The music softened and the voices trailed off during the moment of silence.This is how Lumina Alliance closed out sexual assault action month with their final event.

In the first year of being back since the global pandemic left people homebound, new perspectives were shared in various events throughout April –– which is sexual assault awareness month –– that shed light on what exactly happened during the global crisis in this regard. As a result, statistics show that the rates of sexual violence increase during states of emergency. 

In an email to Mustang News, the Domestic Violence Hotline said in February of 2021 the hotline received “the highest monthly contact volume of its 25-year history- 74,000 calls, chats and texts in only 28 days.”

Audio by Ethan Telles

In 2005 reports showed that throughout Hurricane Katrina and the recovery period, sexual violence cases rose by 45%, according to the Center for Primary Care at the Harvard Medical School.

After Hurricane Andrew in Miami, spousal abuse calls to the local community helpline increased by 50%. After Hurricane Mitch,  27% of female survivors (and 21% of male survivors) in Nicaragua told surveyors that woman battering had “increased in the wake of the hurricane in the families of the community.” Police reports of domestic violence in the 7 months after Mt. St. Helens erupted increased by 46% over the same period the year earlier.

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Video by Sophie Lincoln

“There is a pattern of gender differentiation at all levels of the disaster process: exposure to risk, risk perception, preparedness, response, physical impact, psychological impact, recovery and reconstruction,” a 2005 report from the World Health Organization reported.

When the shelter in place went into effect back in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, many individuals lost communities and support. They had no one to call, no one to talk to and no one else to see except those in their households, according to Chief Communications Officer at Lumina Alliance Jane Pomeroy.

What was supposed to be a national lockdown, actually turned into being “locked away” for many, according to Pomeroy.

Lumina Alliance, a non-profit organization that offers a 24-hour crisis and information line, saw its crisis hotlines go cold during the stay-at-home order, according to Pomeroy.

Reports dropped by almost 15%, according to San Luis Obispo police department crime analyst Julie Chang.

“What happened was that many survivors were not going to work, dropping their kids off at school, or really going anywhere,” Pomeroy said. “They never really had the opportunity to make a confidential call.”

After the stay-at-home order was lifted, Pomeroy spoke of how the crisis hotline calls began to rise.

“Our crisis line calls increased greatly. We also heard from the sheriff’s department that their domestic violence-related calls increased by about 60% in the following months,” Pomeroy said.

Sexual Assault Action Month in the Community

Cal Poly’s Safer, Lumina Alliance and the Associated Students Inc. put on several events for Sexual Assault Action Month in April. The San Luis Obispo Community came together throughout the month to not only educate each other but give each other the option to take action and get involved. 

The month was kicked off by keynote speaker and founder of the Me Too movement, Tarana Burke, who told her story and the meaning behind the movement.

“It will take all of us seeing ourselves as a part of this movement to make even the smallest impact,” Burke said at the event on April 11. 

Other events that happened were Safer’s Denim Day Booth at Cal Poly’s University Union, where community members and Cal Poly students showed their support for survivors by wearing denim. In addition, there was a discussion with survivors with disabilities and how to accommodate them on April 21, and a candlelight vigil called “Take Back the Night.”

At the last event of the month, “Take Back the Night,”  local band Kiwi Kanibal performed as attendees listened to different speakers as well as participated in various activities such as a march through campus and an auction. 

“I’m a part of this campus, and we are all a part of one big community, so I think it’s really important …that we all come together to show support,” art and design senior Sierra Brill said.

Brill is a part of athletics, and sees her position, as a leader on campus, as a reason why she must be involved in Safer. 

“I got into Safer because I’m a student-athlete. And as a woman in sport, I see a lot of potential risk factors that lead us to be more susceptible to gender and power-based violence,” Brill said. “As a team leader, I wanted to be someone who was able to advocate for my teammates and be an ally and just learn more about how I could help in whatever capacity I was capable of.”

Mayor Erica A. Stewart also gave a speech addressing sexual violence within San Luis Obispo. 

“I just would love to see this issue stop. I would like to see us not have to even be here. I would like to see no one experience this type of violence,” Stewart said.

The “Take Back the Night” event is global. It recognizes the strength and resilience of survivors and allows survivors and allies from all different backgrounds and organizations to come together to learn, advocate for survivors, and reclaim the night, according to Safer’s website.

“When we come together there is nothing we can’t do,” Kara Samaniego, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Safer said. “Sexual assault is a community issue and it requires a community response.”