CONTENT WARNING: This post addresses sexual assault and domestic violence.
In 2015, I began collaborating with my local sexual assault and domestic violence shelter to offer library programming centered around Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in April. SAAM was always the harder event to prepare for because the topic was one that many people feel uncomfortable discussing in public. While domestic violence is awful, it seemed that more people were willing to open up about their stories, whereas sexual assault is still something many don’t want to share. We had themes to guide us that were established by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center which really helped focus our project. In 2017, the theme was “Engaging New Voices” and the partners I worked with felt these new voices should be young people. We actually ended up using this theme for two years because in 2018 we continued to build the program and engaged teens.
The partnership between the library and the local sexual assault and domestic violence shelter was one that we built over several years. I did an outreach event in October 2014 which did not draw nearly as many people as I was hoping for. While at that event, I got to know the outreach team at the center and we decided to start collaborating on projects for April and the following October. From my standpoint, it was a good move because we were both going to promote the event and the advocates from the shelter would provide the voice of expertise. Our work together eventually grew into programming events for teens.
Programming events related to domestic violence and sexual assault for adults can be a challenge; for teens, it was scary territory. This was not something I had ever created a teen program for, but I knew it was something our regular teens would be interested in. I relied a lot on my partners from the shelter because they had done outreach to teens in local schools and actually had an action team of teens. Our discussions regarding SAAM began almost right after the previous SAAM event wrapped, with our first in person meeting occurring during the summer. At that meeting we would determine what we wanted to do. Would this be one big event? Are we doing multiple events? What target audience are we looking for? Part of the reason this process began so far in advance was because the space that the library used for programs could also be booked out by community groups as well as other internal departments that wanted to offer other programming. However, as a collaborative team, we also wanted to make sure we were all on the same page and were going over the hits and misses of the previous year.
When it was determined that we wanted to reach out to teens, I reflected back on what a program like that would look like in the library. After much conversation, the team decided to reach out to one of the local schools that assisted girls who were not thriving in a traditional school setting. In a nod to Project Clothesline, we opted to inform the young women at the school about the significance of Denim Day while we decorated jeans. All partners brought bubble paint and fabric markers to the school on a day in April. The shelter provided the jeans for decoration. Each partner claimed a specific time to be at the school and help lead the project in class. In all, I think every girl at the school was able to decorate a pair of jeans.
After the jeans were decorated, the school allowed us to leave them on their property for a few days. At that time, I picked them up and brought them to the library. The library’s main role was to facilitate an art show and provide girls the opportunity to be featured artists, stand by their jeans, and talk about the significance of the day to them. We had a few speakers that we arranged to come up and speak at the event. As a librarian, I welcomed everyone to the event and gave some general information about the library and why we partnered on this project. We then had speakers from the shelter and from our local NOW Chapter come up to speak about what is being done locally and at a national level. Finally, we gave a teacher from the school a chance to talk about the experience for the girls. Instead of the teacher speaking alone, the girls actually came up with her and explained what the event meant to them and what they learned.
From what SAAM programming was when we first began collaborating in 2015—to what it ended up being in 2018—was an interesting progression, especially as we worked our way into teen programming. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do a teen event on sexual assault without those first two years, and I certainly don’t think I would have approached this topic without the partners I had. For additional resources, please visit the SAAM website. The event planning guide is a great resource for those who have never done an event like this before and want somewhere to start. In the guide, they mention a library book display. So, let’s just say you end up going with a book display. Consider reaching out to your local shelters to get feedback on your book display. Build that relationship and then work together on a project for next year.