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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


‘Ongoing and never unchanging’: Local efforts center progress, prevention this Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April 2023 marks 22nd anniversary of SAAM
Riley Steinbrenner

CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. If you have been sexually assaulted, experienced domestic violence, or are not sure, there are several ways to get support. View options on campus through University Health Services.

Editor’s Note: In this article, individuals who have experienced sexual assault or sexual violence will be referred to as survivors, but it should be noted that not all people with these experiences identify with this term.

This April marks the 22nd anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which brings attention to the pervasiveness of sexual assault and informs individuals and communities on how to prevent it.


Groups on and off the University of Wisconsin campus, such as the University Health Services and the Dane County RCC: Sexual Violence Resource Center, are promoting prevention and awareness through events, advocacy, outreach, education, media and more throughout the month.

“SAAM is recognized with the understanding that it’s hard to prevent an issue no one knows about, and it’s difficult to make people aware of a problem without providing a solution,” Violence Prevention Specialist Chynna Lewis said in an email statement to The Badger Herald.

Activists championing social change and equality movements — largely forged by Black women and people of color during the Civil Rights movement — have done this work for years, Lewis said.

UHS works closely with the Dane County RCC: Sexual Violence Resource Center, which centers survivors in their work to advocate for those impacted by sexual violence, stimulate societal change and support social equity progress. The RCC provides direct service to survivors including legal and medical accompaniments, emotional support and advocacy, therapy, prevention education and outreach.

Executive Director at RCC: Sexual Violence Resource Center Dana Pellebon said the main purpose of the month is to get people talking about sexual assault and the awareness therein. This year, many people are stepping up to support SAAM, Pellebon said.

“I think support builds every year,” Pellebon said. “So this year, we have more events than what we’ve had traditionally in the past, and we’ve done more partnerships than in the past.”

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Another difference from other years is the coordination and collaboration between Survivor Services and the RCC, according to Pellebon.

Streamlined access to forensic exams at UW has been a massive change, Pellebon said. This access began when UW associate professor in the Gender and Women’s Studies and Psychology departments Kate Walsh was awarded a $500,000 federal grant to expand sexual assault services on campus.

The grant has two parts — medical forensic care and advocacy. The funding for medical forensic care allows for rape kits — sets of tools and procedures that forensic nurse examiners use to collect evidence after someone experiences a sexual assault — to be brought directly to students on campus instead of requiring students to go to Meriter Hospital. Before this program, Meriter was the only place in Dane County where UW students could only get a rape kit.

“[The program] has expanded access to services for UW students in ways I haven’t seen in years,” Pellebon said. “We are all working together instead of working in silos.”

Lewis said there has also been a continuous investment in staffing. The Sexual Misconduct Resource and Response Program has hired new investigators and added case managers and Survivor Services now has two full-time advocates.

SAAM-themed events will take place throughout the month of April. The events include the RCC’s 50th-anniversary art show April 14 at Union South and the SAAM Chimera Workshop April 16. Chimera is a type of self-defense that teaches “awareness, assertiveness and physical protection skills” originally tailored to women, according to the RCC website.

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UHS Violence Prevention and the RCC are also holding a Safer Bar training April 27 for students working in the alcohol-serving industry. The training will teach deescalation and bystander intervention skills. Those interested in the training can sign up here.

To conclude the month and celebrate their 50th anniversary, the RCC will host a rally celebration April 30 at the Wisconsin State Capitol. The rally will encourage conversation around sexual assault by focusing on the empowerment generated by 50 years of the work of local activists.

But, Pellebon said, while SAAM generates meaningful conversation and awareness, the work is constant and expands beyond just the month of April.

“My work every single day is to improve the services of survivors in our county and in our state,” Pellebon said. “This is borne out through the various committees that I run and teams that I co-lead and lead both locally and, again, across the state. So that work is ongoing and never unchanging.”

This dynamism can be seen in The Dane County RCC: Sexual Violence Resource Center’s recent rebrand from “Dane County Rape Crisis Center.” 

After receiving feedback from survivors that the name was fairly emotionally activating, especially those who were not in immediate crisis, the RCC decided the new name better demonstrates the services the center provides, according to Pellebon.

“In addition, [the previous name] was limiting knowledge about what it is that we do as a whole,” Pellebon said. “Yes, we do have crisis services, but that’s just one part of all of the things that we do.”

Pellebon said many agencies like the RCC have changed their name to mirror the current conversation around sexual violence. When the RCC started this work in 1973 as a grassroots volunteer collective-turned-nonprofit, the name “Rape Crisis Center” was specific and purposeful because it helped people understand that rape and sexual assault is something that needs to be talked about. 

But now, the name reflects how the services at the RCC go beyond rape and sexual assault, and include resources and support around the many forms of sexual violence.

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This month highlights the potential for growth, according to Lewis. Namely, she would like to maintain current required programs for first years and expand violence prevention education expectations for undergraduates by offering annual online refresher courses at the start of each academic year. She said she would also like to see outreach expand to graduate and professional students at UW.

“We have over 20-full time staff at the university that do research, prevention, and response related work around sexual violence,” Lewis said. “We would love to continue building partnerships with those professionals doing work.”

Other SAAM events can be found here.

Resources regarding sexual assault:

  • RCC: Sexual Violence Resource Center (608)-251-7273
  • Let’s Talk:
    • Sex, Sexuality and Healthy Relationships” section
  • Room to be Safe: For Queer survivors of violence: (414) 856-LGBT (5428)
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224
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