When faced with the issue of changing the culture of sexual violence, it’s difficult to think of action steps to take. National movements, such as “Me Too”, make it seem as though huge awareness campaigns are the only way to make a change. Students from Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU) believe otherwise. Over the past year, the new Student ACT committee made great strides in changing the culture of sexual violence within our community.

Sexual Violence: How Student ACT Acts

The Student Awareness Curriculum & Training (ACT) committee revolves around the principle of preventing sexual violence through a cultural shift at Champlain Valley Union High School. The formation of Student ACT began when its two founding members, Chiara Antonioli and Walter Braun, reached out to trusted faculty to discuss the prevalence of this issue and the change they wanted to see. From there, they brought together a select group of fourteen students to create The Student ACT Committee.

Our First Step Toward Change

Student ACT’s first step was training on sexual violence for its own membership. All fourteen members came to CVU on a weekend and trained with representatives from HOPE Works. We covered a wide array of topics: the causes of sexual violence, forms of sexual violence, and how to react to and support survivors of sexual violence.

What is Sexual Violence?

We define sexual violence as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. This is a very broad and encompassing definition. Types of sexual violence include, but are not limited to: unwanted sexual contact, sexual exploitation, voyeurism, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.

Creating Lasting Change

Using the knowledge we gained, Student ACT is working to create long-lasting change by originating that change from the student body itself.

Talking to Young Students

As an initial step, the members of ACT spoke to all 9th grade health classes. This was an important step for developing a positive change in our culture. We facilitated open conversations between the 9th graders and their older peers, versus giving them information through notes and presentations. These open conversations enforced the understanding that sexual violence is indeed an issue in our community. We also talked about what sexual violence looks like through the eyes of students rather than a dictionary. We covered how to intervene. Our conversation was an attempt to create a positive cultural change.

Talking to the Athletic Community

We have also applied the same technique of open communication to the athletic community at CVU. Athletics, through such activities as initiations, hazing, and team locker rooms, are traditionally an area where sexual violence is either accepted or not recognized. We now address these topics at the Athletic Leadership Council (ALC) and captains training. Both ALC and captains training are CVU programs in which leaders from all sports teams meet once a week to discuss the role of leaders on sports teams and what that looks like in terms of behavior. Similar to the 9th grade health class, the end result of Student ACT’s efforts in athletics is an open conversation surrounding this issue, team leaders setting behavioral standards, and maintaining a zero tolerance for sexual violence in all athletic environments.

Awareness Campaigns

Our awareness campaigns include bringing in outside voices, such as activist Cindy Pierce, bringing together internal voices (the students themselves), presentation of national data, and Red Flag poster campaigns.

We feel that our efforts have been successful. We’ve seen a definitive change in our administration and faculty and increased discussion among our community surrounding the issue of sexual violence.

As the year has progressed, we have received constant support for our efforts. Next year, our 14 member committee will grow from fourteen members, to 22, who will continue to work hard to make an even larger impact in the following year.

The issue of sexual violence is typically seen as a gray area, often overlooked and not addressed. The mindset of our committee is that the more discussion and open communication about sexual violence, the closer we get to changing our culture. This allows for a shift in our community to originate from the community members themselves, and make a positive change for the better.

Ryan Trus is a student at Champlain Valley Union High School.

Need Help or Want to Help Make Change?

H.O.P.E Works is honored to work with the Student ACT group and bear witness to their commitment to change. We are excited to see such compassionate work from them! Watching their thoughtful self-reflection and engagement with big questions about power, privilege, and sexual violence is inspiring. The Student ACT group’s work of creating culture change at CVU has been amplified by the participation of their community: students, faculty, staff, other trusted adults.

At H.O.P.E Works, we center our work in believing survivors and following the lead of survivors. We know that sexual violence has an impact not only on survivors, but on their loved ones and greater community as well. We believe that everyone in our community has the ability to help address and change the factors that allow sexual violence to function in the first place. In 2017, we served 977 survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones in Chittenden County. We offer survivor-centered support, prevention work, bystander intervention training, knowledge building opportunities, and community-building around sexual violence issues.

Our 24/7 hotline can be used for questions, options counseling, emotional support, and community referrals. Call us anytime at 1-802-863-1236 or visit hopeworksvt.org for more information and to access our Chat Line.

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