Preventing sexual violence: A student’s perspective

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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 with the two founding members, Chiara Antonioli and Walter Braun, reaching out to trusted faculty about both the prevalence of this issue and the change they wanted to see within the school. From there, a select 14 students were brought together to create the Student ACT Committee.

The first step for Student ACT was having the members receive training on sexual violence. For this, all 14 members of Student ACT came into CVU on a Saturday and Sunday for a total of 12 hours. Covering a wide array of topics, the training consisted of both education and also discussion surrounding the foundation of sexual violence, forms of sexual violence, and how to react to and support survivors of sexual violence. Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. This is a very broad and encompassing definition. The types of sexual violence include, but are not limited to, unwanted sexual contact, sexual exploitation, voyeurism, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Using the knowledge we gained from the training, Student ACT hopes to create a long-lasting change in our culture originating from the student body itself. As a committee we are currently taking steps toward having the members of ACT speak in 9th grade health classes. This is an important next step for ingraining a change in our culture. Instead of simply being given all the information through notes and presentations, the 9th graders will be able to have open conversations with their older peers. Having these open conversations with older peers is what we hope will help enforce the understanding that sexual violence is indeed an issue in our community, what sexual violence looks like through the eyes of students rather than a dictionary, and how to intervene in an attempt to create a positive cultural change.

We hope to apply the same technique of open communication to the athletic community at CVU. Athletics—through such activities as initiations and hazing and in team locker rooms—has traditionally been an area where sexual violence is either accepted or not recognized. The Athletic Leadership Council (ALC) and captains training are where we hope to begin this effort. 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 will be an open conversation surrounding this issue, team leaders setting behavioral standards, and maintaining a zero tolerance for sexual violence in all athletic environments.

Awareness and open discussion about sexual violence in our community is our main priority as Student ACT. We are playing our role in starting this through poster campaigns, guest speakers and awareness events during sexual violence awareness month (April). We hope to see a positive shift in our community where sexual violence is recognized and no longer perpetuated or tolerated.

The 14 members of Student ACT: Seniors: Chiara Antonioli, Cooper Birdsall, Walter Braun, Anna Cornish, Brigham Francis, Weller Henderson, Lydia Maitland, Iris Mann, Ryan Trus and Olivia Voth; Juniors: Aidan Johnson, Zoe Prue, Eve Wilson and Prince Yodishembo.

Founding faculty members are Chris Smith, Lacey Richards, Vanessa Harman, Tim Trevithik and Rahn Fleming.