Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM): We Are Here For You
Updated: May 26, 2020
A Quick Conversation with Education Specialist Danielle Matern
On 30 days of SAAM:
April 2020 marks the 19th year of official national recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and The Turning Point’s (TTP) mission continues on: steadfast and strong. “Things look different right now, but one thing will not change - we will fight for survivors,” the rape crisis center writes on social media. Covid-19 has resulted in a full online presence this year.
Every day, TTP actively finds ways to support survivors virtually, posting for the thirty days of sexual assault awareness month (#30daysofSAAM) on social media. Day 2 highlights self-care through close-ups of puppies, too cute to handle. Day 5 depicts three people huddling together on a bench, their backs to us. Even in their darkest moments, they are not alone; they have found light in unexpected places. “We hold tight to one another and we are here for you,” the caption says. Day 13 showcases an employee’s daughter making blankets for survivors, the teal yarn spelling out “SAAM.”
On Empowered Education:
During Covid-19, the rape crisis center started a webinar series called “Empowered Education” with TTP Education Specialist Danielle Matern. Every week on “Empowered Education,” Danielle will address a new topic live on Zoom. The first two topics were “Myths and facts surrounding sexual violence” (April 9) and “Sexual harassment, consent vs. coercion” (April 16).
As Education Specialist, Danielle spends a majority of her time at public schools educating students (grades sixth to tenth) on relevant topics, including bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. She talks to the next generation, and provides them with tools to empower themselves with. “I hope that when they hear this, it evokes something in them that makes them want to create a change one way or another,” Danielle says.
The material is adjusted to match the appropriate age group. In sixth grade, they only discuss bullying and briefly touch on sexual harassment. In seventh grade, Danielle addresses bullying and sexual harassment equally, and in eight grade, she transitions to sexual harassment. A mixed ninth and tenth grade class focuses closely on sexual harassment and sexual assault, exploring the meaning of consent and how to respond in a bystander scenario.
In high school, Danielle remains with the same class for four days, so she spends a day addressing each part of “EPIC,” which stands for Educated, Proactive, Influential and Change.
E: Educating and defining the problem
P: Preventing and solving the problem - what happens if we don’t solve the problem? What could that lead to?
I: Influencing people - in a positive or negative way
C: Changing by getting involved - taking action or speaking up
With the word “Influential”, Danielle juxtaposes historical leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Adolf Hitler - examples of how our actions impact people around us - positively or negatively. Also, she discusses two of the most common terms that come up - bystander and consent.
A bystander is someone who is present in the situation, but doesn’t intervene - a witness, but not a participant. Sometimes, bystanders don’t get involved because they are afraid of what will come next or what people will think. Sometimes, it is because they believe someone else will take responsibility. But often, they just don’t feel prepared and may not be educated on how to properly handle the situation, especially in cases of sexual violence.
“When I talk to them about what it means to be a bystander, it knocks down that percentage of people who will fall into the bystander,” Danielle says. Danielle shows the class “What would you do” videos, where a person is witnessing a sexual assault or sexual harassment scenario. It can be eye-opening because students think if people see something bad happening, they will intervene. When they don’t intervene, “it puts into perspective why I am there and why I am talking to [the class] because it’s easy to see something and to not say something,” Danielle says.
When the topic of sexual harassment (any unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct that is sexual in nature) comes up, Danielle will ask the class what consent means, and some will say, “permission, asking.” “Consent is a clear, voluntary agreement - for a specific encounter and for a specific activity,” Danielle explains. Consent is making sure the other person is comfortable and okay with what is about to happen, and the absence of a “no” does not make it a yes: True consent takes into account verbal consent and what the body language is saying.
The important thing to understand with consent, Danielle says, is that it can be taken away at any point - you are always allowed to change your mind.
The concept of consent is explained so simply in this Tea Consent video: Don’t force someone to do something he or she doesn’t want to do. Coercion is forcing someone to do something through guilt, threats or pressure. “A healthy relationship isn't a transaction and sexual activity isn’t owed between partners - you’re not obligated to do anything,” Danielle says, clearing up a common myth that sexual assault cannot occur during an already existing intimate relationship.
At the end of each class, students write comments to Danielle, telling her what they learned and liked about her presentation: how the “What would they do” videos changed their perspectives and that before this presentation, they had never had a detailed conversation on this topic. But there was one comment that stayed with me.
It said, simply: “Change needs to start with us.”
For Further Interest:
Join Danielle on April 23 at 10 a.m. for the third of the webinar series “Empowered Education,” hosted on Zoom. Danielle will expand on the topic of “Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships and boundaries.”