We Must Work to Destigmatize Conversations About Sexual Violence

Over the past few years, discussions of sexual violence have been prominent on college campuses nationwide. From anonymous message boards to everyday conversations in the classroom and on the field, Oberlin is no different. Survivors of Sexual Harm & Allies, a student-led organization on campus, promotes conversations about sexual violence, allowing survivors to be heard and allies to listen and learn. SOSHA creates a crucial space on Oberlin’s campus for survivor visibility.

SOSHA focuses on three pillars of work: activism, education, and support. Throughout the past semester, we have held biweekly listening sessions, led by Chair of Community Support and College third-year Ella Newcomb, to promote healing and discuss topics such as isolation and connecting to others, self advocacy, and rebuilding trust. These sessions allow us to meet as a community and center ourselves around a common goal while sharing ideas and experiences in a safe space. We also hold social events with things like yoga, tea, and art every other week as a way to build community.

This past semester, we also held two forums to discuss sexual violence as an Oberlin community and how we can do better by survivors. In a national culture that is so fearful of openly talking about sexual violence because of the discomfort it can cause, it is essential that we maintain a consistent dialogue. Uncomfortable conversations allow us to reflect on the role we all play as individuals in combating sexual violence and give us a chance to evaluate what changes we can make. A key part of our meetings is establishing that SOSHA is a space to learn, make mistakes, ask questions, and leave with a greater understanding of how to make both campus and the greater community a safer place for survivors. Learning how to fight against sexual violence can be a vulnerable learning process, but it is one that is valuable both for an individual and within the context of Oberlin.

As we continue to grow as a community, we are excited about what the next semester entails for us and are currently hiring new members to join our Administrative Team, Liaison Team, and Organizational Support Teams. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and just like last year, we are planning a number of events to encourage engagement with topics of sexual violence. We are in the early stages of planning for our annual event, Take Back the Night. This is a protest-style event that features speakers, a march, and performances to show the community that survivors will not be silenced and will not live in fear of the night. If you would like to be a part of this event or join the planning committee, please reach out via email or Instagram. We will also be holding identity-based events to recognize that sexual violence looks different depending on the community. 

In addition to Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, we are also developing additional curricula and resources so that the work SOSHA does can be brought to other communities. Some of these educational materials include a presentation about how to be a supportive ally and how to access resources for survivors in major cities across the country, not just in Cleveland. There will be a number of events throughout the month, and our calendar will soon be available with descriptions of each of them.

When SOSHA founder and College third-year Emma Hart first asked me about starting SOSHA in spring 2020, we had no idea how many people we were going to impact and how many survivors would begin their healing journey with us. SOSHA has become not only a safe space for survivors but a campus-wide resource for survivors and allies alike. We are proud of the community that SOSHA members have created in just a few short semesters, and we are so excited about the future of our organization. All the same, we have a long way to go in the process of destigmatizing conversations about sexual violence in our community. Destigmatization is crucial in helping survivors to feel seen, heard, and believed as they heal from their trauma. If you would like to get involved in SOSHA, please reach out to us via email at [email protected] or via Instagram @oberlin_sosha.