USU Nationally Recognized for Pledge to 'Start by Believing' Survivors of Violence

Utah State University is being recognized by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) for its ongoing commitment to “Start by Believing,” an international public awareness campaign intended to educate people on how to respond to disclosures of sexual or relationship violence.

“USU has a consistent focus on Start by Believing every year — and not just on one special day or one month. Start by Believing is not a one-time event or launch, it is an ongoing philosophy that must be implemented into daily practice, and USU has shown that commitment,” said Alison Jones-Lockwood, EVAWI Start by Believing community liaison.

The university will participate in Start by Believing Day on Wednesday, April 7, providing tables on the Logan, Price and Blanding campuses where students, staff, faculty and other community members can take a pledge to Start by Believing and support survivors.

Start by Believing means shifting the response from blame to support when survivors disclose incidents of violence. Historically, victims of sexual violence have been blamed for the crimes against them in ways victims of other crimes have not. This approach discourages survivors from reporting, fails to hold perpetrators accountable, and makes it more difficult for survivors to seek and receive the support they need to heal from such traumatic experiences.

“When we fail to provide survivors the space to disclose, or approach someone’s experience in disbelief, we miss out on the opportunity to provide them and the community safety,” said Isamar Jimenez, a sexual assault and anti-violence information (SAAVI) advocate within the USU Police Department. “Even more concerning, a survivor loses faith in a system that is meant to protect them.”

Start by Believing was launched in 2011 by EVAWI, a professional training organization that helps law enforcement and allied professionals improve their response to sexual assault and other gender-based crimes.

In honor of the campaign’s 10th anniversary, EVAWI is recognizing USU for its outstanding efforts to make campus safer for survivors by encouraging community members to take the pledge. USU is the only university receiving this recognition; three other honorees are community organizations.

USU’s 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct revealed that a minority of survivors report their experience to law enforcement or even tell anyone about their experience at all. The survey revealed that the top reasons why participants did not tell anyone about their experiences were because they “didn’t think what happened was serious enough to talk about it” and they “were ashamed/embarrassed.”

“Utah State University is dedicated to ensuring students feel safe to seek help after experiencing sexual or relationship violence,” said Felicia Gallegos, SAAVI outreach and prevention coordinator.

“Too many survivors live alone with their experience because they are terrified of what will happen when they speak to someone. They fear they will be blamed, shamed, and questioned. It’s important our campus community knows when a survivor discloses, we must respond with belief and empathy, provide resources, and trust the survivor to make the best decision for their healing journey.”

For more information and to take the pledge to Start by Believing, visit startbybelieving.usu.edu.

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