As I write this, it’s nearly the end of October. I’m in the midst of University students, sitting in Newcomb Hall Theater waiting for the Pi Lambda Phi “Hoos Got Talent” show to start.
Last year was challenging. As a Charlottesville resident, a University graduate, and the executive director of Sexual Assault Resource Agency, I was acutely aware of how difficult a time it was. From my perspective, I was most aware of what a hard time it was — and still is — for survivors of sexual violence.
Policy changes have been implemented at the University, legislative changes were passed by the Virginia General Assembly and prevention education efforts have been created and increased. Have these changes made a difference?
There seems to be a great deal of misinformation about these changes, and if what I hear — and what I see at SARA — is true, for myriad reasons, students are reluctant to come forward if they have been victims of sexual violence. While it might be nice to believe prevention efforts are making a difference, I know true change for lessening sexual violence requires cultural change, and changing culture takes time and commitment.
SARA’s services to survivors are free and confidential. Our services are consent-based — we do not force a survivor to do anything she or he doesn’t want to do. We won’t force anyone to go to the police, we will not report sexual assaults to the Dean of Students office or the Title IX Coordinator. Our job is to advocate for and support survivors.
I worry survivors have been silenced, that they don’t feel like it is safe to get medical care, that it is not safe to tell anyone, that they won’t be supported and believed. Please know that SARA will believe you. We are only a phone call away with our 24-hour hotline at 434-977-7273.
Sexual Assault Resource Agency