During the month of April, various Harding organizations and individuals participate in Sexual Assault Awareness Month. HU Brave is among them, but not only during April.
Director of Upward Bound Stephanie O’Brian, one of HU Brave’s co-founders and a licensed counselor, said it is important to make sure people know they are not alone and to have available resources for those who have struggled or may be struggling with sexual assault, especially with many social distancing in possibly unsafe environments during this time.
“The fact that a lot of abusive situations are going unreported at the moment because people are home a lot more, and you know, not at school, it is definitely a reality,” O’Brian said. “There’s no denying it.”
Junior Hannah Plumlee is current president of HU Brave. Plumlee said she had admired the organization and got involved her freshman year since she has close friends and family who have been affected by sexual assault.
Plumlee said this April has looked different than HU Brave thought it would. Their original plans of having a chapel presentation and being more active in person has not been possible with classes being moved online. She said their focus now is allowing their social media presence to reach as many people as it can and continuing their mission on that avenue.
“Right now there are people everywhere who are stuck at home because of this pandemic, and everyone is going a little stir crazy waiting for this to be over,” Plumlee said. “But then you know there’s an entire group of people who have been largely forgotten, and those are the people who are trapped in abusive or unstable homes during quarantine.”
Plumlee highlighted the importance of reaching out to those who may be in unstable environments, making sure they know they are not alone.
“It’s just so important that we keep connections with people and remind them that they have advocates, that they have supporters, so they don’t lose hope during this time,” Plumlee said.
O’Brian said the group started first as a social media campaign to give those who needed a platform an opportunity to tell their story. It then grew into a campus organization.
“It was started just so Harding students in particular would know that they weren’t alone,” O’Brian said. “People don’t talk about sexual assault, especially in Christian communities, as much as they need to and as much as they should.”
Both O’Brian and co-founder Caitlyn Denison have experienced sexual assault. O’Brian said while they had both experienced it at different times in their lives, their struggles afterward with loneliness were similar.
“We had both, in our own experiences, struggled with isolation and loneliness, because when someone is assaulted, it not only affects them emotionally, psychologically and physically, but it really affects them spiritually as well,” O’Brian said.
Senior Dane Richey is the current vice president of HU Brave. Richey said he was inspired by various testimonies and stories and his involvement with the organization grew from there.
“As I started learning more and more about it, I started to realize how prevalent of an issue this was,” Richey said. “Not just how prevalent sexual abuse was in our country and our world, but also directly on Harding’s campus, and I just think it’s something we need to pay more attention to.”
Richey said that while the plans HU Brave had for this semester have been shifted online, the organization is already making plans for more involvement in the upcoming fall semester. Richey said anyone who wants to be involved is welcome, and their meetings are a good way to join.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get people involved because the thing about sexual assault and the way people think about it is that it’s a change of mindset, which happens slowly,” Richey said. “So every year, we may not see tons and tons of progress made on Harding’s campus or made in the surrounding communities, but we need more people, because over time that attitude changes and people’s mindset changes.”
Plumlee said HU Brave is dedicated to encouraging everyone they can to keep fighting against sexual assault, but it is important that everyone work together to spread awareness.
“With HU Brave, our goal is to see a day where our campus and all other campuses and just communities in general are encouraged to openly stand up against this epidemic, because that’s what it is,” Plumlee said. “And just like the coronavirus, it can be defeated, but not without a lot of people working together with the common goal.”