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PAVE March 19 2024 5
Students discuss at a PAVE bystander workshop on March 19, 2024.

PAVE combats sexual violence with education, activism

Founded at UW-Madison in 2001, PAVE works to educate about sexual violence and its prevention through workshops administered by students, for students.

Content warning: This article mentions rape and sexual assault.

Sexual violence is a prevalent issue among college-age individuals. According to a survey by the Association of American Universities, around 13% of college students report having experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact” since starting college.

As a student, it’s more likely than not you know someone at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has experienced sexual violence, given one in six students will experience sexual assault during their time at the university.

Faced with the tide of a widespread sexual violence crisis, Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE) — a student organization based out of the Student Activity Center — works to provide a safe space for survivors of sexual violence and is dedicated to the prevention of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking through education and activism.

“Bringing awareness to the myriad of survivor experiences at UW-Madison is so important,” said Alex Nelson, University Health Services violence prevention program manager and advisor to PAVE. “PAVE serves as a fantastic space where students can find community around their values of healthy relationships and social justice.”

PAVE was founded at UW-Madison in 2001 by then-undergraduate student Angela Rose, an activist for survivor empowerment and PAVE’s current executive director.

At age 17, Rose was abducted at knifepoint from a mall in Schaumburg, Illinois and was sexually assaulted by a serial offender who was on parole after being convicted of the murder of a 15-year-old girl.

When she reported the assault, she said she had difficulty getting the police to believe her. Rose then founded PAVE to end sexual violence by educating and advocating for greater awareness of sexual assault.

Today, PAVE is a national organization with chapters in multiple states and abroad, according to Meera Thiagarajan, a UW-Madison sophomore and PAVE peer facilitator.

“PAVE offers a community of respect and empathy. [It is] a safe place for everyone to come to,” Thiagarajan said.

UW-Madison’s chapter, funded through grants disbursed by the Associated Students of Madison, includes 10 paid student staff members and has two separate programs that students can join — a peer education program and a volunteer leadership program.

Both programs are volunteer-based and have weekly meetings, but each group differs in focus.

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Members of the peer education program meet with two of PAVE’s staff members to learn how to facilitate one of PAVE general workshops with a staff member. The program helps students find community in a safe space, according to Zevdah, a student member of the peer education program.

“If you're looking to have these conversations, [the peer education program] is a really good way to do that and find a community while doing so,” Zevdah said. “[PAVE staff members] foster a welcoming, open-minded space where you can feel comfortable sharing and discussing these topics.”

Meanwhile, volunteer leadership program members work together on projects designed to spread PAVE’s message and promote resources for survivors of sexual violence, according to Spencer Runde, another PAVE peer facilitator and UW-Madison sophomore.

“PAVE does a lot of work deconstructing the taboos that exist on campus. A big one that is prevalent [among] students is victim blaming, or even self-blaming for things you’re not at fault for,” Runde said.

A significant portion of the organization’s campus engagement comes through workshops it facilitates for student organizations and classes, Runde said.

PAVE’s staff members facilitate around 30 workshops each semester focused on topics ranging from deconstructing rape culture to sexual violence in the workplace. Each workshop varies in length from condensed 15-minute versions to full-length, hour-long workshops.

In addition to workshops, PAVE connects to the campus community by hosting weekly safe space hours in its office, according to Thiagarajan.

PAVE works to make its space as welcoming as possible to help students feel safe, Zevdah said.

“Their office is a place that not only emotionally feels safe, but physically,” Zevdah said. “They have nice music playing, ambience, lighting, stuffed animals — all the elements that you need to feel comfortable, safe and just kind of calm.”

Additionally, PAVE hosts events for students to attend throughout the academic year. Previously, PAVE has offered self-defense courses, hosted movie nights and held student-led forums on sexual violence.

During January, April and October, PAVE plans events spreading awareness about stalking, sexual assault and domestic violence, respectively.

“These activities give people an opportunity to engage with members of PAVE and find community,” Zevdah said. “Even if the activity we are doing is not [directly] about sexual assault or violence prevention, the community that it offers always feels like you’re surrounded by people who care about these topics.”

Thiagarjan and Runde both said PAVE’s position as a peer-led, confidential resource offers comfort for students who need it.

“We are a non-judgemental space that’s confidential. If you want to talk to someone that is also in college and has a lot of the same stresses that you may have, PAVE serves as a very good resource,” Runde said. “No matter the issue, you can come to PAVE.”

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