Sexual assault awareness project at UTEP encourages people to speak up

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EL PASO – Organizers of a violence awareness project showcased throughout the UTEP campus this semester hope that students and visitors learn everyone is vulnerable to sexual assault and that everyone has a responsibility to hold people accountable.

Hundreds of T-shirts emblazoned by art and anti violence messages were displayed at various busy locations on campus as part of the Clothesline Project launched in April for Sexual Assault Awareness month.

According to the 2016 University of Texas at El Paso Annual Security and Fire Safety report, known as the Clery report, there were there were several incidents of sexual assault related offenses on campus from 2013-2015. During this three year period, there were four total reports of rape or forcible sex ofenses that occured in student housing – one rape was reported in 2015 and three forcible sex offenses were reported in 2013.

The Clery report also states that there was one incident reported of fondling inside campus property in 2015, and an incident of fondling inside a student housing facility in 2014.

A 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “in a study of undergraduate women, 19% experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.”

Arely Hernandez, a Coordinator for the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolutions, explains that the concept for the project is a set of shirts designed by both survivors and victims of sexual assault. Many other students also worked on designing the t-shirts, in the hope of spreading the message of sexual assault awareness and prevention.

“It’s a way to provide that awareness piece to our community,” said Hernandez.

She explains that the shirts are designed and illustrated to show the impact of what happens in the survivor’s life. Some of the shirts are visually colorful others have messages.

“I know that it is a healing process for them as they are sharing their stories some of them for their first time,” Hernandez said. “Just by being able to decorate it is like releasing a lot of pain and those emotions that they have been carrying with them.”

Hernandez says the university is not directly involved in the designing process of the t-shirts. Individuals who seek services at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence make the shirts. The shirts are then taken from the CASFV to UTEP to be showcased throughout the campus.

“We have them up there and we rotate them every year to make sure that we have different T-shirts out there with the messages, but its always about awareness and prevention,” said Hernandez.

She says for the past two years they have rotated the shirts throughout various locations on campus.

During the month of April the shirts started out at the Liberal Arts Lawn, then Leech Grove followed by the Library lawn then ended their journey at the Student Union.

UTEP-Clothesline-Project-fo

Along with The Clothesline Project, Hernandez says the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution had other events throughout April to spread awareness. The office hosted an advocacy fair and fashion show, various projects and workshops along with the Teal Project.

She says the Teal Project consists of teal nail color painting stations located near the vicinity of the Clothesline Project where students are asked to pledge to support survivors of sexual assault along with helping prevent it on campus and in the community. Students who have pledged will then have their pinky nail painted in teal nail polish to show support.

Their final project for the month of April was a “Take back the night event.” During this event survivors of sexual assault shared their story; some of them do so for the first time. Two survivors spoke out this year. One of the women shared her story on the one-year anniversary of her assault.

She explained how her boyfriend’s childhood friend had assaulted her while he drove her home one night after getting few drinks. She explained no matter how hard she tried to stay awake she fell into a drunken slumber during which she was assaulted.

The woman thanked her advocate and her boyfriend for her supporting her through the healing process. Just one year after being assaulted, she says she still has triggers, including becoming anxious when riding shotgun in her best friend’s car. She also says she still questions her relationships with male friends.

Writer and poet Staceyann Chin, was a keynote speaker at the event. She like other women who spoke out was also sexually assaulted.

Chin read from her memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir,” and provided advice. She advised survivors of sexual assault to be resilient. She said that by doing so they can conquer anything.

The event ended with a candle light vigil to commemorate both men and women who have suffered from sexual violence. The event concluded with the crowd chanting, “bring back the light, take back the night.”

“Students are our eyes and ears and it’s important they report if they see or hear something,” said Hernandez.

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