"Start by Believing" campaign changes negative stigma on sexual violence

Audience members holding Start by Believing flyers. Their names are written on them, followed by the statement, "When someone tells me they were raped or sexually assaulted, I Start by Believing."

In an effort to change the publics' response to sexual assault, the "Start by Believing" campaign was held at Eastern Michigan University on Monday, Oct. 10.

"Start by Believing" is a public awareness campaign designed by End Violence Against Women International that aims to spread awareness and change the way sexual violence is perceived on campus.

While the turnout for the event was small, parties in attendance include members from both the University of Michigan and EMU Special Victims Units, Title IX Coordinator Melody Werner, Arianne Slay, Washtenaw County assistant prosecutor, and Ellen Gold, assistant vice president for student well-being at EMU.

"20 years ago the sense of awareness for dealing with sexual violence was at, very much very minimum," said Bob Heighs, EMU chief of police. "Today, because of programs like this the awareness is much higher, especially on our campus community."

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center over 90 percent of victims don't report sexual assault. One in five women will also be raped at some point in their lives.

At the event Slay made the comparison that the audience is a choir and that this is an opportunity for them to sing. She urged everyone to sing to those who didn't make it to the event because they need to know that this is an issue that affects everyone.

"This is a human issue. This is an issue for all of us," Slay said. "This is the way that we stay safe in our communities and that we heal for those of us who have already been wronged."

"I Choose" Campaign

Halfway into the "Start by Believing" event Ellen Gold was introduced to present the "I Choose" campaign, which aims to educate the campus community and prevent sexual violence. Four efforts of the "I Choose" campaign include:

  • Helping students report and reduce the negative stigma of seeking support
  • Reduce negative attitudes around sexual assault, especially around the area of victim blaming
  • Increase the number of campus members who know about their new policy, how to report and available resources
  • Creating a coordinated campus effort

Before the start of the campaign Gold noted there was a lot of focus grouping with students. International students, students of color, honors students, students in the LGBTQ community and other target audiences were used to develop effective messaging that will resonate with all students.

The word "report" was changed to "telling someone" as well as other language previously used was changed to make it less harsh to students. A detailed survivor's handbook is also being created.

According to Gold, students were behind calling it the "I Choose" campaign. Students were used in the campaign and came up with the tagline in the "I Choose" posters.

"We didn't want actors, we didn't want someone off the street," Gold said. "We wanted students who feel it and understand it."

Gold and members of the "I Choose" campaign are collaborating with resident advisors to create "I Choose" boards in the residence halls that students can interact with and hang posters. A program that teaches male students how to be better allies against sexual violence is also being worked on.

"We're kind of changing that victim blaming," Gold said."I don't care if they were drinking. I don't care the way they were dressed. No one deserves to be assaulted."

Gold said that the public might see the number of sexual violence cases go up and think that there is a problem on campus.

"We need to remind them it's not that the numbers have increased, its that we have a campus now that supports survivors and now individuals are more comfortable coming to us and telling us," Gold said. "That's what I want to have happen."


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