BYU hosts rape awareness conference

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The BYU Women’s Studies Honor Society hosted a rape awareness conference on Thursday, April 7, focusing on ways to end rape culture and help victims of sexual assault.

Whitney Hales
BYU student Taylor Jarman spoke about rape and sexual assault on Thursday, April 7. She said believing a rape victim’s story is the first thing people can do to show support. (Whitney Hales)

Taylor Jarman, a BYU student who co-founded an organization for victim support, was the main speaker. She explained what her organization, Honey, does to educate the public and help victims.

“Survivors are just — it’s us,” Jarman said. “We are no different than anybody else. We’re in the line at Smith’s, and we’re taking the bus to school, and we’re on the airplane, and we’re everywhere. That’s a good perspective for everybody to have. It allows people to be sensitive.”

Honey shares victims’ firsthand accounts on its website. Jarmin said this educates people about the reality of sexual assault and helps them join the conversation but it also helps victims begin the healing process.

“When we started to talk to people, we realized that just vocalizing it healed us just a little bit more,” Jarman said. “And then we’d tell somebody else, and we were a little better. This kept happening, like, ‘Man, this feels great.’ It’s a new way of accepting it and facing it and saying, ‘I’m moving on.'”

Jarman shared ways that people can support sexual assault victims. She said helping can be as simple as listening to victims’ stories or shutting down jokes that contribute to rape culture.

“This conversation actually needs to happen. Without this conversation, we are going to unfortunately keep society as a place that just silences survivors,” Jarman said. “And we need to be a society that empowers survivors and allows them to have a voice.”

Nursing students at BYU Elise Otteson and Sage Williams presented research about sexual assault in Utah. They cited a 2007 study that found that nearly one-third of Utah women have been sexually assaulted and more than one-sixth of Utah women have been  raped.

Otteson and Williams work with a BYU nursing professor who researches sexual assault kit processing in Utah. Their research suggests that law enforcement submits only 22.8 percent of kits to laboratories in the year following sexual assault.

Williams said their research is focused on helping individuals.

“We’ve shown you a lot of numbers, but behind each number is a person who’s very, very affected,” Williams said. “And that’s the beauty of what you get to do by understanding this problem. You really do get to be the support for that victim and help in their healing process.”

The conference was part of BYU’s initiative for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The presenters invited the audience to get further involved by visiting Honey’s website and learning about the Start by Believing campaign, designed to improve the way people respond to sexual assault in their communities.