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Survivor Advocate aims to increase sexual assault awareness through monthlong events

Survivor Advocate aims to increase sexual assault awareness through monthlong events

Survivor Advocate aims to increase sexual assault awareness through monthlong events
April 22
14:50 2022

Content warning: This article contains language and themes surrounding sexual harassment, assault and misconduct that may be triggering. Reader discretion is advised.

UNT Survivor Advocate is hosting campus-wide events in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April. These activities, which vary from self-defense classes to guest speaker events, are dedicated to creating spaces for advocacy and healing for sexual assault survivors.

The position of survivor advocate was first started in 2015 to help sexual assault survivors feel comfortable speaking with others about their experiences and reporting such incidents. Since then, Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness said the office, as well as the university’s prevention education, has helped others find bravery and grace when talking about issues involving sexual assault and violence.

“No matter what, the first person you’re going to hear from is our survivor advocate,” McGuinness said. “We want you to feel safe because there’s a lot of trauma that comes with [sexual assault]. At UNT we don’t want to retraumatize anybody, we want to take care of you.”

This month, multiple university groups, including Her Campus and the Multicultural Center, have partnered with Survivor Advocate to educate others about SAAM and show support for sexual assault survivors. Survivor Advocate Kayleigh Garcia said it has been impactful seeing other organizations work hard to spread awareness about real issues on campus. Through this month’s activities, Garcia aims to open discussions regarding sexual assault and consent.

“I really hope that with events and conversations like this, we realize the gravity of the situation,” Garcia said. “[Sexual assault] is still happening and we have to know why.”

Additionally, Garcia said she wants others to become more familiar with Survivor Advocate, as many on campus have no idea the office exists. In doing so, she feels all members of the university community can benefit from knowing all that the program provides.

“More than likely you know somebody who needs my assistance, whether that’s a friend or a family member,” Garcia said. “If you know that I exist here on campus, even if it’s just a little nugget in your brain, you’re able to share that with somebody who I can really help.”

David Causey, community relations officer for the university police, said creating awareness for Survivor Advocate also helps increase students’ knowledge of other guiding resources for sexual assault survivors on campus.

“If [students] do experience sexual assault or are a survivor of sexual assault, they know all the different people that are here to help them,” Causey said. “We want them to know that we believe, them that we’re here for them and that we want to support them. We want to get them the help that they need.”

Community Garden Facilitator Eden Henson, a sexual assault survivor, partnered with other We Mean Green Fund staff in this month’s Salute the Sun yoga session and Self-care in the garden events. Henson said while they are very open about their experiences with sexual assault, they know not every survivor feels comfortable sharing their story. By focusing on self-care aspects of sexual assault awareness and recovery, Henson believes Survivor Advocate and its partners have highlighted key ways others can feel reassured and validated about their survivor experiences.

“When it comes to taking care of oneself after betrayal or violation, it is so important to reconnect with our body, which we have often sort of been disconnected from by those experiences,” Henson said. “That can increase that feeling of safety, community and reassurance and can begin healing and repairing.”

As the Survivor Advocate continues its work on campus, McGuinness said no matter what students struggle with, she wants them to know that there are people and resources who are here to help them along the way. Through the office’s efforts, McGuinness hopes others see how talking about sexual assault prevention and education is not just the responsibility of the survivor advocate, but of the whole campus.

“It’s everybody’s role to be a helper in retention, it’s everybody’s role to keep the campus safe and it’s everybody’s role to speak out against sexual outlets,” McGuinness said. “We will definitely make sure everybody’s a partner in that success.”

To contact The Survivor Advocate, call 940-565-2648 or email survivoradvocate@unt.edu. For more about the office and this month’s events, visit their Instagram @untsurvivoradvocate or website studentaffairs.unt.edu/survivor-advocate.

Featured Image: The sign for UNT’s Survivor Advocacy printed on the door of Suite 411 in the University Union on April 19, 2022. Photo by John Anderson

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Samantha Thornfelt

Samantha Thornfelt

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