'Consent and healthy relationships'

Human trafficking, domestic violence survivor Brooke Axtell to speak at GVSU

By Celia Harmelink | 4/19/17 10:49pm

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GVL / Courtesy - Brio Photography Brooke Axtell, official headshot

by Brio Photography / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Grand Valley State University is partnering with the Center for Women in Transition (CWT) to welcome Brooke Axtell to campus to talk about consent and healthy relationships.

This event will take place Friday, April 21, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center Pere Marquette Room. Attendance is free, and all students, faculty and staff are encouraged to come.

Brooke Axtell is a survivor of both human trafficking as a child and domestic violence as an adult. She is now a human rights activist for men and women overcoming rape, sex trafficking and abuse. She was a speaker at the 2015 Grammy Awards, where she performed her spoken word about her domestic violence.

“She’s just really inspirational,” said Ellie Davis, the development and communication manager for the CWT. “She’s extremely eloquent. She was on the Grammy Awards in 2015, and she did that spoken word piece, and it was so powerful.”

Ashley Schulte, the victim advocate and Violence Against Women Grant coordinator at the GVSU Women’s Center, thinks storytelling is an effective way to communicate difficult content like sexual assault.

“Storytelling is a transformational way to increase understanding, empathy and awareness around anyone’s identity and lived experience,” Schulte said via email. “Hearing survivors’ stories is both empowering and transformational in our individual understanding of violence and the complexities that it likely presents.”

Davis said she first heard of Axtell through an article online where she talked about her experiences. The CWT members found her story to be a great example of how a service like theirs could help someone who had been victimized multiple times.

“I get to hear many survivors’ stories as they come in for advocacy, so this will be an opportunity to hear from Brooke and her experience, especially as it relates to what college students can do to have empowering and healthy relationships and deeply understand consent,” Schulte said.

Axtell’s talk will fit into GVSU’s other programming for Sexual Assault Awareness Month to shed light on this topic, particularly for students who may be facing these issues now or in the future.

“Brooke is very passionate about speaking with young people,” Davis said. “She really feels like violence prevention work is key. Those who are exposed to violence as children tend to end up in violence as adults.”

Davis said educating youth at an early age is the way to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.

“The more you can educate people, the more you can create awareness and create that conversation, the better chance you have of stopping violence before it starts,” she said. “As an agency, that’s kind of on the front lines. We would love to have no jobs. We would love that people didn’t need to come to us for help. So that's why we’re so invested in the prevention work.”

The CWT offers many supportive services, such as the 24-hour crisis line, a supportive housing program, and therapy for trauma, sexual assault and domestic violence. These, in addition to many other services, are provided to nearly 3,000 men, women and children living in Ottawa and Allegan counties every year.

Davis hopes the main takeaway from this event will be that it opens the door for conversation so more people can become aware of these issues.

“I think for us, it’s really about awareness, so we want people to be aware of these issues,” Davis said. “We want to encourage the conversation about what a healthy relationship looks like, what consent means and those kinds of conversations.”

For more information about this event, visit www.gvsu.edu/events/consent-and-healthy-relationships-with-brooke-axtell/.

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