What started as a marketing project managed to change their lives.
Perturbed by the pervasiveness of sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, industrial technology senior Elan Timmons and business administration junior Maxwell Fong felt an obligation to obstruct its course.
Styled after the acclaimed blog “Humans of New York,” Timmons and Fong set out to capture similar narratives through their own project, “Current Solutions” — an online platform designed to facilitate conversations about sexual assault, abuse and gender inequality.
“We’re trying to make it easier for people to open up and talk about it — that’s our goal with the stories,” Fong said.
The stories of harrowing and neglected experiences with abuse are housed through the project’s website, which invites individuals to publicly share their experiences online.
As of now, the team — Timmons, Fong and a handful of other Cal Poly students — has conducted more than 25 interviews. And in reflection of those stories, Timmons said they’ve managed to find a couple constants: Talking about it always helps, connecting to other people who have been in similar experiences is constructive and lastly, sharing their stories had an infectious, snowballing effect.
“Almost all of the people we talked to waited a certain amount of time before sharing — some of them longer than others — but as soon as they did share and start talking about it, it was a weight off their shoulders,” Timmons said.
The first interviewee for “Current Solutions” was kinesiology junior Nicole Huffman, and she first heard about the platform through her boyfriend, who was formerly involved in the project.
“It’s not the first time I’ve shared my story, but it was definitely the first time I was aware of what the consequences would be,” Huffman said. “I knew that it would be published, or at least public. So that was different.”
Right before her junior year of high school, somebody Huffman thought was a friend raped her in her home.
“At the time I didn’t see it that way,” she said. “I just thought it was an awkward and weird altercation — that we couldn’t be friends anymore, that it was a misunderstanding.”
The following six months after the incident left Huffman fearful and confused.
“I didn’t know how to label what had happened to me, but I knew I was uncomfortable and afraid and violated,” Huffman said. “Seeing him in public spaces was hard.”
The two year mark gave way to a “forced clarity” for Huffman. Detectives and family became involved and she began emotionally and publicly processing the event.
“After participating in discourse, growing up a little and being surrounded by what it means to be assaulted — that it doesn’t always have to be a stranger — I kind of came to terms with what had happened, and realized how to categorize it,” Huffman said.
And while the period of time after her assailant’s eventual sentencing was by no means peaceful, Huffman said it freed her headspace to focus on other things — namely activism and helping other survivors reclaim their voices.
“It gives me a purpose that in order to reclaim power and make sure my assailant doesn’t get any more power, I can take the reins of what’s happened to me and help other people,” she said.
Knowing there’s a community of survivors doesn’t give Huffman safety, rather it does the opposite — it pronounces the ubiquity of assault. By the same token, however, it gives her security and an obligation to share voices that have long been silenced.
According to Fong, a noted and unfortunate trend “Current Solutions” has seen is that “the system” currently does not favor the victim. In fact, a seven-month investigation released in 2014 by Mustang News found that Cal Poly withheld a handful of reported rapes in its crime statistics.
And while the culture seems to be changing — albeit slowly — Fong thinks “Current Solutions” is a viable way to accelerate and refocus the conversation.
Inspired by her own interview, Huffman has transitioned to interviewer — helping “Current Solutions” empower survivors around campus to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable.
And for her, the best medicine is reclaiming her own voice.
“A lot of friends — in their incredibly good intentions — will offer up their feelings without warrant,” Huffman said. “What really gives me comfort is people who don’t project what they perceive to be justice onto my situation and don’t expect a certain response.”
Being called a victim purports the individual won’t be able to overcome their experience, Huffman said. Conversely, being called a warrior makes it seem as though “sexual assault is bad, but not that bad.”
“Current Solutions” strives to support through that kind of neutrality, and to let the stories speak for themselves. Fong said the support has been overwhelmingly positive.
“For no person has the experience been greater than their will to overcome it,” he said. “For people currently going through that turbulent phase, we want them to know that there is a light there.”
Of main focus, Fong and Timmons said, is conversation with men, and driving men to join the movement.
“It’s not just a women’s issue, it’s an everyone’s issue,” Fong said.
Colloquially and historically, conversation usually converges around the victim’s actions — actions that seemingly “groom” the victim to their own fate — dress, alcohol intake, social context and a myriad comments that address everything but the perpetrator.
It’s time to shift the conversation, Fong said.
“Why don’t we just tell our sons, or male students: ‘Don’t commit sexual assault?’”