Civic advocacy major Jaime Heiner wants to empower survivors of sexual assault with her nonprofit organization, I Am.
Heiner, who currently serves as the Weber State University Student Association’s senate secretary, said she is well aware of the struggles many survivors face long after the attack ends. Heiner came forward in December 2012 with allegations of prolonged sexual assault from her former ninth-grade science teacher.
“It was a really hard couple of months . . . (but) I decided early on that I didn’t want to let (the experience) define my life,” Heiner said. “It was time to take my life back.”
She said that, besides the physical, emotional and mental pain of surviving any sort of attack, sexual assault come with its own unique set of problems.
Many individuals who have been through sexual assault suffer from the “victim-shaming” mentality, or the idea that they are somehow at fault for the attack.
“You’re told all of these degrading things by your abuser,” Heiner said. “I don’t believe that victims and survivors are people that are broken. They may be a little bruised, but they are powerful.”
According to Heiner, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted in some form by the time they exit college. She said she wants to help empower men and women of all ages to see beyond their past.
I Am is intended to be a global community both on and offline that works toward that goal. Heiner said she believes that by empowering college-age survivors, the organization will be helping the community at large.
“It’s not just a survivor’s movement — it’s a human movement,” she said.
Trevor Annis, WSUSA service vice president, said he believes projects like I Am will be welcome and supported by the Center for Community Engaged Learning.
“I do think that the CCEL would be interested in partnering with I Am,” he said. “It’s impressive and inspiring to me! I think it’s awesome that students as young as Jaime take the initiative to create programs for positive change.”
Annis’ advice for Heiner was to work with the CCEL. “We have staff there that are very knowledgeable and can help them start off on the right foot and get them connected with the right people.”
Heiner said the legal system is currently arranged in such a way that perpetrators often don’t serve any jail time for their offenses.
Heiner has worked with several Utah representatives, including Rep. Brad R. Wilson (R-Davis), on bills regarding sexual assault. She worked with Wilson on a bill aimed at redefining “the position of special trust,” a factor Heiner claims perpetrators use as a loophole in the judicial system.
Educational psychology major Brian Barnum said he believes programs aimed at helping victims of sexual assault will benefit WSU.
“I know a lot of (survivors) feel like they are less of what a person really is, and so having a program to teach them that they are in charge of their lives and stuff like that is essential,” he said. “It may not seem like a lot of people have been sexually assaulted, but in all reality, there are a lot of cases of sexual assault that may or may not be reported. Programs like this teach healthier ways to manage the effects of the assault.”