First Friday event aims to help heal victims of sexual assault

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are doing more to bring awareness of those experiencing abuse.

Student Danielle Giroux created a 'First Friday' event to help bring healing to those who need it.

Julia Laude spoke with Giroux, and others involved, about how this 'First Friday' impacted their community.

"We're on UAF's college campus; there's at least one student in every class that has faced some kind of sexual violence, and people need to be aware of that."

But it's not just on college campuses.

According to Star Alaska in Anchorage, about 59 percent of adult women in Alaska have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or both in their lifetime, with nearly 12 percent of women experiencing this within the past year.

As a part of her doctoral dissertation for the joint University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Fairbanks Clinical–Community Psychology Program, student Danielle Giroux met with UA students and other community members to learn how they had experienced sexual assault.

The art exhibition "The Heart of The Grizzly" presented these experiences through photos and narrative, allowing the viewer to understand the process of survivorship.

"Survivorship is a process, and you need to be patient with a survivor; everyone is going to move on their own timeline. I think that was advice that they were giving people who were going through the survivorship process themselves. Don't try to stuff down your feelings and keep moving forward and deny that something had happened, but rather, because the more you try and stuff your feelings, the more they're going to come out in these odd manifestations of trying to regain control in your life. I think that was some advice that they had for other survivors and providers who are working with survivors. That patience, and allowing that healing process to take as long as it takes."

Giroux's research assistant, Caitlin Tozier, says that this project also helps viewers see the perpetrator and not just the victim.

"All of the women who were involved knew their attacker," said Tozier. "Women have a hard time speaking out because people don't want to believe it. They don't want to see their dad or their uncle or their brother or their cousin as a rapist because we paint this picture of what an attacker is supposed to look like, and it doesn't necessarily match up to what the reality is."

Giroux also partnered with UAF's Resource and Advocacy Center to put together the exhibit. The Center will be displaying these photos in Arctic Java for the remainder of April. The organization also plans on starting a more permanent photo voices group.

In the future, Giroux hopes to create a sexual assault curriculum that can be used at universities.