Q&A with Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Counselor Sarah Valois
By Erica Gilman
April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month and there were various events around Worcester State University’s campus to spread awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault, provide support for victims, and give resources and information to students. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is something that has been nationally recognized since April 1, 2001, although according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, awareness campaigns have been happening since the 70’s.
Sexual assault has become a growing concern on college campuses: about 1 in 5 college women and 6% of college men are targets of assault. WSU knows the importance of raising awareness to educate their students on what sexual assault really is, especially in situations that involve alcohol. WSU also stages these events to encourage survivors to access the University’s counseling center for support.
With such high rates of sexual assaults on college campuses, a university community has a responsibility to educate, protect, and support their students. Sexual assault is a problem everywhere; it’s not only a problem for students that walk at night, for students that go out late at night, or for students who decide to drink. It is something that can happen to anyone, even from the people that they know and trust. There are many ways in which sexual assault can happen, and it’s equally as important for victims to know they are not alone and have a support system within their university.
To reflect on the significance of this month and the events that happened, I spoke with Sarah Valois, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response counselor at Worcester State University. She was in charge of directing the events and students have probably seen her at tabling events. I interviewed her about the events that happened this April and her take on the importance of the events.
NWS: This month was Sexual Assault Awareness Month and there were various events around campus such as the Yeah, No, Maybe documentary showing, the Clothesline Project [a nationwide project in which women affected by violence express their emotions by decorating and displaying a t-shirt], and tabling. What was the most impactful?
SV: I’d say the tabling was the most impactful since it gets us to different locations, so students can ask questions and we can give them information and resources. The Clothesline Project is also impactful for the students who make the t-shirts and see the t-shirts. We had a table set up there as well. Overall, I think tabling is really helpful since we can reach more students.
NWS: What are the reactions of students to these events generally?
SV: Very positive! Actually a student who had gone to see the documentary for extra credit in a class wrote his response, which his professor shared with me, and you could see that he became much more aware of the prevalence of sexual assault. Students are genuinely interested. We had students write notes of encouragement and messages of hope to hang up on posters around campus. Through the outreach over the month we end up getting survivors into the counseling center or identified by faculty to get support. The messaging around campus is always nice to survivors to see that others support them.
NWS: Why do you think awareness is so important?
SV: It helps people really understand what it is. People tend to think rape is a guy jumping out of the bushes in the dark, when in reality, 75-90 percent of the time it’s someone that they know. Anyone can have a role in prevention. All these events also let survivors know they are not alone and can get support.
NWS: Do you find sexual assault to be a concern at WSU and surrounding colleges?
SV: Worcester State is no different than any other college campus: 20 percent of college women and 6 percent of college men are the target of an attempted or successful rape; that’s the Department of Justice campus statistics. However, out of these students, only 5 percent make reports. Yes, it’s happening, and I don’t think we even know the extent to which it’s happening. This university does great job at providing information to survivors, and reports are up, so the administrative efforts are working. We’re getting out the message that survivors should report so we can support them. The more reports and the more people that are talking about it, the easier it is to get these students help.
NWS: What do you think these events do for students on campus? What do you hope is the effect?
SV: Well, let’s start with my hope. My hope is that it helps students realize they have a role in prevention, and realize how many people’s lives it touches. If it’s not them, it’s their friends. I hope it explains what rape and sexual assault really is, especially when alcohol is involved. That consent is necessary. What they do get is awareness, understanding, and resources [contact information of confidential and non-confidential sources, as well as off campus resources].
Interviewer’s Note: If you or anyone you know have been the victim of sexual assault, don’t be afraid to reach out. You can get confidential support through the University Counseling Center, Health Services, and the Campus Ministry.