‘Yes means yes’: Sexual assault event raises awareness

Hannah Norton, News Editor

One in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. The Women Against Violence Everywhere, or WAVE, Foundation — led by Program Director and former Maywood teacher Meggan Atkins — is working to change that statistic.

The WAVE Foundation was created in 2000 by a small group of women. In 2016, they created the “Discover Your Power” program, which focuses on educating middle school, high school, and college students about abuse and sexual violence.

“We want to educate and empower people to recognize the red flags that often lead to sexual assault and relationship violence,” Atkins said. “We hope that people will push back against social norms that promote violence, always ask for consent, and be active bystanders.”

The organization focuses on awareness, community, and empowerment.

On November 30, the WAVE Foundation held a “Discover Your Power” event at Issaquah High School. The event was open to all gender identities and sexualities, as well as parents.

“Today, it’s so important to start the conversation about the topics regarding sexual assault,” Atkins said. “Ideally, events like these will help people keep themselves and others safe in the world.”

Atkins, along with other WAVE Foundation leaders, led students and parents in discussions about everything from the #metoo movement to the incidents that often precede sexual assault. Near the end of the event, students had the opportunity to practice self-defense techniques on stage and break wooden boards.

Six Liberty students from various grade levels attended the event.

“I chose to go because I wanted to learn more about what I can do to fight against sexual harassment and assault,” senior Sarah Christensen said. “I already knew about self-defense, but I didn’t know as much about avoidance and the causes of sexual assault.”

Presenters also taught students about the ‘Five Fingers of Self-Defense’ approach, which helps people decide what to do when. The ‘Five Fingers’ are Think, Yell, Avoid, Fight, and Tell.

“One of the main contributors to sexual assault is social norms,” Atkins said. “They teach boys to be dominant and have many sexual partners, which often causes boys to neglect to ask for consent or ignore the gut feeling that she’s not into it.”

The WAVE Foundation states that such social norms are damaging for both men and women.
“They harm boys by teaching them that they can’t be sensitive and vulnerable or ask for help when they need it,” Atkins said. “They also teach girls to be polite and submissive, so it’s the perfect storm.”

Christensen believes that learning about social norms and their negative impacts will help people speak out against them.

“Events like these educate everyone about why sexual misconduct is never okay in the first place,” Christensen said. “I learned what I can personally do to change social norms and contribute to making this topic one that is easier to discuss.”

Atkins hopes that if people continue to discuss sexual assault, it will create positive changes.

“Topics like this will directly impact the current generation of students,” Atkins said. “It is creating increasing awareness regarding the prevalence of sexual violence, getting men to question their behaviors, and teaching people to no longer accept to ‘boys will be boys’ social norm.”

Ultimately, Atkins taught that the social norms that promote sexual violence need to be rejected.

“It’s now up to men and boys to change what is going on, not our responsibility to accept their behavior,” Atkins said.”