When Amanda Walton was sexually assaulted during her junior year at Southern Utah University, she developed a passion for victim advocacy.
After graduating with degrees in English and communication in spring 2021, Walton began working for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a non-profit focused on sexual violence education, prevention and response.
“As a survivor, I was lucky to have the resources I did,” Walton said. “I want everyone to have that.”
Walton worked as UCASA’s program specialist with groups across the state to educate community members about the importance of prevention. Most notably, she organized a 40-hour Sexual Assault Counselor Training program designed to educate specialists on prevention and the best ways to support and empower survivors.
“I took this position because it’s really prevention-focused, and I wanted to get the chance to make a difference,” Walton said. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to train people on something I’m so passionate about.”
According to the Utah Department of Health, rape is the only violent crime in Utah with higher rates than the national average. In Utah, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 25 men experience rape or an attempted rape in their lifetime. Walton believes the state needs to do better at preventing these assaults by switching their focus from the victims to the perpetrators.
“Prevention is key to ending sexual assault, and that doesn’t mean just telling women to ‘be safe,’” she said. “To make change, we need to have hard conversations about consent. It’s the only way things are going to get better.”
During her time at SUU, Walton did her part to start those conversations — especially in her position as the College of Humanities and Social Sciences senator. She co-authored the Sexual Assault Peer and Advocate Bill, urging the administration to support the Health and Wellness Center in hosting a victim advocate on campus three days a week. The bill passed unanimously.
Shortly before her final semester at SUU, she accepted an internship with the Utah State Senate which gave her the opportunity to observe the writing and voting process of sexual assault legislation. After that experience, along with several more months of experience working with survivors at UCASA, Walton wishes everyone was as committed to prevention as she is.
“You can’t just be against rape. You have to actively fight for prevention and against assault and you have to speak up,” Walton said. “You can be against rape and still be contributing to rape culture.”
One suggestion Walton had for those who want to become more involved is to pay attention to new legislation and make their voices heard in political spaces. As a former Senate intern, she has seen outspoken senators move legislation forward.
“Stay involved in local politics. We have legislation about sexual assault literally every session,” Walton said. “Pay attention to what’s happening, and use your voice.”
Though engaging in politics can be confusing or even intimidating for college students, Walton explained the process is less difficult than it seems. Thanks to the internet and social media, it is actually easier than ever to find and contact your representatives.
Anyone can be an ally to survivors regardless of how politically involved they are. According to Walton, all it takes is believing victims and advocating for them.
“The first way to be an ally is to make it known that people can trust you and come to you,” she said. “Most importantly, when they tell you they’ve been assaulted, believe them.”
Many survivors of sexual violence are labeled as liars, so only 310 out of every 1,000 cases of sexual assault are reported to law enforcement which makes it difficult to self-advocate and seek justice against their perpetrators. However, statistics show that nearly all allegations are true. Out of those reported, only 2% of allegations are determined to be false.
Walton also explained that it is important to remember that not all victims are women and not all perpetrators are men. An alarming number of men are assaulted each year. Furthermore, male survivors are less likely to report to law enforcement than female survivors due to factors such as harmful gender stereotypes and society’s often toxic standard of masculinity. Only additional allies and advocacy can reverse these attitudes.
“We need everyone’s involvement to stop sexual assault,” Walton said. “White women can’t be at the helm — we need men, queer people and even past perpetrators to speak up.”
Students interested in becoming more involved in prevention efforts can visit UCASA’s website. Walton recommends checking out the UCASA Webinar Training Series which is free and publicly available on the organization’s YouTube channel.
UCASA also has a number of other programs and resources available for survivors and anyone looking to support the cause including a blog, volunteer opportunities and a comprehensive list of community resources in each of Utah’s counties.
“Just do everything you can to learn more,” said Walton. “Seeing what I do, helping others learn and exposing them to this information for the first time… that’s what this is all about.”
Article by: Aspen English