Support and Solidarity, Ending Victim Blaming

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Posted Thu, Apr 23, 2015

Phoenix Center Clothesline Project

Phoenix Center Clothesline Project addresses the issue of violence against all genders. [Photo by Cheyenne DeChristopher]

DENVER, Auraria Campus – Muffled conversations accompanied by slow shuffles and quick clacks of heels against the tiled floor reverberate within the Tivoli Student Union. Among this sporadic movement, many individuals slow their pace and glance upward to the multi-colored T-shirt display hanging adjacent to the spiral staircase in the Tivoli’s atrium.

As part of the Phoenix Center Clothesline Project, rows of black, yellow, green and red T-shirts are pinned onto multiple clotheslines intersecting the center of the complex. A slight breeze from the building’s air conditioner ripples the cotton hand-painted fabrics with messages of personal experience and solidarity for victims of sexual assault.

Awareness Month

Nearly one in five women, and one in 71 men report experiencing rape at some point in their lives, according to a 2012 Centers of Disease Control survey on sexual violence. However, one in 20 men and women have had experienced sexual violence, other than rape in the 12 months prior to the CDC survey.

Enter the Phoenix Center located in Auraria’s Tivoli, Suite 259. The resource organization, which offers assistance to campus students, staff and faculty experiencing interpersonal violence, saw 28 clients, responded to 10 on scene cases, and received 22 calls to the helpline regarding sexual assaults in 2014.

The frequency of sexual assault has prompted individuals, organizations and campuses across the nation to declare April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Phoenix Center Clothesline Project

Started in Cape Cod, Mass., the Phoenix Center Clothesline Project is a colorful and emotional testimony to the problem of sexual harassment and violence towards all genders. [Photo by Cheyenne DeChristopher]

Sexual assault, according to Jenn Doe, the Phoenix Center’s violence prevention and education coordinator, is an umbrella term referring to a continuum of behaviors that involve unwanted sexual contact. For the Center, this can include anything from verbal sexual harassment, to rape or other intrusive behaviors. Anyone can be the victim or perpetrator of sexual assault regardless of gender identity.

Misconceptions

Despite the misconception of a stranger or violent offender, “It’s actually much more common that sexual assault is perpetrated by someone you know,” Doe says.

Another false idea regarding sexual assault is that the victim’s choice of clothing has somehow prompted the attack. According to Doe, sexual assault occurs regardless of an individuals actions or what they choose to wear.

“Sexual assault is not about sexual desire — it’s about power and control,” Doe says. “It’s about a person wanting to take control over another person and force them to do something.”

This idea of victim blaming — the notion that those who experience sexual assaults themselves are somehow at fault due to their actions  — is not only untrue, according to Doe, but creates an unsafe atmosphere for survivors of sexual assault to share their stories or get help.

Raising Awareness

Phoenix Center Clothesline Project

The eye-catching T-shirts decorating the Tivoli’s atrium’s is an artistic expression giving voice to those speaking out against domestic violence and sexual harrassment. [Photo by Cheyenne DeChristopher]

“If someone comes to you and discloses that they experienced sexual assault, probably one of the most important things is to believe them,” Doe says.

Regardless of whom they were with, or what they were doing, one supporting survivor of sexual assault should remind them so that their experience is valid. Doe says some victims may freeze and not scream or fight back, however, these actions do not mean they gave active consent during their experience. Supporters may also share resources, such as the Phoenix Center — where, if they so choose, survivors may go for help.

The Phoenix Center is able to assist survivors of sexual assault, whether the incident happened on campus or not, by providing advocates who will speak with survivors about their experience, and can give referrals for long-term counseling or legal resources if needed. The Phoenix Center’s staff are also able to help explain to professors why a student needs an extension on assignments or time off from class.

To use the Center, one can make an appointment, walk in, or call the 24/7 helpline (303-556-2255). All services are free and confidential.

Beside providing individual help, The Phoenix Center also hosts activities, such as the annual Clothesline Project, which helps raise awareness around issues like sexual assault.

Healing Through Artistic Expression

Doe describes this national campaign as “a way for people to heal through artistic expression.” Shirts have been decorated by survivors, friends of survivors and supporters for victims of sexual assault. “It allows a voice to be given to the voiceless, because a lot of times people don’t speak out about these issues, so that might be the only way they feel comfortable doing that,” Doe explains.

By raising awareness people like MSU Denver student Kate Ballard, who was found gazing up at the carefully decorated shirts, are encouraged to reflect on this issue. “It makes me realize it’s more of a problem than I think it is,” Ballard says.

Though submissions for the Clothesline Project are now closed, the Phoenix Center will hold more events through the month of April, including the upcoming Denim Day on the 29th.

For more information about Phoenix Center events or resources offered, visit their website, thepca.org.

The helpline can be reached 24/7 (303-556-2255).

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