Youth advocacy event focusing on healthy sexuality and teens resisting sexual violence inspired by the work of young Eugene woman
written for Eugene Weekly
April is sexual assault awareness month, and Sexual Assault Support Services of Lane County (SASS) is kicking it off with a SASS Talks event at the Oregon Wine LAB, focusing on topics such as healthy sexuality and teen girls resisting sexual violence in schools.
SASS is a nonprofit organization that provides outreach, advocacy and support to sexual violence survivors and their partners, families and friends. The event is part of a new effort to provide more resources for young people in the community.
“This is Jane’s legacy,” says Martina Shabram, executive director of SASS. “This is what she and her peers taught me about what young folks need and how to make sure that young folks have access to the full range of supports that they need.”
Jane Brinkley was a Eugene high school student whom Shabram worked with while she was running Planned Parenthood’s REV program, a program that focuses on youth empowerment and leadership. Later, when Shabram began working at SASS, Brinkley also began volunteering at SASS.
“She worked on our crisis and support line for several years through the pandemic, which was unique and unbelievably wonderful,” Shabram says. “She was so incredibly gifted at providing that kind of emotional support and crisis support.”
In February 2022, Brinkley died by suicide in her dorm room at Smith College in Massachusetts. Shabram tells Eugene Weekly that SASS Talks was designed for the most part by Brinkley while she was a part of REV and later volunteering at SASS. The goal is for young people to have an event where they could present things they felt the community needed to know to enable community members to better support the young people around them.
“So that’s really what this event in April is,” Shabram says. “It’s what she wanted to put on, but didn’t get the chance to.”
In addition to the April event, SASS just hired a new youth advocate to help provide more youth-specific resources. Shabram explains that SASS has already been serving young people, but through Brinkley and her peers, Shabram and SASS have realized the importance of youth-specific resources.
“Young folks are facing different pressures and stresses than we are. They’re experiencing challenges that I’m not an expert on, they are the experts on it,” she says. The new youth advocate position means SASS will be better resourced to address the concerns that young people have and to make sure that they are getting the specific forms of support and care that they deserve, Shabram adds.
In the next six months, SASS plans to launch a text/chat version of its crisis and support line. SASS also will be increasing its outreach through participating in and leading events as well as working with educators around the area. The organization will be added to Eugene District 4J’s lists of resources that can be offered to high schoolers who have disclosed that they have survived sexual violence and are currently trying to navigate the reporting process.
“It makes me feel really hopeful to think about all the support systems that exist in our community and all of the ways we can come together to make sure that every single survivor has the support they deserve,” Shabram says.
The SASS talks event is a product of Brinkley’s hard work and dedication to bringing awareness and resources to young people in the community, and Shabram makes it clear that there are lots of young people who have been leaders and teachers in the effort to get more resources to middle and high schoolers in the area.
“We do our programming a disservice if we don’t take their [young people’s] leadership and learn from them and listen to them and trust them — that they know what they need, and that we can find ways to help them get there,” she says.