By Aja Witt
The month of April has been nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month for nearly 16 years. But at the University of Iowa, awareness has turned into activism.
“Our feeling locally is that it’s time to move beyond awareness,” said Susan Junis, assistant director for prevention & outreach at the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. “It’s great to be aware and to know that sexual violence is a problem, but we want people to take action.”
With a focus on community activism, and in preparation for the upcoming month, RVAP hosted a button-making party at the Women’s Resource and Action Center on Tuesday evening.
Handmade buttons reading such things as “advocate,” “consent is necessary,” and “end rape culture,” will be worn throughout the month of April at more than 15 events organized by RVAP, WRAC, Nisaa African Family Services, and the Johnson County Department of Public Health, among other organizations.
“The buttons we are making are to identify our advocates at our [April’s] events,” said Britt Griffin, a RVAP community prevention coordinator. “That way, if there’s a survivor, or somebody that knows a survivor, they’d know they have someone to talk to.”
The organization plans to sell these buttons, along with advocacy T-shirts, at the White Rabbit clothing store during the month. The proceeds of this fundraiser will go to RVAP, which has seen recent budget cuts.
“What we’ve heard is that we’re looking at somewhere in between a 22 percent and 45 percent cut of funding,” Griffin said. “Between a $1.4 million and $3 million cut to the state for [sexual and domestic] survivor services.”
During April, a Consent Karaoke night at Studio 13 will also help with raising funds for RVAP.
Other events include Rock Against Rape, Take Back the Night, Anti Street Harassment Day, Queering Consent, and Voices Against Violence on Bodies of Color.
Junis said the theme for this year’s Sexual Assault Activism Month is “Breaking out of the Margins,” which will focus on historically marginalized voices.
“The movement tends to silence voices that aren’t the dominant voices in the population when they’re discussing sexual violence and how that impacts their communities,” Junis said. “We really want to work on that this year.”
The Clothesline Project, an annual event hosted by RVAP, works to center the voices of gendered, sexual, and domestic violence survivors, as well as survivors of hate crimes driven by gender identity and sexual orientation, Junis said. The project features nearly 500 T-Shirts, designed by survivors, which the UI has been collecting over 20 years.
WRAC Director Linda Stewart Kroon said the UI’s violence-prevention programs will offer various training and educational programs throughout April as well.
“We’ll have a series of workshops, training opportunities, and discussions to get people engaged during the month of April,” Kroon said. “Beyond simply just making people aware of the issue, we want to engage people in taking action.”