With the month of April established as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, also known as SAAM, organizations and community members in the Madison area are collaborating with the University of Wisconsin campus community to raise awareness about the impact of sexual violence and rape culture.
Promoting Awareness and Victim Empowerment is in the midst of a series of events related to empowering and uplifting survivors. These include various support sessions, a keynote speech from Jacquira Díaz on Apr. 20, a collective art gathering for body mapping and an open mic Apr. 24.
PAVE, in collaboration with Dane County RCC, will spend a few days per week this month handing out free, inclusive menstrual kits and safer sex kits to UW students, RCC Co-Executive Director and Director of Outreach Missy Mael said.
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Students and other community members can also look forward to a virtual luncheon on April 24, focused on the theme, ‘Re-Imagining Collective Access to Care.’
The luncheon will feature a panel discussion, as well as a performance from Swing State Aerial, which recruits and trains people from all identities in aerial performance with a body-positive focus, Mael said.
“Sexual Assault Awareness Month is an opportunity for us to educate people … and also to empower survivors,” Mael said.
In addition to working with PAVE, the RCC has also been hosting its own events for SAAM.
Last Friday the organization live-streamed Black Survivor Panel, which highlighted the unique barriers faced by Black survivors accessing care, Mael said.
Another anticipated event for RCC was “We Step Into the Light,” which also took place Friday evening at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Survivors told their stories to artists who then created art pieces for them in return.
In addition to supporting survivors in times of crisis, it’s important to honor their experiences and uplift their voices should they choose to share their stories, Mael said.
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Outside of SAAM, Mael said the RCC is working on several ongoing initiatives to improve their role in serving the community. This includes expanding services to provide comprehensive, no-cost mental health care — instead of having to refer clients to long waiting lists — and implementing the national Safer Bar program, which aims to ensure bar employees are more equipped to recognize signs of and prevent sexual assault.
Additionally, RCC is rebranding itself following internal considerations and community input this past fall. Though the acronym RCC is conveniently recognizable, the word “rape” is a very charged word and can be triggering for survivors, Mael said. The organization has since been renamed RCC Sexual Violence Resource Center.
“Anytime we empower and build leadership skills and build confidence in people, … we’re building skills that can prevent sexual violence,” Mael said.