At the first Seattle University Survivor Support Network (SSN) panel of the year on Nov. 17, panelists discussed their experiences of sexual assault and domestic violence and answered questions according to their expertise and thoughts.
The panel was organized to be open and a safe space for survivors, victims and allies to receive advice, share understandings and become more educated on sexual assault and the many forms it can take.
“I think the number one thing that we were trying to advocate for [with] this panel was basically informing people of the aspects of sexual assault that they don’t usually get to hear,” said Marthadina Russell, vice president and vice chair of the SSN.
Russell said that the panel was for both survivors and for allies. She said she hopes that it will give survivors affirmation on their experiences and give allies exposure to topics that are not always covered in everyday conversations.
“[Allies] want to help and they’re not sure how, and this panel… expresses how we feel and the aspects that aren’t always covered. It answers some of the questions that the allies have and we’re here to dispel that feeling of tiptoeing and at least provide some sort of guide,” Russell said.
The panel was the first of the three other panels that will focus on specific topics surrounding sexual violence. SSN was created last year, and it has continued on with new leaders this year after the previous leaders graduated.
“We’re a coalition of students creating safe spaces for other survivors in order to feel heard, understood and to also address problems nationally that need to be addressed and have a conversation about them,” said Ashley Vera, co-president of SSN.
Club meetings occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in Loyola 400, where members pick a topic for that meeting and share their opinions and thoughts on the topic and then discuss the highs and lows of their week. While some meetings are open to both survivors and allies, others are reserved for survivors only.
“At the end of the meeting we do meditation for about three to five minutes,” Vera said. “It involves a lot of mindfulness activities so it’s not just sitting there and listening to music and breathing. A lot of the activities are about being in the relationship with your body and other people.”
The meetings are meant to provide a space for people to have a place where they can talk about how their week has been.
“It’s almost just like a hangout but with the safety and security in mind that if something in public life is uncomfortable to speak about, this is a place where you can talk about those things,” Russell said. “The intention is already there [and] the intensity of that topic being approached is already there so it doesn’t feel uncomfortable to talk about it.”
Members urge allies to make the first step and come to future panels to hear stories from survivors and be an active listener.
“Taking a timeout to at least research it makes a big difference and making sure that you don’t force someone to share their story,” Vera said. “Make sure they’re choosing to share something with you and be mindful of that.”
Vera said that mindfulness is something she constantly advocates to practice in any kind of relationship. She also said it is especially important when others are in a relationship with someone that they know has experienced trauma.
At the panel, some topics that were discussed by panelists and audience members included denial after their experience, their experiences with filing reports of their cases and on-campus and off-campus resources for survivors. They also addressed ending the stigma surrounding asking for help and being aware of not accidentally triggering those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of their experiences.
The panelists also stressed the importance of allies actively staying educated in order to be a better supporter of others.
“The right thing is to continue to learn and to take that knowledge and actually apply it. So you’ve heard these stories and you hear something that’s not quite right look into it and be an advocate.” Russell said.
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