Julia Dixon, a sexual assault survivor and ambassador for PAVE: Promoting Awareness; Victim Empowerment, gave a keynote wellness presentation for the fifth and sixth form on Monday, April 15. Dixon's visit coincided with National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and is part of the wellness curriculum. Choate's Wellness Coordinator, Dr. Holly Hinderlie, heard Dixon speak at a Survivor's Panel in Washington, DC and thought her message would strongly resonate with students. Dr. Hinderlie commented, "These conversations are essential for students to create a culture where they can feel comfortable talking on a deeper level."
Dixon shared her own sexual assault experience as a college freshman at the University of Akron. She explained that she realized she could not have prevented the assault, adding, "There is no checklist to make this not happen." Dixon reviewed the basic neurobiology of trauma, how trauma has a physiological effect, and how important supportive peer groups and institutional policies can be to a survivor. Through her experience she recognized that survivors need to be met at their level in the moment, whether it be as routine as ensuring someone is eating and sleeping normally, or supporting survivors who are pursuing an adjudication at their own pace.
She stressed to students that they have the power in their peer groups to change the social stigma associated with being a sexual assault survivor, and that the first person a survivor tells their story to can greatly affect whether or not a survivor reports, seeks help, or even feels supported. Being an ally starts with everyday actions, and recognizing the influence peers have over each other. "It's on you to build this conversation," Dixon said, "we have to hold each other accountable."
After the presentation students broke into small groups led by faculty members where they discussed the impact of Ms. Dixon's story, and how they can be an ally here on campus or beyond, support survivors, and better understand consent and the prevention and response to sexual violence.