April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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SAAM thumbnailST. JOHNSBURY- April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and because of recent movements such as #MeToo, and sexual assault scandals such as those with actor Bill Cosby and USA Gymnastics Doctor, Larry Nassar, this years’ theme is “Embrace your voice.” Many businesses in the Northeast Kingdom are acknowledging this problem this month and are advocating for change in the way that sexual assault is handled within society.

 Umbrella in St. Johnsbury is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to decreasing sexual violence and its impact, specifically in the Northeast Kingdom. While their effort is 24/7, they are embracing this month to focus on this issue and to educate the community.   “So the campaign this month… for Sexual Assault Awareness Month focuses on embracing your voice and really encourages everyday people…every one to really think about how their words could impact survivors in their lives,” says Umbrella Executive Director, Amanda Cochrane. 

 Cochrane explained that while in the past, jokes that may have targeted sexual assault survivors or poked fun at the concept, have been more socially acceptable, she hopes that this movement will make people more sensitive and aware of sexual assault survivors both in their life and around them. “Just really thinking about laughing at a joke that involves sexual assault or things like that and just really using your voice this month and for really the rest of your life and thinking, “How are my words impacting someone who might be dealing with sexual violence?””. 


With waves of scandals and movements throughout the last year or so, Cochrane believes that social media has allowed people who have been victims of sexual violence to have a voice and to tell their story. “I think that the time that we’re in and with social media being the way that it is, it really has enabled first, women with some power to be able to tell their sorties and have people listen to them about sexual violence that they have experienced and I think that with the power of social media, people have seen that… every day people and I think that the culture is starting to shift in the direction of believing survivors and listening.”


With scandal constantly being unveiled, this has led some businesses in the area to think more about how they handle certain situations. Kingdom Gymnastics in St. Johnsbury has protocols in place such as never allowing a coach in the gym alone with just a gymnast. But after revelations in regards to USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar surfaced earlier this year, Kingdom Gymnastics owner, Donna Reed, has thought more about how she can teach her gymnasts to be more aware of these kinds of issues, specifically with younger girls. “I feel like I probably need to do more education about it because I felt a little bit sheltered…that was there… that was them… that’s not us. But that being said I need to do more education. Those of us that have not taken safe sport yet will be by July 31st and we need to education the girls too but I need to figure out age appropriate ways of doing that because we have very young girls.”


Reed said that she struggles with this topic because the gym works with girls from age 8 to age 15 and trying to figure out a way to address this in an age appropriate way has proved to be difficult. 


If you or someone you know is dealing with sexual violence, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at (800) 656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member in your area.