Sexual Violence Awareness Week at Penn State – An Interview With The Founder

Have you seen these neon shirts saying “Only Do It With Consent” lighting up campus the past couple of days? The shirts are a key part of the week long philanthropic event: Sexual Violence Awareness Week at Penn State. #SVAW13 was created by Jasmin Enriquez, a senior at Penn State, to help correct collegiate perception of sexual violence, and to raise money for victims. We caught up with her to ask a few questions about the goals of #SVAW13 and how it came to be.

Q: What is Sexual Violence Awareness Week at Penn State and how did it get started?

A: Sexual Violence Awareness Week is a week long group of events hosted by a variety of organizations on campus that already have events focused on preventing sexual violence and being advocates for survivors. Each organization has a liaison that works on the planning committee and also leads an event during the week. I started Sexual Violence Awareness Week with the support and help of a friend who was also was assaulted. I knew that it was a huge problem on campus and I wanted to do something to prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else.

Q: What made you want to get involved in such a large way, who else have you been working with to plan this week-long event?

A: I founded Sexual Violence Awareness Week as well as Only With Consent because I knew that this problem not only affected Penn State, but communities all across the country and even the world. I may only be opening up the dialogue around sexual violence in the Penn State community right now, but my hope is that I am encouraging other people to speak out against sexual violence, too! Other organizations speaking out against sexual violence during Sexual Violence Awareness Week are UPUA (University Park Undergraduate Association) Triota (Women’s Studies Honors Society), PHREE (Peers Helping Reaffirm Educate and Empower), LGBT Coalition, One Heart, Men Against Violence, Center for Women Students, Centre County Women’s Resource Center and Only With Consent.

Q: Can you describe the purpose of tying the local music scene into the week’s festivities (Rock Against Rape This Friday?)

A: I believe music is a form of expression that can be very helpful for survivors. It is also a great method of unifying a community. We wanted to encourage students and community members to stand with us and break the silence that surrounds rape. The best way we thought we could do that is with music. Most of the time survivors are told to quiet down about their experience because it is too scary or makes other people feel uncomfortable, but we want to encourage survivors to speak out and express themselves in a healthy manner that can start or continue their journey of healing.

Q: Last year students were able show their support for the cause via the neon “Only Do It With Consent” shirts. Will those be available again this year? Where can students get their hands on them?

A: Yes! Thanks to UPUA, we will have plenty of shirts for students interested in supporting the cause. They can visit our table in the HUB near Starbucks from 10am-3pm and also come to the events we have planned during the week!

Q: As someone who considers themselves a legitimate activist, how do you feel about people who wear a supportive wrist-band to be trendy but don’t lend a hand in the cause further than that. Does every little bit really count?

A: I avoid terms like “legitimate” because I think people have different forms of getting involved. I think I am an activist but I don’t value what I do more than other people. I do think every little bit counts, especially around sexual violence because my goal is to open up the dialogue around sexual violence. Wearing a wristband or a shirt is the first step to getting people talking about the topic! Once the stigma is removed, then we could get to the root of the problem.

Q: What is your take on causes who get blasted by the media for spend more money on PR than they do on victim relief, such as Invisible Children which was heavily attacked this time last year. Are dollars spent on awareness as powerful as dollars spent on people?

A: You have my response in your question. The key words are “victim relief.” My purpose is to prevent anyone from having to experience the trauma that comes with sexual violence. We are focused on primary prevention. That means that our goal is to get students to stand up and show that they do not accept that kind of despicable act. When people in all different friend circles start standing up and no longer accept this kind of maltreatment of other human beings, social change is created. But, we did raise money at the 4k/6k, and will continue to raise money at the Chipotle fundraiser and Rock Against Rape.

Q: If all goes to plan, what will the full impact of this initiative be by the weeks end (what is the ultimate goal of SVAW?)

A: The full impact will be that survivors know that people on campus believe them and support them. Beyond that, the shirts are a simple reminder that sexual violence is always unacceptable and consent is necessary. I am not saying don’t have sex or participate in sexual activity, but I am saying that you need to get consent first. This will start the prevention of sexual violence here at Penn State now, and then in the future when our students move away to different communities throughout the world, that same message will travel with them.

Q: Do you plan to continue this work, and do you foresee anyone picking up the torch with #SVAW once you graduate this May?

A: Yes, I plan to start my own non-profit focused on teaching people about consent from kindergarten through college. Obviously, the approach will be age appropriate but it will hopefully prevent sexual violence in all age groups. I do see Sexual Violence Awareness Week continuing on after I graduate. I look forward to passing down the torch, but first we have to get through the week!

#SVAW13 started on Friday, but there are still plenty of events to go to, plenty of ways to get shirts, and plenty of ways to stand up against sexual violence!

Check out the full schedule below, and go join the facebook group for Rock Against Rape!

And take a look at this informational piece about last years sexual violence awareness week, made by Eric Feinstein!