April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Southern Miss organizations are participating in SAAM to raise awareness and provide education about the dangers of sexual violence throughout Hattiesburg.
The Sexual Assault Prevention Ambassadors is an on-campus organization led by students advocating for those affected by sexual violence. SAPA also provides resources and education regarding sexual assault and prevention.
Selma Newbill, the president and founder of SAPA, explained the virtual efforts being made.
“Looking back on other years of SAAM, no matter what, those who want to end sexual assault and abuse will always find ways to advocate for awareness and prevention,” Newbill said.
SAPA encourages anyone and everyone to advocate. While many feel isolated while quarantined at home and feel as though they don’t have a voice, Newbill said there are many ways to advocate throughout April.
For anyone interested in advocating for sexual assault awareness, Denim Day, which encourages others to wear jeans for sexual assault awareness, is on April 29.
“You do not have to be big and grandiose with your showing of support; being quiet but firm in your beliefs is OK too,” Newbill said. “All kinds of support is needed and welcomed to make sure people feel safe around others and to put a forever stop to sexual violence.”
Title IX is also still assisting survivors locally. Rebecca Woodrick Malley Ph.D., the Title IX coordinator for Southern Miss, said counselors shouldn’t be the only ones there for a survivor.
“Friends and family can help survivors by getting them in touch with resources,” Malley said. “It’s important for family and friends to not allow themselves to become surrogate counselors.”
In addition to SAPA holding virtual events, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center is hosting an Instagram challenge called #30DaysofSAAM. Megan Thomas, the communications specialist for NSVRC, explained the importance of online engagement.
“We’re hoping this is a way for people to build community and share inspiration virtually,” Thomas said. “Getting involved in SAAM looks a little different this year than it has in years past, but there are still plenty of ways to get engaged online.”
The SAAM events include trivia games and virtual walks as well as graphics for reposting. Many can even donate online to their local rape crisis center in order to raise funds for survivors.
Along with monetary and online support, Thomas urges assistance for survivors in a more personal manner as well. She feels the most important way to positively affect survivors is to make a personal connection with them simply by starting a conversation.
“You can start by just being there for them and listening non-judgmentally if they want to talk,” Thomas said. “Letting them know that you believe them and are there for them can make a world of difference.”