The Start by Believing campaign, organized by Plattsburgh State Health Educator and Outreach Coordinator Rhema Lewis and the PSUC peer health educators, kicked off this past Tuesday to educate the campus on what appropriate responses in the case of a person who has opened up about being raped or sexually assaulted.
According to startbybelieving.org, the campaign’s national website, this is a public awareness campaign. It was designed by End Violence Against Women International to change the way people respond to victims of physically abusive acts.
“We want to change the responses from what tends to be victim -blaming to something that supports survivors,” Lewis said.
Lewis said she believes education is the first step to any culture change. In the education process of the Start by Believing campaign, she hopes to inform people of what victim-blaming looks and sounds like because it isn’t always obvious that someone is being physically or sexually assaulted, which is why others need to be open when victims tell their stories.
Junior Jade Davis, a peer health educator, said there are three things to say to someone if they tell you they’ve been assaulted: “I believe you,” “It’s not your fault” and “I’m sorry this has happened to you.”
“The first interaction you have when someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted is the most important,” Davis said. “It can make them believe that they are supported or that they are isolated.”
Davis said the goal of the campaign is to end victim-blaming, let them feel supported and provide the resources they need to move forward. She said most people don’t realize the healing process for survivors of these types of abuse takes a long time, and it can be a scary process. Having support that knows to say “I believe you” will ease them into that process.
Lewis said instead of asking the victim how much they had to drink or why they wore the outfit they did, tell them that they are supported.
She said many of the posters promoting the campaign are “jarring and shocking.” Specifically, she mentioned one poster that reads “My daughter died in a car accident,” followed by “That’s what she gets for not taking the bus.”
“The point is to shock people, so that one day we can respond the same way to people who have been assaulted and say, ‘I would never say that,’” Lewis said.
The lead peer health educator for this campaign, freshman Dan Hulseapple, said there is a chain of events that can be disrupted if someone doesn’t believe a survivor of rape or sexual assault.
“If someone doesn’t believe them, it could stop them from going to the police to report it, and it will stop the police from bringing it to trial,” Hulseapple said.
He said one of the campaign partners is PSUC’s University Police because of the importance of this issue.
Lewis said society responds to survivors of sexual assault with questions, which blame the victim for what happened instead of telling them that they are believed and people are there to listen and support them. She said that is what she is trying to get the campus to do.
“I want it to be a part of changing the victim-blaming culture we have here on campus,” Lewis said. “Start by Believing is the very beginning. I want people to say, ‘I believe you,’ and move to a point where we can start discussing why it’s important, what rape culture is and how we can dismantle it.”
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