Shenandoah University attempted to bring some much-needed love to a topic that is hard to discuss with the Love Letters for Survivors event on Monday Oct. 19. Sarah Celec, head of the [Not Just] Women’s Center, as well as peer mentors Kristin Sullivan and Anna Marshall, were able to discuss the event in further detail.
The event’s origin began in a very unlikely way.
“One of my work studies last year was having this conversation with me randomly about how if we don’t have people who necessarily want to go to a support group, for instance of sexual assault survivors, how can we support survivors of sexual assault?” Celec said. “And somebody said jokingly, ‘We can write a love letter to somebody.’ I thought that sounded like a really great idea, so it turned into Love Letters For Survivors.”
The Love Letters for Survivors event gives students, staff and faculty at Shenandoah the opportunity to write love letters to sexual assault survivors in the community. These letters range from a single sentence, for example, “You are not alone,” to an entire paper where someone explains their own experience with sexual assault. This kind of support is hard to come by for sexual assault survivors because it is often difficult for them to share what they have been through.
“Often sexual assault is a very hidden crime, so largely sexual assault does not go reported to law enforcement, and people who are dealing with sexual assault honestly don’t talk about it very often,” Celec said.
Events on college campuses like Love Letters for Survivors that raise awareness of sexual assault help prevent a phenomenon called the Red Zone. The first six to eight weeks of college are called the Red Zone because that is the time period in which most sexual assaults are likely to occur.
“There are lots of sexual assaults that happen on college campuses, especially within Greek life and fraternities on campus,” Sullivan said. “Shenandoah doesn’t have Greek life, but some universities do. But most sexual assaults go unnoticed and go unreported because lots of victims don’t feel comfortable sharing.”
Love Letters For Survivors was a success, with the table receiving a total of 25 letters throughout the duration of the event and organizers posting 300 survivor support notes around the Brandt Student Center. The [Not Just] Women’s Center hopes to make this an annual event so that it can grow every year.
“I really love this event because we get to show survivors that they’re supported and they’re heard and they’re loved,” Marshall said.
These letters can provide comfort to sexual assault victims in the Winchester community and give support to those who feel like they may not have any. The letters gathered from the Love Letters for Survivors campaign are given to the Laurel Center, which is an organization dedicated to ending the cycle of sexual assault and abuse. The Laurel Center is located in Winchester, and the organization will take the letters to sexual assault victims throughout the local community.