In October 2019, Josie Carter was sexually assaulted on Miami’s campus.
After coming to terms with what had happened, she felt alone. While there are several resources on campus that offer support for sexual and interpersonal violence (SIV), none of them fit quite right with Carter.
Carter says she wasn’t looking to press charges or feel victimized.
She was looking to talk to someone who’d gone through the same thing as her.
“I kind of felt like there was no space for me to deal with what I’d been through on campus,” she said. “I feel like a lot of survivors feel the same way.”
That became the driving force behind her new organization, Sexual Assault Survivor Support (SASS).
Carter, a sophomore psychology major and president and founder of SASS, hopes to provide a community and safe space for survivors, foster allies and offer advocacy and prevention education.
In February, Carter started with a team of herself and two friends. Now, in just its first full semester on campus, SASS has about 60 members and counting.
Due to COVID-19, SASS is limited to virtual, biweekly meetings, where they invite members to tell their stories and make their voices heard.
“I’ve been very surprised as to the turnout of people being so open and honest,” Carter said.
Carter often receives messages from students saying they’d love to be more involved, but they aren’t ready yet. She acknowledges that even that is a big step for many survivors.
Though SASS is made up mostly of women, Carter emphasizes all are welcome.
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“It’s not just a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue,” she said. “I think [men] deserve support and education as well.”
Taylor Beasley, a sophomore strategic communication and entrepreneurship major, is the executive marketing director for SASS. One of the original three members of SASS, Beasley is not comfortable remaining idle while SIV issues continue on campus.
“I have met very few people at Miami that haven’t been either personally touched or know someone who has been personally touched by sexual assault,” she said.
In the fall semester of 2019 alone, 40 assaults were reported, more than any semester in recent history.
Beasley manages the organization’s social media, which includes a website, blog, LinkedIn and Instagram. Because of this semester’s remote nature, Beasley is working to ensure the platforms are inviting.
“[Social media] is kind of our only point of connection to our entire student body,” she said. “Making sure we’re getting really creative with how we’re reaching people is probably our No. 1 priority.”
SASS has even been able to utilize its social media to help gain financial support.
After entering a contest through Instagram, SASS is one of just 10 student organizations to receive a $5,000 grant from the Bumble Student Community Fund.
The dating app distributed money to organizations that share its same values: equality, inclusivity, respect and accountability, to name a few.
While Carter and the rest of the executive board are still figuring out where they want to allocate the funds, Carter has one specific goal in mind.
Though Miami offers routine counseling services, this year’s Miami Student Health Survey (MSHS) reported nearly one-fourth of respondents use or have used the services. Because of this, students may not always be able to get the help they need in a timely manner.
Carter wants to use the grant to offer free group therapy sessions with a therapist trained in SIV issues.
“Mental health plays a huge role in people’s lives, and this type of trauma plays a huge role in mental health,” Beasley said.
Eventually, Carter hopes to have a space in Armstrong Student Center for SASS so that it can grow to be a well-known resource on campus, even after she graduates.
“Sexual assault has been so normalized on campus,” she said. “We say, ‘Oh, that’s so sad,’ but then we just forget about it. If it can help one person at the end of the day, then I have fulfilled the purpose of the organization.”
With a balance between heavy events like Title IX information sessions and walks for domestic violence and lighter occasions like yoga and coffee dates, SASS is ready to help survivors each step of the way.
“Hopefully we can create a large enough platform,” Beasley said, “where … people have to listen because we’re too loud.”