A world free from sexual assault and harassment begins with conversations in middle school and high school, human rights activist Marissa Alexander proposed during her keynote address at the “Are You Ready program Thursday.

Hosted by Health Education Services, the Women’s Center and the Center for Social Justice as a part of Social Justice Week, the annual event was designed to address interpersonal violence through a social justice lens, according to the event’s invitation.

“Are You Ready” is the fourth and final part of the “HoyUs” program that also comprises the mandatory “I Am Ready” and “Bringing in the Bystander” training for all incoming freshmen and transfer students. Small group discussions led by student facilitators followed Alexander’s address.

HANNAH LEVINE FOR THE HOYA Alexander emphasized the need to have different platforms to forge communication.

Inspired by her own experience in an abusive relationship, Alexander founded the Marissa Alexander Justice Project with the intent of creating unity through social justice and anti-domestic violence movements.

Alexander’s story gained national attention and shed light on harsh minimum mandatory sentencing policies and the Stand Your Ground Law, according to the event’s invitation.

In August 2010, Alexander was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for firing a warning shot after being attacked by her husband, from whom she was estranged at the time. In August 2012, Marissa was sentenced to 20 years in prison under Florida’s minimum mandatory sentencing policies. An appellate court overturned her case in 2013 as a result of faulty jury instructions. Finally, in January 2017, she was released.

Alexander said that the conversations necessary to preventing and addressing domestic abuse begin early. Speaking to middle and high school students about sexual assault violence requires exposing them to these problems while allowing them to formulate their own opinions. Alexander said this method is how she interacts with students within the Marissa Alexander Justice Project.

“We just share the information; we don’t tell them how to think, but what we do is we bring ourselves. We say you have your own manual, and I have my own and through the process of this curriculum we have them refine their manuals,” Alexander said.

Alexander emphasized the need to have different platforms to forge communication. She highlighted the fact that members of minority communities often do not have the same opportunity to speak out in abusive situations.

“[Women of color] suffer in silence, some women can’t get help because they don’t have police reports,” Alexander said. “They don’t have police reports because they live independent housing. They don’t have a police report because they’ll lose their housing.”

Young people must also expose themselves to different perspectives to expand their viewpoints on social justice issues, Alexander said.

“The media plays a big push in the ideology of what things are for kids, and so it’s important just to take the time to disengage with your social group,” Alexander said. “Step outside your comfort zone and see what the world around you is. I’m from a military background and could never have imagined a person being as damaged as my abuser was.”

Alexander emphasized the need for diverse backgrounds in university student health programs so that all students feel comfortable seeking help.

“If someone is going to want to come out as a victim of sexual assault, they are going to look for someone from within their community,” Alexander said. “Jewish, Hispanic or Latina, student groups must facilitate that conversation. People are not going to come forward if the people before them cannot culturally understand them.”

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