April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and Child Abuse Prevention Month, campaigns to raise awareness about sexual violence, and to hear, believe, and support survivors. Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes any type of unwanted sexual contact — including sexual assault, harassment, and abuse; see nsvrc.org/saam. Chances are someone in your life is a survivor of sexual harassment, assault, or abuse, even if they have never shared their story with you. Show your support for survivors this month by raising awareness and taking action.

“After 30 years of being in the movement and trying to raise funds for sexual assault issues, donors and businesses are still uncomfortable talking about and supporting sexual assault awareness efforts,” says Lynnette Irlmeier, Executive Director, Empower Yolo. This makes awareness and prevention efforts more challenging for Empower Yolo advocates. Conversations around sexual assault can be uncomfortable or rather make them an opportunity to learn more about rape culture, listen and support survivors, amplify the voices of the marginalized, be more aware of the language we use, and truly understand consent.

In 2022, 427 survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking (of which 156 were children) received advocacy, accompaniment, and/or support services from Empower Yolo. These statistics reveal the issues are very real in our community and they affect hundreds of adults and children.

This month Empower Yolo highlights prevention, healing, recovery, equity, and activism. Our call to action for the community is to join us in the movement to raise awareness and support survivors. These are concrete ways you can support Empower Yolo and take action:

Prevention – Prevention education for our youths is essential and is usually unfunded. Empower Yolo’s prevention education program is focused on promoting healthy relationships and preventing abuse and rape in teen relationships. Empower Yolo advocates educate teens about healthy relationships through the My Strength, Be Strong, and Our Strength clubs in schools. My Strength Club invites young men to a group that doesn’t see them as part of the problem, but rather as the solution by exploring the role of men to stop dating violence and rape. The Be Strong program, an asset-based health promotion and violence prevention curriculum, empowers young women, and Our Strength is a gender-inclusive prevention program. Group topics cover a range of issues including abuse types, date rape, predatory drugs, teen dating violence, healthy relationships, and bystander intervention. A business or donor could sponsor one of these clubs to support local youths.

Healing – Empower Yoga is an 8-week trauma-informed yoga series for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. It’s a safe space to support healing. Sponsor an 8-week session or a class for a survivor.

Equity – VALOR, California’s state sexual assault coalition’s SAAM campaign theme this year is called “Equity in Action,” the intersection of sexual violence with other forms of oppression. As a member of VALOR, we ask you to join us in increasing our capacity to assert the dignity of all people. Systems of oppression such as sexism and racism contribute to higher rates of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. Empower Yolo recognizes that it will take ending all forms of oppression to end sexual violence. We call on all individuals, communities, organizations, and institutions to change ourselves, and the systems surrounding us, to build equity and respect.

Activism – April 26th is Denim Day. Denim Day is all about spreading awareness around sexual violence issues, supporting survivors, and educating others, and ourselves. The campaign began after a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped the person who raped her remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. Denim Day asks community members to make a social statement with their fashion by wearing jeans on this day as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual violence. On April 26 post a selfie in denim and tag @empower_yolo #DenimDay2023. There will also be a Denim Day Rally for Sexual Assault Awareness Month at the state capitol on April 26 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. For more info visit denimday.org.

This month we also call on students and young leaders to talk about the work they are doing in their communities to end sexual violence.

At Davis Senior High School (DHS) students are taking action to raise awareness about sexual assault. Some students in a Race and Social Justice class created a sexual assault survey to research more on the topic. “After the assemblies last year [at DHS] that upset a lot of students we wanted to research how and what DJUSD and DHS specifically are doing to prevent sexual harassment/assault in Davis schools. We also want to find ways to improve people’s knowledge of the problem,” says Luke Isidor, Junior, DHS and member of Empower Youth Service Club.

The goal of the survey is to collect data and people’s answers on if they feel safe at DHS and what the school can improve upon regarding raising awareness and supporting sexual assault survivors. The group will then give a presentation to the public regarding the issue. “After our group did research we realized that DHS doesn’t do much to help survivors of sexual assault or raise awareness on the issues. The handbook seems outdated and there are relatively no posters in the bathrooms. We want to change that and put more information around DHS,” says Isidor.

Empower Youth (a service club at DHS that supports Empower Yolo) members will be passing out SAAM stickers with Empower Yolo’s hotline and website, and will be hosting a presentation and social media awareness campaign on SAAM. Players from the UC Davis women’s lacrosse team will be giving a healthy relationships talk at one of their meetings and club members and the community are invited to the One Love lacrosse game, which promotes healthy relationships on April 15 at 1 p.m. at UC Davis Health Stadium. Join us in building equity and respect within our communities, workplaces, and schools for the future of our youths – as it is crucial to making real change.

April is also National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 23–29, 2023. The theme this year —Survivor Voices: Elevate. Engage. Effect Change —calls upon communities to amplify the voices of survivors and commit to creating an environment where survivors have the confidence that they will be heard, believed, and supported. Yolo County Victim Services will begin National Crime Victims’ Rights Week with its annual Crime Victims’ Tribute, which honors Yolo County crime victim-survivors, their families, and those that advocate on their behalf. The event will be held on April 25, 2023, 12:00 – 1:00 pm., at the Woodland Opera House, 340 Second Street, in Woodland.

This month Empower Yolo will take action in many ways; join us in these opportunities to get involved and make an impact: 1) Empower Yolo will be hosting its annual “Shower for the Shelter” for clients at the safe house. Donate new needed items during the in-person drop-off event on Saturday, April 22, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at 441 D Street, Davis, or drop off donations any time during April in Davis or Woodland during office hours; 2) Follow Empower Yolo’s awareness campaign in April. We will be highlighting “5 things you can do to help end sexual assault and rape culture”; 3) On Wednesday, April 5 wear teal – the color of sexual violence prevention – to show your support of survivors; take a selfie and tag @empower_yolo, #WearTealDay2023, #SAAM2023. By wearing teal, you’re signaling that you support survivors, and are a safe person to talk to if they need to reach out; 4) Thursday, April 13 is Take Back the Night at UC Davis. Empower Yolo advocates will be doing outreach at the event; 5) Give to support survivors of abuse and families in need on Big Day of Giving, Thursday, May 4; early giving begins Thursday, April 20 at bigdayofgiving.org/empoweryolo. Donate to support services for survivors and families in need. Your donation supports services for sexual assault survivors including safe shelter, free counseling, hospital accompaniments and advocacy, support groups (for adults and children), legal services, our 24-hour hotline, and outreach and education efforts. For more information on services, and events, or to donate any time visit empoweryolo.org.

Empower Yolo’s spring peer counselor training begins the first week in April. If you would like to support survivors and make a difference in our community join Empower Yolo’s training; applications are still being accepted until April 3. For more information and to download an application visit empoweryolo.org/volunteer/.

Discussions about sexual violence, racial issues, equity, and inclusion are often avoided due to feeling uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is okay – but everyone must show up with courage and humility to effect change; make it an opportunity to learn more and support survivors. We can help create change if we take the time to hear, understand, and recognize one another.

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