Written by Shiying Cheng
At the Wellness Resource Center, one staff member and one student who are survivors of rape and abuse are stitching their stories on a square of red fabric. It is the last session of the Monument Quilt Workshop at Colorado College, an event that recognizes April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).
This year, Maria Mendez, the college’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), partnered with the Wellness Resource Center and the Butler Center to put together 16 events to raise awareness of sexual assault and create a healing space for survivors. The Monument Quilt Project is one of these events.
“The Monument Quilt Workshop is a unique project at CC this year,” said Heather Horton, Director of the Wellness Resource Center. “It is part of a larger national movement.”
The nationwide Monument Quilt is ‘a public healing space by and for survivors of rape and abuse’ according to the organization’s web site. Survivors of rape and abuse write, stitch, and paint their stories on squares of red fabric, which are sewn together and displayed in public spaces such as city and town centers. This year, 16 CC students participated in the Quilt Workshop. Participants’ final products took various forms, including natural scenes and emotional imagery.
“The voices of survivors have been silenced,” said Horton. “Sexual assault is a taboo topic in American society and many survivors fear being judged or disbelieved. The Monument Quilt Workshop gives survivors an opportunity to break the silence.” As for the next step, Horton said that the quilt would be on display on campus next week, and would then be sent to Washington and finally displayed on the National Mall.
Beyond the Monument Quilt Workshop, Sexual Assault Awareness Month has featured many other meaningful events. On March 31, national speaker Jeffrey Bucholtz came to CC’s campus to talk about how the media influences the way people look at sex and sexual assault. Student groups including Student Organization for Sexual Safety (SOSS), GROW, and The Healing Project, have also hosted peer-facilitated discussions and healing sessions every Sunday in April.
“Sexual assault is an underreported crime,” Mendez said. “There are a lot of silences surrounding the topic, which helps perpetuate the rape culture.” Mendez emphasized that people both directly and indirectly justify rape culture in daily life. When sexual assaults happen, the public tends to blame the victim by focusing on what the victim was wearing or how much alcohol had been consumed.
According to the National College Women Sexual Victimization study in 2000, one in four women experience completed or attempted sexual assault during their college years. Hypothetically, if CC has 275 female students per grade, then the college has 1,100 female students in total. Thus, in a four-year period, it can be assumed that the reported sexual assault rate at CC would be 11.4 percent between 2010 to 2016, much lower than the national average.
Data from CC’s annual report also demonstrates that sexual assault and rapes often go unreported. Sophomore Jamie Baum, one of the tri-chairs of SOSS, says CC has not yet reached an effective level of sexual assault activism, and that there is a large need for further campus-wide improvement. Based on her personal experience, she believes that the actual sexual assault rate at CC could be higher than 25 percent.
“The CC climate on sexual assault is not conducive to actual changes,” Baum said, “mostly because of a lack of awareness. Most students do not care about sexual assaults until someone around them or themselves get hurt.”
At the same time, CC’s annual report also shows a positive trend in the numbers of students who used SARC services in the last three years.
Mendez believes that Sexual Assault Awareness Month isa good opportunity to break the silence, bring awareness to the issue, and actually take a stance on preventing sexual assault.
“It is not the victim’s fault for what happened. Survivors should not go through it alone,” said Mendez. “To really end sexual assault, we have to engage the entire community, not just survivors or perpetrators. Everybody has a role to play. The first step of that is to raise awareness.”
Only when everyone is aware of the issue can the community make strides in preventing sexual assault from happening.