April 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the official declaration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)—just one piece of a much larger movement to increase both awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment and abuse. This year, It’s On CWRU—Case Western Reserve University’s sexual assault and violence prevention initiative led by the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women—will present programming and events for the campus community to recognize SAAM, share prevention and support resources, and allow survivors to celebrate their healing.

This year’s SAAM theme focuses on building safe online spaces—how evolving technology and the growth in online communities have changed the way individuals practice consent and accountability online. Sarah Ferrato, education coordinator for the Mather Center, said it felt particularly important to highlight this year’s theme given the shift to online communication and communities over the last year.

“Because the pandemic impacted how we’re interacting with each other, we’re really seeing an uptick in the prevalence of sexual violence being perpetrated online,” said Ferrato. “Previously, people thought about environments as being physical without recognizing that our environments are wherever we congregate and come together as a community—it’s so important to explore how we can bring accountability and responsibility to our online spaces.”

Undergraduate and graduate students will have the opportunity to address one of these increasingly common online spaces—dating apps—through It’s On CWRU’s Dating in the Digital Age workshop, which will include an exploration of ghosting, parasocial crushes, virtual consent and boundaries. The event will be co-hosted by University Health and Counseling Services’ student advocate Megan Long, who is also teaming up with It’s On CWRU to help highlight existing support resources throughout the month.

“We’re really trying to lift up the services that our student advocate in University Health and Counseling Services offers,” said Ferrato. “When there’s an awareness month, there’s often an increase in need, so we wanted to make sure support resources were a big focus this month.”

It’s On CWRU will promote the student advocate resources through ongoing drop-in advocate hours every Monday, as well as an Instagram Takeover on April 9. Students will have the opportunity to get to know the university’s student advocate, and learn more about the role and available confidential resources. The Mather Center also will be host Teal Talk Tuesdays on Instagram throughout the month, which will allow the campus community to ask questions and steer important conversations about how to help create safe spaces at CWRU. 

Although many of the month’s programs focus on serious prevention education and awareness, Ferrato says she sees some of the month’s lighter initiatives, such as the days of action—Wear Teal Day on April 6 and Denim Day on April 28—as a way to give everyone an opportunity to be involved in whatever way is comfortable for them. “Some of this programming can be kind of heavy, but we’re trying to integrate joyful moments and allow people to celebrate healing or show their support.”

The entire campus community is invited to get involved by participating in the Clothesline Project—a national program that uses color coded shirts as a visual reminder of sexual assault and violence statistics that are often ignored. This year’s project will be presented virtually, and those who are interested in sharing their story of survival or impact are invited to anonymously submit their completed t-shirt designs to be featured on the Mather Center’s Instagram page.

As the host of this year’s SAAM programming and hub for violence prevention efforts on campus, It’s On CWRU will present an introduction to the initiative for community members who want to learn more. Additionally, students, faculty and staff are invited to attend a prosocial bystander training—one of It’s On CWRU’s resources available to schools, offices, departments and student organizations on campus.

“Sexual assault is startlingly prevalent in our society and disproportionately affects those with marginalized gender identities,” said Angela Clark-Taylor, Mather Center director. “Yet many survivors move through the world not getting support for the trauma they have endured, or don’t feel safe sharing for fear of not being believed. Sexual Assault Awareness Month provides us an opportunity to both work to prevent sexual violence, but also provide education and an opportunity to begin a culture of support for survivors all year long.”

To stay up to date on SAAM events and programming, as well as ongoing initiatives through It’s On CWRU, follow the Mather Center on Instagram, Facebook and CampusGroups, or subscribe to the center’s newsletter.