson saw this hurdle as well.

“There’s so much information through posters and e-mails,” she said. “One of the challenges is getting people to see the information and understand it, so they know there’s a place to come.”

Posters for “You Have a Voice” went up at the beginning of March, featuring photos of young women silenced by duct tape or a male hand and bearing headlines like “I was too embarrassed to tell anyone.” Buttons urging students to “end the silence” and “report rape” were made, along with brochures explaining the “one in five” statistic. The striking tactics served to attract students’ attention and direct it to the help available for assault victims at Hendrix Health Center. The group saw immediate feedback, with the “You Have a Voice” Facebook page reaching 256 people the week the posters were hung.

Mattern said she hopes the campaign will reach enough students to make a change in the 2013 College Student Health Survey and plans to submit the findings to a journal if the campaign is successful. However, a campaign of this kind goes beyond statistics.

“Awareness campaigns are huge. It’s easy to say we need an ‘attitude adjustment,’ but it’s really more of a cultural shift. When I first started working with sexual violence issues way back when, the mentality was ‘boys will be boys’ and that kind of stuff. I think we’ve seen more of a cultural shift away from that,” Grimm said. “We’ve still got a little way to go.”

In observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Flypaper will be hosting a “1 in 5” event on the campus mall April 23 from noon – 2 p.m. For more information and to participate, visit 1in5.eventbrite.com

BY NORAH KOLBERG
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