Saint Mary’s Raise Your Voice: A Sexual Violence Symposium begins with Start By Believing Day
Cora Haddad | Thursday, April 7, 2022
Editor’s note: This story includes mentions of sexual abuse and violence. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.
Saint Mary’s College inaugural’s Raise Your Voice: A Sexual Violence Symposium began with Start by Believing Day held in Saint Mary’s Rice Commons on Wednesday evening. Saint Mary’s director of Student Involvement and Advocacy, Liz Coulston Baumann spoke on the importance of believing survivors of sexual assault.
Start by Believing is a global public awareness campaign, launched by End Violence Against Women International. Their mission statement says, “to end the cycle of silence and change the way society responds to sexual assault.”
Coordinator of the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) Iesha Miller opened the event by introducing Coulston Baumann, and acknowledged the beginning of a conversion within the community.
“Believing survivors is the most important step of responding to sexual violence however, this action is often missed,” Coulston Baumann said.
She elaborated by citing specific incidences of sexual violence over a span of decades that have been commonly known in media.
“Five hundred survivors coming forward for Larry Nasser to be convicted,” she said. “The women who were assaulted and harassed by the former film producer Harvey Weinstein were shamed and blamed, being told they slept their way to the top.”
She said these instances are places where society has failed.
“We are given countless opportunities to start by believing. Yet, we often fall short,” Coulston Baumann said.
In regards to culture surrounding sexual violence in the media, Coulston Baumann quoted author Chanel Miller, who is speaking to the Saint Mary’s community as part of the Sexual Violence Symposium on Monday.
In her book, “Know My Name,” Miller addresses culture surrounding conversations within the home regarding sexual assault.
“I thought of mothers who had commented that ‘my daughters would never,’ which made me sad because comments like this did not make her daughter any safer. They just ensured that if the daughter was sexually assaulted, she’d likely have one less person to go to,” Coulston Baumann explained.
The Start By Believing campaign seeks to build skills within the community, Coulston Baumann noted. She said the first step is to start by believing
“When someone shares with you that they have been harmed, say something that just confirms that you believe them,” she said.
Coulston Baumann spoke on following steps including showing support.
“Be supportive in whatever way feels appropriate,” she said. “My favorite phrase is ‘You can tell me as much or as little as you want.’ This gives the survivor some of their power back when being able to tell their story in their own way.”
Above all, Coulston Baumann stressed the importance of believing in all aspects of community. Not only in the household but to show examples.
“The most important thing would be that when we find out that someone has been sexually assaulted is to start by believing, and that’s not only the people directly in our lives, like our friends and family, but also when we hear stories in the news and in our communities,” she said. “We also lead by believing in those situations as well.”
Saint Mary’s “Raise Your Voice: A Sexual Violence Symposium” continues through April 18.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misspelled Iesha Miller’s name. The Observer regrets this error.