Processed with VSCO with c1 preset Credit: Carsten Frauenheim | Mustang News

Cal Poly Safer teamed up with the local non-profit RISE to create free teal face masks for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The initiative aimed to give local residents access to face masks while also spreading awareness about sexual assault during the month of April. 

The color teal was chosen because, like denim, it has become a marker for sexual assault awareness.

According to RISE Prevention and Education Manager Janae Sargent, this initiative was inspired by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault who came up with the idea for the masks and passed it along to other organizations including RISE. 

“For us, it was really a combination of how can we respond to our community’s very real need right now and how can we tie it back to sexual assault awareness and prevention,” Sargent said.

SLO County residents were able to order the masks via phone or through RISE’s website for hand-delivery by RISE’s youth volunteer group. 

“I hope that [this initiative] sparks conversation, breaks down the stigma of sexual violence and shares the message that being a part of ending sexual violence does not take some big commitment,” Sargent said.

While RISE handled much of the legwork for this initiative, Sargent said, it would not have been possible without Safer’s financial support. 

The teal mask initiative was also meant to highlight the link between COVID-19 and sexual violence as “survivors face particular challenges while sheltering at home with potential abusers, unsupportive households or lack of access to resources,” Safer’s Prevention Specialist for Gender-Based Violence Initiatives Jennifer MacMartin said. 

“We have seen that our community has truly come together to support one another amid this crisis, and we hope that this Teal Mask Movement contributes to that togetherness,” MacMartin said on behalf of Safer. “Additionally, we are seeking to build a stronger connection between public health issues and gender and power-based violence, which both intersect so strongly and are heightened crises at the moment.”

Safer’s tagline for this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month was “Our Liberation is Intersectional,” and the organization focused on the intersectionality of different communities that are particularly affected by sexual violence. Safer also put on a virtual candlelight vigil in place of their annual “Take Back the Night” event, as well as a virtual survivor solidarity event on April 29, otherwise known as Denim Day. 

Although Sexual Assault Awareness month is over and the masks are no longer available to order, MacMartin said both Safer and RISE are continuing to do what they can to support survivors of gender-based violence during these uncertain times.

Sargent said he encourages residents to make masks of their own by following tutorial videos available on YouTube.

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