New website encourages anonymous students to share assault experiences
Since the website went live Friday night, about half a dozen students have posted anonymous personal experiences with sexual assault on It Happens Here: WUSTL, an online platform for Washington University students to share stories they may not feel comfortable sharing publicly.
One of the website’s co-creators, junior Haley Hill, got the idea from a friend who showed her a similar site for Northwestern University. She worked with sophomore Heather Berlin to collect resources and set up the website during spring break before officially going live at the end of last week.
“The goal of the website is to provide a safe space for voices to be heard,” Berlin said. “It’s really important to listen to what people have to say on such a sensitive topic, and people have the right to keep their identities hidden. The website is a way to provide insight on sexual assault to the community while also giving survivors a voice.”
At the top of the survivor story tab is a warning for people who might be triggered by reading their peers’ accounts.
“Instead of having to see someone face to face or talk to them, all stories can be shared with a few clicks,” Berlin said. “If that makes it easier in the slightest for anyone to find help, it’s completely worth it.”
In addition to the survivor stories posted, separate tabs on the website contain collect links to give survivors access to resources and allies.
“One of the saddest things is that when people deal with some of the hardest things in life, they feel like they have to deal with it alone,” Hill said. “Sexual assault isn’t talked about and it’s a huge problem, so I think it’s a powerful thing for someone to be able to see a community and to have people who they’re walking with.”
Berlin acknowledged that while the school community did have good resources for sexual assault survivors through groups such as the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline and events such as Take Back the Night, It Happens Here: WUSTL would serve as another tool for students.
“The fact that there are spaces at Wash. U. already for students to share experiences is a really great thing, and this [website] is just another resource,” she said. “The whole point is that it provides an anonymous platform to speak out and promote dialogue and awareness. Take Back the Night is a great event, but not everyone’s able to go to it; this isn’t necessarily to replicate it but another space for students to have their voices heard anonymously.”
Students seemed generally supportive of the website.
“I think it’s a good idea because it fosters a sense of community and allows people who would otherwise be too uncomfortable to speak out to convey their experiences,” junior Jayshree Balakrishnan said.
Hill said that while currently the most powerful outcome would be for students to be able to read the stories and feel that they are a part of a community, she is open to expanding the site in the future and getting more people involved.