Speaking Up and Speaking to Us

What happens behind closed doors seldom sees the light of day. Described by EOU Privileged Campus Advocate Jessa Suthann as, “the silent health crisis of America”, domestic abuse and sexual assault crimes leave an incomprehensible number of men and women without a voice and without reprieve. For those that have managed to break away, the process of regaining normalcy can be excruciating. No one, however, should have to suffer in silence, and that is exactly what Suthann aims to work towards on February 23 with the Victim Advocate Presentation. 

Suthann is a recent, albeit very determined, advocate for sexual assault and domestic abuse awareness. A member of Shelter from the Storm, an abuse victim advocacy and support organization, Suthann began preparations for the presentation back in October with goals of victim empowerment, and recognition of an otherwise silent tragedy, telling The Voice: 

“I want to empower others to have the courage to stick up for themselves and say ‘what was done to me was wrong and I am not alone in this. There are other people out there that share similar experiences to mine,’ and I want people to know that they have a support system. That’s why I chose to bite off this big task.”    

And quite the tough task it can be. The sheer scale and cruelty of domestic and sexual abuse cases is staggering, with victims facing potentially years’ worth of developmental and mental heatlh issues. As explained by Suthann:  

“If you have not been a victim of abuse, you probably know somebody that has been. Experience abuse and trauma creates a fractured foundation for an individual’s lifetime. The mental implications of being abused are extremely heavy and damaging to the human psyche to the point that it creates PTSD, anxiety, depression, and even addiction, especially when we’re talking about childhood abuse.”  

And it’s not merely about quote statistics and explaining what this entails. It’s a call to action, self-reflection, and long term, a step toward ending the cycle of abuse via processing and healing. Whether someone has suffered abuse or not, the presentation aims to bring everyone onboard.  

“I want people to think twice about their actions, how they treat others. Part of my presentation isn’t just talking about my own personal experiences. It’s a call to action for personal accountability and self-reflection, and to feel a strong sense of responsibility to others, ‘How can I support my friends, how can I help protect my friends.’ College students are at higher risk, they are a more vulnerable population to be sexually assaulted or abused in some way, and not just women, but men too. Men can be sexually assault and raped to. So, this isn’t just a women’s issue, this is everyone’s issue,” Suthann said.      

Yet, few are as qualified to help bring this tragedy to light as Jessa Suthann. An abuse survivor herself, Suthann’s work for Shelter from the Storm sees her side by side with victims currently processing and escaping abusive situations, explaining to The Voice:    

“A lot of my work has to do with helping individuals file restraining orders, stalking orders, family abuse protection orders. I go to court with victims, I help people get counseling services or emergency shelter if they’re actively fleeing from their abuser.” 

In addition, Suthann’s position as EOU’s privileged campus advocate grants her, under Oregon’s advocate privilege law, ORS-40.264, “The confidentiality rights of a doctor, what is talked about in my office with me cannot leave that,” she told The Voice. Any student in need of support, regardless of severity, may speak with her at any time without fear of mandatory reporting. Her office, Library-216, is an open door.    

Originally slated for January, campus closures due to winter weather pushed the presentation back. Though, as Suthann explained, “It’s really heavy stuff, things that are hard to talk about, especially with strangers… It gives me a little bit more time to practice and desensitize myself to speaking about these things in front of so many people.”  

The event will be held in the McKenzie Theater February 23 at 6:30 p.m. and will be in a Ted Talk style format. Due to space limitations, the presentation is reserved exclusively for the EOU athletics department, board members from Shelter from the Storm, and local law enforcement. Attendance by student athletes is mandatory. The event is officially backed by the Student Health Center. Her first project of this type, Suthann expressed interest in organizing a larger, follow-up event up to the entire campus, should the presentation be well received. 

Advocacy doesn’t just end when the theater empties. April marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness month. EOU students can look forward to renewed advocacy efforts with the “Survivors Rock” rock painting project and by showing their support for Denim Day.  

“My hope is that my audience leaves the theater feeling a righteous anger, a responsibility to protect themselves and others and to be more aware of the prevalence of what could be happening behind closed doors that people don’t talk about,” Suthann said.  

Shelter From the Storm: https://www.unioncountysfs.org/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SFS1979/ 

Oregon’s advocate privilege law: ORS-40.264, allows advocates that meet statute guidelines to have legal privilege similar to that of a doctor, lawyer or mental health professional. They cannot share the survivor’s information without a written release. Campus based advocates are professional staff trained to support victims of sexual violence in college and university settings. Advocates receive specialty training and offer survivors information, emotional support and assistance finding resources that work best for the survivors’ needs and situation.    

Spread the love