A Longview woman and survivor of sexual assault is bringing her campaign against sexual assault and harassment home.
Stefani Webb started a social media based organization called “SirenPNW” in February as a one-person education and advocacy operation, cataloging stories from rape and sexual assault survivors and pushing for greater education about sexual consent. Much of her following has grown out of Portland, but Webb, who is a store manager at Vancouver Mall, plans to officially kick off Siren this summer with a self-defense and educational event in Longview.
“I was a young adult that had to go through these things,” said Webb, 30. “I was in middle school and was touched inappropriately. The first time I was assaulted was in Longview … so that’s where I wanted to start.”
So far, she’s shared two interviews with survivors of sexual assault to Siren’s Facebook page, and in early June, she shared her own.
Ten years ago, Webb was assaulted by a person she met at work and later invited to a party at a friend’s house. Acquaintances made fun of her or didn’t take her seriously when she tried to talk about it, Webb said. Recounting the experience in a video on Siren’s YouTube page, Webb said a taboo against talking about sexual assault made it difficult for people to listen to her story.
Webb thought of launching Siren at that time as a creative project to make pendant necklaces that doubled as rape whistles.
But she was assaulted again last year after being drugged at a bar. In the light of the Me Too movement which gained traction in 2017, Webb decided this year that she wanted to channel those experiences and grief into action.
With so many famous and powerful women sharing their own stories of sexual assault in recent years, Webb said she finally felt able to open up about her own experiences with sexual assault after 10 years of “holding it to (herself.)”
Sharing personal experiences with sexual assault can feel frightening or traumatic for many people. But for Webb, doing so was “euphoric.”
“It felt so powerful to tell the world what happened to me,” Webb said. “It’s scary ... but you’ll be surprised when you finally tell people, how many show you support and love. ... When you finally tell someone, you don’t have to carry that weight anymore.”
Now, Webb wants to support those with similar experiences and teach both men and women how to prevent assaults. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m Saturday, she plans to hold a car wash at the Les Schwab outlet on 1420 Industrial Way in Longview to raise money for an educational and self-defense event. She has about 10 volunteers for the event that she’s met through starting Siren.
Car wash proceeds will pay for an educational workshop. Webb said she wants to include guest panels and information on how to protect oneself from harm, teach children about consent and speak with friends who have been assaulted. It will also include lessons on some basic self-defense moves and how to test drinks for date-rape drugs.
The event is intended for everyone and won’t be a “girls’ night,” Webb said. She especially wants to target Millennials and Generation Z kids and young adults who may be still be navigating questions about consent.
It’s the first of many such events, Webb hopes.
While she’s interested in helping people learn to protect themselves, Webb said it’s important to remember that victims aren’t at fault when they are assaulted.
“No matter what you look like, what gender, sexuality ... It’s important to me that people know, you don’t have to change the way you are, the way you look, the places you go to,” Webb said.
At the same time, “sexual assault and rape isn’t something that just happens in a dark alley,” Webb said.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only about 20 percent of rapes are committed by a stranger to the victim.
“My biggest hope is that it becomes super trendy and cool to stand up to people,” Webb said. “Consent education is important for everyone … I’d think if I was a man dating in college, or anyone, I’d want to educate myself how not to get accused.”
Webb has an arsenal of ideas up her sleeve, such as asking musicians to sign a pledge saying they won’t tolerate sexual harassment by their band mates. She is working toward getting nonprofit status for Siren. And Webb said she’s been collaborating with Morgan McCaul, one of more than 160 women who reported sexual abuse by now-convicted serial child molester and former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar. The two hope to advocate for education on consent in schools, Webb said.Webb wants more comprehensive sex education to be passed by the Washington Legislature, such as Senate Bill 5395, which passed the Senate but ultimately stalled this year in the House. That bill would have required all public school’s sex education programs to include lessons on consent and healthy relationships. By 2021, it would have phased in “age-appropriate” sex education for students in grades kindergarten through five.
But for all of her plans, Webb’s ultimate goal is simple: She wants to prevent others from going through what she experienced.
“If I can save one person from getting assaulted, then my job is done.”