Spurred by their own experiences with sexual assault and the statistic that one in four college women will be sexually assaulted by the time she graduates, a group of Syracuse University students have started a new anti-sexual assault organization. Meet the Girl Code Movement and its founders Jackie Reilly, Caroline Heres, and Julie Gelb. When they debuted in November, their Facebook page received over 500 likes in a matter of hours, and has now reached over 7,000. Their entrance is timely, given the recent increase in media attention to sexual assault cases, and President Obama’s formation of a college anti-sexual assault task force. The founders of the Girl Code Movement say their organization is a little different in that it focuses on empowering bystanders to intervene and prevent sexual assault. I spoke with co-founder Jackie Reilly to learn more about the initiative.
How did the Girl Code Movement get started?
Caroline and I are the original founders of Girl Code. One day, we were sharing experiences with each other and we just had this moment where we realized that we had to do something to fix this problem. We’ve seen it, unfortunately, all the time on our campus and on other college campuses. We wanted to start an awareness campaign, and with the help of a local TV piece in Boston, our organization took off. We are a college-focused anti-sexual assault organization, and we raise awareness in college women to become empowered bystanders who can stop a rape from happening by identifying at-risk women and taking action. There are a bunch of different situations in college that make someone an at-risk woman, such as alcohol and drugs at a party, or in Caroline’s situation it was a bad relationship in high school. There are all these things that make women unable to defend themselves and put them at higher risk, and we wanted to start something that creates awareness in other women on campus, because it happens all the time.
Does Girl Code Movement have plans to expand beyond Syracuse University?
Yes. We want to create some sort of start-up package with our position, our social media campaigns, and all that stuff, and send it off to other schools. And allow them to tailor it to their university. We just filled out paperwork to become a registered student organization on our campus. We’re still very new, but we’re hoping to hold some sort of event with all of the sororities on campus. Once we figure out all those details and decide how we’re going to approach things, that’s when we’re going to reach out to other schools. And we’ve had so many other schools reach out to us already, asking how they can get something started, which is awesome.
So a core part of your mission is to hold events to educate students about bystander intervention?
Yes. And at those events we want to deal with our stories. Especially at Syracuse, I think it really hits home because people know us. So, sharing what happened with us and then saying, here, this is how you can get involved. This is what you can do. We also want to get involved with different organizations. For example, we worked with our campus newspaper, and we were on the front cover of the campus newspaper. We want to work with other organizations to get the word out there.
How do you see yourselves working with existing college anti-sexual assault organizations like Take Back the Night? How are you different?
When we came up with this idea, we thought Take Back the Night was great, but we thought, we need more of that. It needs to be more than just one event a year. We want to work alongside other groups, because we feel like we can’t do it completely on our own, and the whole point of it is coming together to raise awareness. One of our campus organizations is called A Men’s Issue, and they’re a group of men who want to stand up against behavior like this. So we’re really interested in trying to work out something with them, as well.
How do you define or identify an “at-risk woman”?
We’re a bit different from some other organizations in that we’re only focusing on college students. And to get the message across to them and get them to wake up, we thought we needed some shock value. One of our slogans is “be a cock block,” or “be a part of a cock block crew.” That means that when you’re at parties and when you’re in these environments, you should step in and be a cock block. If you see a girl who’s had too much to drink, take her home. If you see a girl whose friends have left her and she’s by herself, take her home or ask if she’s okay. If you saw a girl put her drink down and maybe you saw a guy put something in it, stop him, or warn her. Take action when you see something that is not okay.
What would you say to someone who argues that you’re invading privacy or overreaching by stepping in like that?
It’s a very fine line. Because you don’t know. And Caroline and I have talked a lot about this, because you also don’t want to keep people from having a good time. You don’t want to be trying to protect people if there’s nothing going on. But just saying, “Hey, are you ok?” never hurts. I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t want to be awkward or upset someone. But I always argue that I would rather be awkward or put someone off by asking her if she’s okay than having her wake up in tears the next morning.
Many activists argue that the focus in sexual assault prevention should be on teaching men not to rape. Do you see that as a part of your organization?
When we originally started, we kind of kept men out of the equation because we didn’t necessarily think they’d listen to us. But I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the number of men who have stood with Girl Code. I think that’s really cool, that just because our name is Girl Code it hasn’t excluded men from standing with us. I think awareness in men is hugely important. When we started, we were working with a nonprofit called SWEAR, Stand With Everyone Against Rape, and they focus on educating men about this issue. So they’re kind of like our brother organization and we work a lot with them. I definitely see that argument that we need to educate men. I think we need to come at it from both sides.
What about male victims of sexual assault? Do you see your organization expanding to include them?
That’s a really good question, and we’ve debated about it. We certainly aren’t saying that men aren’t raped as well. Unfortunately, I know way too many men who have been in that situation. But we are really basing our organization off the statistic that one in four college women will be sexually assaulted before they graduate. We are definitely starting to acknowledge that women aren’t the only victims, though. In the future we might open it up, but right now we’re focusing on raising awareness in college women and we’re women-focused.
[Via The Girl Code Movement]