We have to talk about it

by the YWCA West Central Michigan

One of the infinitely great things about running in Gazelle Girl is the chance to be part of something bigger than yourself. There’s an amazing spirit surrounding the event – and part of that comes from knowing the proceeds are being donated back to local charities that empower women.

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We at the YWCA West Central Michigan are so proud to be one of the charity partners. And this year, race day happens to be during one of our most important months: Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

No doubt, sexual assault can be tough to talk about. But when 1 in 5 women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives (Black et al., 2011), you can’t NOT talk about it. This is a huge issue, and it happens right here in our community.

So in April, we’re all about putting it out there. This is not okay. Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact (including words or actions), and no one deserves to experience it.

The theme for this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “Prevention is Possible.” And really, prevention is possible. Here at the YW, we often say that sexual violence is a community problem requiring community solutions. It’s up to all of us, together, to challenge victim-blaming and believe survivors when they disclose. We can create a culture of empathy, respect, and equity. It’s possible.

Here are key things you can do to prevent sexual violence:

  • Intervene to stop concerning behavior. If something doesn’t seem right to you, trust your gut. It doesn’t have to be dramatic – a simple “she said no, time to move on” can be the difference in keeping someone safe.
  • Speak up when you hear rape jokes or harmful comments. “I don’t think that’s funny” or “that’s offensive to me” could make someone think twice about using that language again.
  • Believe and support survivors. If someone discloses to you, tell them you believe them.
  • Check with your workplace or school to see if they have prevention policies. If there aren’t any, start the conversation or volunteer to help draft them.
  • Coordinate a community event to raise awareness. Bringing the topic out in the open lets everyone know this is not okay – and helps survivors know they’re not alone.
  • Make your support public. You can turn your profile picture on social media teal for April with this. Use tweets, posts, and status updates to spread the word about #SAAM.
  • Email legislators to gain support for prevention and services. Find your elected officials and their contact info here.

(list adapted from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, nsvrc.org/saam)

The YWCA provides a variety of services for survivors of sexual assault, including support groups, counseling, 24-hour medical-forensic exams (or “rape exams”), advocacy, and shelter. If you or someone you know ever needs help, call our 24-hour confidential sexual assault line at 616-776-7273 (776-RAPE).

We encourage you to speak up and speak out against sexual violence, all the time, but especially right now in April. Thank you so much for your support through Gazelle Girl, and thank you for empowering women!

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About YWCA West Central Michigan

The YWCA West Central Michigan transforms lives with empowerment programs for girls and the community’s most comprehensive services to address domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and child sexual abuse. At the heart of that work is our mission: eliminating racism; empowering women and girls; and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.

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