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Students in Service

Posted May. 10, 2014

Katie Shevlin: Providing Safe Harbor for Abuse Victims

By Andrew Krieger

Nearly one in five women in the United States is raped, and about 1 in 20 men and women are forced to endure sexual violence other than rape, according to the Center for Disease Control. Senior public relations major Katie Shevlin wants to do something to change that.Katie Shevlin

Shevlin, a victim of sexual abuse, used her personal adversity to empower and motivate her to found a student organization, Students Against Sexual Abuse. Known as SASA, the organization supports students who are victims of abuse and raises awareness for the issue.  “Sexual Violence can happen anywhere, anytime and to anyone,” said Shevlin. “Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.”

Shevlin’s work preceded the national attention now focused on the topic, as the result of a new White House initiative against sexual assaults on college campuses.

A year and a half ago, Shevlin partnered with Jennifer O’Connell, coordinator for Sexual Assault Response with the Office of Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services at Kent State, to develop SASA. Since that time, the organization has sponsored several awareness-raising events on campus, such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®, Take Back the Night, and One Billion Rising. The group also holds bi-weekly meetings at the Women’s Center on Tuesday evenings (The Women’s Center is located in the Carriage House, behind Kent State’s Alumni House). According to Shevlin, the group has about 20 active members.

“Our members are primarily women; however, we've had several male members,” said Shevlin. “SASA is open to all students, and we encourage anyone who interested in our cause to become a member,” she added. “If you don't want to become a member but still want to contribute, you can attend a meeting or join our listserv to find out about volunteer opportunities.” 

“Some of our members are survivors, but many just support the cause and want to raise awareness. Our group's motto is ‘Take a stand. Make a difference. Change a life.’ The first step to ending sexual violence is to get people talking about it, so we strive to be conversation leaders within the University and Kent community."

In mid-April, SASA helped host Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® in Risman Plaza. The annual awareness event is designed to be a unified gender movement, where men become part of the solution to ending sexualized violence. Participating men walk a mile in high-heeled shoes -- and provide their own heels for the event. Women are encouraged to wear tennis shoes. The event featured themed games, a shoe donation drive, and a speech from Kent State Women’s Basketball Coach Danielle O’Banion.

Shevlin was raised in Steubenville, Ohio, a town recently rocked by a sexual abuse case involving the high school football team. The case strengthened Shevlin’s resolve to share her experiences and support victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Her goal is to help abuse victims take back control of their lives and to help men and women understand what sexual abuse is and how to prevent it.

Shevlin will graduate this August and plans to continue her community service by finding a career in non-profit public relations.

In her free time, Shevlin writes a blog titled “Rebel Woman” focused on women’s rights. She says one of the most difficult parts of graduation will be leaving her leadership position in SASA.

“The group of girls that I’m leaving behind to help carry on the legacy are really passionate about raising awareness and preventing sexual assault,” said Shevlin. “I feel good about that.”

As an activist, community leader and student, Katie Shevlin answers the call to serve in several aspects of her life.

 

Captions: 

Rotator Photo:  T-shirts created for The Clothesline Project, a program designed to address the issue of violence against men and women.

Interior Photo:  Shevlin (center) distributing literature for One Billion Rising.