AU students are making an effort to lend a voice to victims of sexual assault through the Start by Believing campaign. The campaign, which was launched in February, advocates the importance of supporting those who have been affected by sexual assault.
“The Start by Believing campaign is all about having a positive reaction to someone when they come to you and say that they have been sexually assaulted,” said senior Hannah Welch, who was involved in launching the campaign. “When someone says they’ve been sexually assaulted, the response should not be ‘why were you there? What were you thinking? Why were you wearing that?’ The campaign hopes to refocus our reactions to believing the victim instead of blaming them or using those questions to shame them.”
Welch stated that hopefully as a result, sexual assault victims will be more likely to feel comfortable confiding in others about their pain and thus pave the way for healing.
The first official event of the campaign was held on April 6. In honor of National Start by Believing Day, students were encouraged to participate by using the Start by Believing hashtag on social media to support victims of sexual assault.
Six people who used the hashtag will be chosen to win gift cards to businesses in the Anderson area. Those who stopped by the Start by Believing table in the student center on April 6 were asked to sign a commitment placard pledging to support and listen to victims of sexual assault. Free doughnuts were offered to students who signed the commitment.
In addition, students were invited to participate in a video contest. Participants were asked to create a brief public service announcement regarding the campaign and how crucial it is to believe those who state that they have been assaulted.
Welch hopes that the campaign will continue to grow in the Anderson community. “There are more people in the community interested in this campaign, and so I hope that as time goes on it could be a city wide awareness initiative,” Welch said.
The idea to bring the national Start by Believing campaign to Anderson was sparked by a conversation Welch had about her passion for sexual assault prevention during her capstone clinical.
“My capstone clinical for nursing school was with Holly Renz, the sexual assault nurse examiner at the Madison County Sexual Assault Treatment Center,” Welch said. “She asked me what I was most interested in and when I told her prevention, she suggested us building a campaign.”
In February, Welch began the campaign by sending emails to the different offices and departments at AU in search of support. She then extended the outreach by sending notices to all undergraduate students as well.
Eventually, Start by Believing gained the support of many different people and organizations in the Anderson area, including the Madison County Sexual Assault Treatment Center and the Community Hospital Foundation. President Pistole, Dean Confer, Officer Garett, Provost Morris, and various other campus leaders also became involved with the campaign.
Welch was immediately encouraged by all the warm support the campaign received. “I love AU for the encouragement to be passionate about serious issues, sexual violence being one of them,” said Welch. “This campaign was a great fit for AU for that reason. There’s so many students willing to commit to making a difference. I’m so proud to be a member of the AU community, to learn and grow in a place that encourages you to stand up for what you believe.”
Students who are interested in taking a stand against sexual assault can continue to use the “startbybelieving” hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to spread the word to family and friends.
The AU community also hosts a number of events and educational resources concerning sexual assault and how to lend support to victims, which students can get involved in. Everyone is also encouraged to like and share the “Anderson University Start by Believing” Facebook page. More information regarding the campaign can be found online at startbybelieving.org.
Welch hopes that Start by Believing will inspire students to get involved in preventing sexual assault.
“AU develops many leaders in the community and all over the world who have the power to make a difference,” Welch said. “We need those people to be a safe haven for those who have been a victim. Committing to something as simple as believing someone who comes to you is the perfect place for that to begin.”