Written by: Aditi Nambiar; Editor-in-Chief
Content warning: The following content contains references to sexual violence, assault, abuse, and harassment.
The Violence Prevention & Advocacy (VPA) program at UWB is a program dedicated to “fostering a community in which all students can access their education in an environment free of violence and harm… to transform our campus culture,” as the official VPA webpage states on the UWB website. VPA is committed to providing support for survivors and those who have been impacted by sex and gender-based violence and harassment and conducting prevention work for a safer UWB community.
Karina Tamayo, LifeWire Prevention Specialist who works closely with VPA, as well as the Health and Wellness Resource Center (HaWRC) and the student Health Educators Reaching Out (HEROs), shares insight on the VPA program’s efforts to raise awareness on topics such as sex and gender-based violence, relationship and domestic abuse, assault. LifeWire is a local organization that serves domestic violence survivors in East and North King County. As a representative for LifeWire, Tamayo focuses more on prevention work on campus, while supporting the program’s direct services.
Tamayo explains the importance of providing on-campus support for students impacted by any form of violence or abuse, stating, “Doing prevention work really includes getting the word out there, creating workshops for students to attend… as well as, [thinking about] how can we prevent violence in the first place so that way people don’t need to access these services. That’s kind of the big picture goal.”
The dedicated VPA team is led by Program Manager Elizabeth Wilmerding, and includes Confidential Survivor Advocate Erika Lee, and two advocacy interns who are first-year MSW students at UW Seattle, Hope Harvey and Sarah Barukh. Tamayo states, “The purpose of [our] confidential advocates is that they are able to meet with students on campus and are very informed of the campus resources that are available. It is student and survivor-centered, and making sure that survivors are supported in what they need.”
For Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April, the Violence Prevention and Advocacy program hosted multiple events to help to raise more awareness, lead activism, and advocate for survivors. Some of their highlight events include The Clothesline Project (April 20-April 21), Denim Day (April 27), and their Meet an Advocate virtual and in-person series, the latter of which provided an opportunity for students to “learn about the support available to survivors, learn how to connect friends with resources, and just get to know members of [the VPA] team” as VPA Program Manager Elizabeth Wilmerding explains.
The Clothesline Project is a collaborative art project originally started in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1990 to address the issue of violence against women. Karina Tamayo, LifeWire Prevention Specialist breaks down the history of the movement stating, “Essentially, it was inspired by the start of the advocacy movement. So what a lot of people did was they would have messaging for survivors on their clotheslines- people used to dry their clothes on a clothesline outside. They would write on a T-shirt, ‘Help available here,’ to let others know in their community where they could go for help.”
Tamayo explains that this was before domestic violence shelters and women’s shelters were available, where it was more common for people who were fleeing from violence to go into other people’s homes. She states, “There was a lot of community-based support.” Since then, the movement has evolved to recognize and fight for justice for the issue of violence against all people.
Today, universities have taken it one step further by supporting survivors and anti-violence advocacy through their colorful messages in solidarity. VPA leading The Clothesline Project this year is especially meaningful as this marks the first time the initiative was brought to the UWB campus.
Along with The Clothesline Project, VPA also took part in Denim Day on April 27, encouraging students and community members to “Wear jeans with a purpose,” as stated by the Denim Day organization. VPA wanted to recognize the lived experiences of survivors by putting out a pair of jeans for students to sign with messages for survivors, to show their support, and educate others around them.
The Denim Day organization explains that it is an annual campaign that takes place on the last Wednesday of April which came about in the 1990s after a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court “where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped the person who raped her remove her jeans, thereby implying consent.” The following day, women in the Italian parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. Since then, the local campaign grew into a movement that aims to put an end to victim-blaming and destructive myths that surround sexual violence.
Karina Tamayo emphasizes, “Things like, ‘well what was that person wearing? How much were they drinking?’ It is never the victim’s fault. The fault always lies within the person who caused the harm.”
In addition to supporting these national movements, the Violence Prevention and Advocacy program at UWB held a 4-week Meet an Advocate series for students to get to know the members of the team. Tamayo shares that the idea came from their original Instagram series where they featured new survivor advocates on campus. She states, “[We thought] it would be great for the community to be able to meet them in a very low stakes setting and not in an I-am-crisis-and-I-need-to-talk-about-all-these-things way. It’s scary to go to a program or organization if you know nobody, so all of that was to really get faces to names, and that way it’s like ‘Oh, yeah! I’ve met Erika from VPA. She seems great, let me go talk with them.’ ”
Tamayo’s unique role as a Prevention Specialist involves working with the Violence Prevention & Advocacy program and the Health Educators Reaching Out (HEROs), who are UW Bothell and Cascadia College students serving as peer health educators. The HEROs conduct regular prevention programming and health promotion that addresses priority wellness topics such as sexual and relationship violence prevention, emotional wellbeing, mental health, sexual health, and more.
The HEROs and Tamayo have recently released a new podcast, “We Need 2 Talk” which students can tune into online at weneed2talk.buzzsprout.com or on Spotify. Tamayo shares, “I’ve been working with the HEROs on this podcast to get it off the ground. The first episode we had is about relationships in the media, so talking about the spectrum of relationships and really focusing on how that spectrum shows up in the media… And our second episode was on consent, and focusing more broadly on consent… we released that at the beginning of April to align with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”
Tamayo shares, “We have a lot of health promotion related students in the current HERO program, but it’s open to anybody! Being a HERO provides a lot of great opportunities for general awareness and professionalism growth as they have to create programs, they have to go through what it looks like to create an event. From the marketing to planning, and the execution of it all. It’s a great learning opportunity for collaboration.”
The UWB VPA program and the HEROs look forward to many more upcoming events planned for spring quarter beyond Sexual Assault Awareness Month. They will be having workshops on healthy relationships, bystander intervention, as well as conversations about consent and consent in the media available for students throughout the month of May, with both in-person and virtual options.
Tamayo is especially excited for UWB’s Wellness Fest, a campus-wide event that brings the community together to promote mental health and student wellbeing at UWB and Cascadia (taking place May 18) where she shares, “ A sneak-peek teaser is my table will have a relationship spectrum activity that people can participate in.”
From Karina Tamayo’s perspective as a LifeWire Prevention Educator, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), just like all of the other months, is really an opportunity for the general public to be aware of these issues.
She shares, “The rates of violence are really high, especially on college campuses, and with college-aged students and it’s not acceptable how prevalent this issue really is. So, SAAM is one way to take the opportunity to start that conversation and make sure people are aware. There are other awareness months as well: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, February is Teen Dating Violence Month, and January is Stalking Awareness Month. All these topics are super important, but it’s really [about] just getting the conversation started.”
Tamayo adds, “It needs to continue beyond the month, but in one way, putting up teal ribbon, starting the Clothesline Project, having just jeans on [for Denim Day] is just one way to spark that conversation, and hopefully we can continue it all year round, but it’s kind of that ignition”
So how can community members express their support for anyone impacted by sexual or relationship violence? Tamayo shares that a good way to start would be through sharing information supportive of survivors through following credible media sources, or getting involved with any reliable organization that supports survivors. She stresses how the responsibility lies in being individually accountable stating, “In short, it’s really about slowly but surely changing the culture. You don’t have to step in and do something when it’s something really extreme as [we] don’t want anyone putting their safety at risk, but, even letting people know, like checking with your friends when they do something harmful or if they say something a little bit victim-blaming in nature.”
The VPA program offers free in-person and virtual /remote support for students affected by any form of sex and gender-based and/or relationship and domestic violence, harassment, stalking, or other related experiences. VPA states that “We encourage you to make the decision that best meets your needs in terms of privacy, safety, and accessibility.” Students are encouraged to reach out regarding their concerns by either calling the office’s number (425-352-3851) or by email at email@example.com.
Karina Tamayo wants survivors to know, “We believe you, we support you, and we are here when you’re ready. Everyone is on a different timeline and that’s okay. If [you] are not ready today, come when you are and we will be here to listen and support [you] in your choices.”
For additional resources within the general community and statewide, please refer to the following: