Campus advocacy group hosts domestic violence speaker to catalyze community conversation

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Campus advocacy group Someone You Know hosted an event to discuss domestic violence. COURTESY PHOTO / SOMEONE YOU KNOW

Someone You Know, the College of William and Mary’s on-campus sexual assault prevention and peer education group, invited sexual assault survivor and activist Kristen Thompson to speak on campus last week.

Thompson teaches young people to recognize the red flags of domestic violence and toxic relationships, how to help if they see a problem and to know the resources they have available. Thompson has shared her personal domestic violence story throughout the Boston area, and during the night of Wednesday Nov. 7, she shared her story with the College community.

When Thompson shared her experience of being in an abusive relationship, she called on the community to be patient with survivors, to listen and to recognize the importance of becoming educated about domestic violence and sexual assault.

“When I was in school I never had this,” Thompson said of her talk. “I never had someone sitting [down] telling me their story because maybe if I did, I wouldn’t be sitting right here.”

Thompson recalled that the main reason her abuse continued for so long was the lack of a solid support system in her life. Throughout the talk she identified “red flags” from her personal experience that individuals around her noticed but chose to keep to themselves. Ultimately, she decided to seek help because she feared for her life. She stressed the importance of being able to recognize subtle changes in a person and speaking out, because staying quiet can have detrimental effects. Thompson expressed her belief in the importance of saying something if you see something.

Someone You Know President Amanda Yannett ’20 wanted to bring Thompson to campus to start a conversation about the issue of domestic violence. Yannett went through 15 weeks of sexual assault and gender-based violence training to become an advocate for survivors before transferring to the College in fall 2017.

“One of my goals as President of SYK, is trying to get more groups involved in these kinds of conversations,” Yannett said. “I think bringing someone from outside [the College community] can help us facilitate those. … It’s really important to keep those conversations going.”

Someone You Know Vice President Michael Chene ’19, who has been involved with the organization since his freshman year, said he hopes organization members can continue to be activists and show support for survivors going forward. He said he wants to make sure events like Thompson’s talk continue to happen and that people continue to respond positively. According to Chene, it is important to facilitate an environment where everyone can learn about issues related to sexual violence prevention and feel supported.

“It’s really important to talk about how to act in these situations,” Chene said. “… And I think everyone here was keen to actively listen.”

One student who attended the talk, Drew Weber ’21, said Thompson helped him further his understanding of the issue.

“I think understanding these things are not OK, and these [other] things are healthy and understanding the difference between the two … makes a big difference in the way we can approach relationships in a healthy manner rather than what we view as healthy, based on what’s presented in popular culture,” Weber said.

In her talk, Thompson said she knew that certain adults in her life were aware of her abuse but chose to stay quiet. She recalled missing school for weeks on end, showing up to class with bruises and teachers not expressing concern in spite of the visible signs of abuse. In one instance, she even asked a friend’s mom, who was a dentist, to falsify doctor notes, so Thompson could be excused from school and still be able to graduate. Still, no action was taken by the adults around her.

Although the event was open to the entire campus community, the audience was almost entirely made up of students. Members of Someone You Know said that they would like for more faculty and administrators to attend their events.

“I think we focus a lot on educating the student body because we are a student organization,” Yannett said. “However, it would have been awesome to see faculty coming to this event.”

Yannett went on to note that college campuses include not just students but faculty, staff and administrators and wants to see them involved in the conversation as well. She said she wants to bridge the gap between the students and the administration because she feels everyone needs to be educated on these topics.

However, Yannett also addressed the steps the administration has taken to become more educated, such as a committee formed of faculty and students to help bring different voices to the conversation. Even so, she wants to see more action.

“I think they can expand their programs past Orientation,” Yannett advised. “When it’s not crammed into such a short period of time, people can process the information better, and it can be more helpful and less overwhelming.”

Thompson’s talk was one of many events Someone You Know has organized to help facilitate conversations about domestic violence and sexual assault, and it will not be the last. Someone You Know is working to bring more voices to the conversation and is encouraging all campus organizations to join the movement. Yannett wants everyone to join because it affects all corners of campus and all types of people, and that was the essential message of Thompson’s remarks.

“It doesn’t matter what color you are,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter what sex you are. It can happen to anybody. … But [the abuse] is 110 percent not your fault.”