COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Though Ohio State University’s first official year of programming for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) was forced to adapt to pandemic restrictions, organizers say the campaign is laying the groundwork for a culture shift.
“Preventing violence and learning how to support survivors really helps support the well-being of everyone on our campus and it helps create this culture of care where folks feel empowered to recognize violence and to stop it,” said Cate Heaney Gary, the wellness coordinator for outreach and prevention at OSU.
Between March 29-April 22, Ohio State’s Student Wellness Center is hosting dozens of virtual events, discussions and exhibits highlighting sexual assault and promoting tools to prevent it and assist survivors. The month-long campaign compounds ongoing efforts to address the issue on campus.
“SAAM is really an opportunity to show support for survivors and further that conversation around prevention,” said Heaney Gary.
According to the CDC estimates, more than 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 4 men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes.
The university released its most recent statistics in December, showing reported rapes on campus jumping from 93 in 2018 to 118 in 2019. Heaney Gary said the increase may be due in part to growing awareness and education efforts.
She explained, “Folks are more aware of what sexual violence is and also what’s consensual and what’s not consensual.”
In the years since the Dr. Richard Strauss sexual abuse scandal rocked the university, Heaney Gary also noted the topic has received more attention.
“We’ve seen this conversation about sexual violence kind of come out of the dark,” she said. “That has really bolstered this idea that sexual violence is a public health issue.”
Students on campus commended the university’s efforts, but also recognized sexual assault often goes unreported.
“It’s a huge issue and I think we need to make a place where people are comfortable to talk about it,” said freshman Allison Himrod.
Heaney Gary explained awareness campaigns like SAAM promote conversations to ensure more people are comfortable coming forward.
“We are making great strides in building up a supportive community for a survivor if they would like to come forward. If they would like to talk with somebody, they know there is somebody they can do that to,” she said.
You can find details about upcoming virtual SAAM events OSU by clicking here.
Find a list of year-round on and off-campus resources here.