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The Power of Collective Voice: I Have The Right To

November 30, 2023

By: Camille Schloeffel
4 min read

Susan and Alexander Prout have worked in advocacy and education surrounding sexual violence among high school and middle school students since their daughter, Chessy, was assaulted in 2014. Susan, Alexander and Chessy co-founded I Have the Right To, a hub for middle and high school students, parents and educators looking for information, support and avenues of action against sexual assault. Over time, they have pivoted from awareness raising to advocating for largescale systems and social change. 

Meeting Susan and Alexander was a real privilege. It became clear once we started talking that we were aligned in so many ways, including in our values, theories of change, worldviews, and approaches to this work. I Have The Right To seeks to unite groups working towards preventing sexual violence to increase their power and build a collective voice. This form of movement building is lacking in the Australian context. Many groups in Australia work in silos and there is limited genuine collaboration. This is not necessarily due to any conflict, but more because many of these organisations are volunteer-run and struggle to retain members to keep up their own advocacy work. This is why organisations like I Have The Right To, that can do the groundwork to build collectives across the sector, are so integral to creating social change within powerful systems.

Susan and Alexander are working to reform school systems by proactively meeting with school leaders, delivering presentations to educators and parents, and facilitating workshops with students on sexual assault, consent and how to support victim-survivors. Their approach is to go beyond the ‘lecture’ and engage with all parts of a school in a variety of ways. This includes speaking with staff, students, parents, board members and alumni of the school community to understand the ecosystem of the school and where the issues lie. I Have The Right To has also developed a curriculum for schools to discuss consent and sexual assault with students, and schools are able to sign up to the organisation’s membership model to access this content. This whole-of-institution approach to prevention education is essential to dismantling harmful attitudes and changing behaviour.

I Have The Right To actively debunks harmful myths in its education activities. One of the messages they continue to get across to people is that:

You are 8 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than to be falsely accused of sexual assault.

False accusations of sexual assault are extremely rare despite it being a common misconception that many people hold. Myths like this are often reinforced by institutions in how they treat victim-survivors and activists who speak out against the horrors of what happens within their institution’s walls. When institutions silence victim-survivors and/or refuse to address the problem of sexual violence, they contribute to the stigma of sexual violence that allows these sorts of myths to survive.

Susan and Alexander also speak about the experiences of victim-survivors, drawing on Chessy’s experience (which you can read about in her memoir, I Have The Right To; A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice and Hope).

One of their key messages is that:

Most survivors don’t speak up, and when they do they get silenced.

The silencing of victim-survivors manifests in many ways. In a school or university system, silencing tends to be facilitated by senior leaders who run these institutions and who have connections with powerful people in the community. This results in victim-survivors being mistreated, myths and misconceptions being allowed to flourish, and other victim-survivors feeling unable to speak out at all.

Chessy experienced not only sexual violence, but also years of going through the criminal justice system, being bullied by people around her, and then going through a civil process. What was so horrible about this is how institutional leaders sought to silence Chessy rather than supporting her. This institutional betrayal Chessy experienced from the school at which her assault took place is an unacceptably common experience for victim-survivors who experience violence within an institutional setting.

The reality is that:

There is a whole industry with its sole purpose to steamroll the survivor into silence as a financial exercise. For them, ‘it’s cheaper to steamroll’.

This ‘steamrolling’ into silence is what drives Susan and Alexander to use their voices, and amplify the voices of others, to speak louder than ever before.

Susan and Alexander are creating a collective voice to restore power to individuals and communities following assault. Their call to action is that we all need to work together to create an ecosystem for good. I couldn’t agree more.

In solidarity,

Camille Schloeffel

Camille Schloeffel | Churchill Fellow

Camille (@camille.schloeffel) • Instagram photos and videos

Camille Schloeffel – Project Coordinator – Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT | LinkedIn

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