The SAAM Rollercoaster: Encouragement for Folks Working in the Sexual Violence Field
I love rollercoasters. Before moving to Ohio a few years ago, most of my knowledge about the state focused on Cedar Point and Kings Island. As a child, I begged for our family vacations to include time at an amusement park and as a teenager, I may have skipped school for a trip to Six Flags (sorry, Mom). As an adult, I still love the thrill of a rollercoaster; however, I have started enjoying the “slower” rides a little more… there’s nothing wrong with a nice carousel, right?!?
Having worked in the movement to end gender-based violence for the past eighteen years, I have been involved in quite a few Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) events, to say the least. It is the cornerstone of our awareness activities — a month dedicated to info tables and Take Back the Night marches and candlelight vigils and Clothesline Project displays and educational events and fundraisers and so many teal ribbons. SO MANY teal ribbons. J As I think about all of the SAAM activities being held on college campuses and at rape crisis centers across the country — this year and for decades previously — I am simply amazed at all of the time, resources and energy dedicated to bringing awareness to the issues of sexual violence. And for good reason, right? This is our passion! This is our cause! This is our fight! This is our work!
Thinking about SAAM and all that goes into preparing and presenting a month-long calendar of events, I can’t help but liken it to a rollercoaster ride…
The hours of preparation months in advance, securing locations, making plans, recruiting speakers, promoting the events — it’s like preparing for your trip to the amusement park, making your way through the admission gate, exploring the park map, and waiting in the long line for the big ‘coaster. The anticipation and excitement build! As soon as April begins, you step onto the ride and secure your seatbelt, nervousness and butterflies swirling in your stomach. And then, you’re off! There’s no turning around as the month of activities begins and you make your way up the small hill for the first drop — maybe a kick-off event or something to ease you into the month. Yes — this is fun! Before you can reflect on that first one, you are heading up the tracks again — getting ready for the next thing on the calendar. Before you know it, you’ve hit the peak and you’re flying downward — another successful event! Whew! More turns, more activities, more teal ribbons, up and down, you can barely catch your breath! Soon enough, you’ve forgotten all the insignificant details that you put so much time into planning last month and you’re just hanging on, riding the ride, hair flying, white knuckles, teeth clenched, and maybe even closing your eyes for a second. Hill after hill, drop after drop — you’re not even sure what’s coming next! But then the ride slows down temporarily — you see a small little hill ahead, a short info table event maybe, and you think “I can do this”. It seems fun even! Waving your hands up in the air, you bask in the excitement of the ride — the joy of a job well done overshadowing your exhaustion. And then… the last big hill looms ahead! Your signature event — the big fundraiser — the closing ceremony of the SAAM Olympics! Up the tracks you climb. Preparing. Last minute details. Making sure everything is just perfect. Set-up. Moving chairs and hauling brochures. Slowly creeping up towards the pinnacle. And then, whoosh! You’re flying! The big event is here and it’s happening and it’s amazing! And before you can blink, it’s all done. It’s over. The ride has ended and you’re being ushered out of your car. On wobbly legs, you blink and try to regain your balance, your sense of equilibrium, your bearings. Is it May already?!? How did this ride, this month fly by so fast? It’s over, and you’re exhausted. Confident that you made an impact, you look back to reflect on the ride and wonder if it’s possible to do it again next year. Maybe? I don’t know; it was pretty fast and a lot of work… was it worth it?
Yes, dear colleagues in the movement to end sexual violence, yes — it was certainly worth it and your efforts are to be acknowledged and celebrated! THANK YOU for all that you have done and continue to do to spread awareness and prevention messages about sexual violence!
As SAAM 2019 winds down, may I offer some encouragement? A suggestion? Let’s try some slower rides, too. Of course we will continue to get on the rollercoaster that is Sexual Assault Awareness Month next April — it is what we do! (It is our passion! It is our cause! It is our fight! It is our work!) But riding a rollercoaster every month would be exhausting and unsustainable. Just as going to an amusement park and only riding one ride would leave a person wanting more, our society needs more of our awareness, activism, and prevention messages throughout the year. To do so in an ongoing, healthy-paced, sustainable way, let’s explore other rides, other methods, other opportunities. Let’s think creatively about bringing more partners to the table. Let’s look around to see whose voices and stories and contributions are not being heard. Let’s think about new ways to engage those who have the power to stop sexual violence. This challenge is actually the theme of OAESV’s Annual Conference this year — Communities in Action. I hope you will consider joining us in the conversation on June 18–20th about creating, engaging, and building communities that will take action to end sexual violence in an ongoing, sustainable, and effective way. So, now, how about a nice, lovely ride on the carousel, as we think about how to spread awareness all year long?
Megan Jones-Williams is the Director of Training and Advocacy for OAESV, having worked in the movement to end gender-based violence since 2001. Her educational background in interpersonal communication has influenced her prior work as a program coordinator, advocate, preventionist, social justice activist, and SAAM-planner with crisis centers and gender violence prevention programs in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.