John Gabrieli

John Gabrieli

Danielle St. Pierre with a sign that reads "#Survivorsvotebecause... our voices MATTER!"

Danielle St. Pierre


The following is an interview IMPACT Boston conducted with two organizers from the Every Voice Coalition, a movement bringing together students, advocates, and universities to end sexual violence on college campuses.

The following is an interview IMPACT Boston conducted with two organizers from the Every Voice Coalition, a movement bringing together students, advocates, and universities to end sexual violence on college campuses.

The Coalition is currently trying to pass student-written legislation in the MA State House to address the problem (more on that below). Though the movement started in Massachusetts and is mostly concentrated here, organizers are working with students and legislators in other states as well.

If you are interested in getting involved in the Every Voice Coalition, you can contact them here.

Please introduce yourself.

Danielle St. Pierre – I am currently the co-director of the Every Voice Coalition’s legislative team, and I work at New Hope Inc, a domestic violence/sexual assault organization. I have been involved in the Coalition since 2015.

I was silent when I was first assaulted at UMass Dartmouth, and being silent almost took my life. Now, I refuse to be silent about this issue. It’s time to stand up and make a change. The Every Voice Coalition has given me the chance to use my voice and have it be heard. I feel as though I am not alone and I hope that is what others will feel like, too. This work is important to me not just because I am a survivor but because enough is enough.

The safety of these students is one of the main reasons I do this work. The idea of a person feeling alone and not knowing who to turn to is devastating to me. I know that feeling and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. I feel empowered when I am able to share my story. I feel as though I am getting back a part of myself I lost those three different times I was assaulted on my campus.

John Gabrieli – I am the founder and co-chair of the Every Voice Coalition. My involvement stemmed from an initial sense of powerlessness that came from seeing people I care about being impacted, and not being able to do anything about it. And also knowing that the vast majority of these cases would never be reported, that the vast majority of perpetrators would never be held to account, and that the cycle seemed like it would just continue to repeat itself all over again.

These statistics that are so familiar now – 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 16 men will be impacted by sexual assault on college campuses – they’ve been around for as long as we’ve been collecting data on this issue, more than 40 years. Since the 1970’s these rates haven’t gone down almost at all, and we seem to have accepted that somehow this is just the way things are. For us as students though, it wasn’t just about statistics, it was about our lives and the lives of people we cared about, and the status quo wasn’t acceptable to us.

So when we got this incredible opportunity in 2014 to work with Senator Brownsberger, who offered us the opportunity to file our own legislation, we jumped at it. It felt like a chance for us as students not only to speak out about what we were seeing on our campuses, but to become part of the solution. We didn’t have to wait for legislators or policymakers or administrators to do something about it – we were going to do something ourselves.

Tell me about the Coalition–how did it come to be? What is its mission? Who is a part of it?

John – From the beginning, we’ve had one goal: to keep our friends safe, and to ensure that they receive justice. That means supporting survivors, and it also means preventing sexual violence from happening in the first place. So there are a lot of important policies we are advocating for: better data collection and reporting requirements, universal access to free medical care and counseling, improved training and education measures, and systems that respect the autonomy and rights of survivors.

At the same time, you also have to ask yourself – why don’t we have these policies now? Why have we allowed this cycle of violence to go on for generations? It’s because for too long, we haven’t listened to survivors, and the way our institutions are set up perpetuates the cycle because our institutions are incentivized to brush this issue under the rug. Stopping sexual violence is about changing our systems and our institutions so that students and survivors have their voices lifted up rather than silenced. In Ayanna Pressley’s words, the people closest to the pain need to be the people closest to the power.

Every Voice has one mission: to empower students and young alumni, both survivors and allies, to combat campus sexual violence through grassroots advocacy. So who is a part of it? The answer is, anyone who wants to be – students, young people, survivors, allies, friends, community members – anyone who shares our values, and who wants to be a part of the solution.

Is there any one specific way in which you feel MA schools are failing to support survivors that you’d like to highlight?

Danielle – Massachusetts schools are not doing enough to protect survivors–there is not enough education, schools need trauma-informed responses and resources for survivors. But if I had to pick one it would be that the schools are refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem. If we can’t name the problem, how are we going to fix it? We are being told that this is happening on campuses by survivors but schools refuse to talk about it. It’s great that survivors have each other for support, but how can we change the culture at the school if we aren’t willing to say what the problem is, where it is happening, how often it is happening?

So many schools are willing to have some programs that involve talking about sexual violence, but none of them are willing to state that there is an issue on their campus like other campuses and take action to help prevent it. The schools are not proactive, they are reactive–they only take action when it is too late and the damage has already been done. As we know, sexual violence doesn’t just impact the survivor, it impacts their loved ones and the people that surround them. Therefore, one assault can impact a whole campus. Survivors’ lives are just hanging in the balance while schools are focusing on other matters.

What’s going on with the bills the Coalition is trying to pass in the State House?

John – Sexual assault is a complicated issue, but the choice we face is simple. The changes we are advocating for today are all but universally supported by the survivors’ advocacy groups, experts, and researchers who study campus sexual assault. These measures include:

• Providing evidence-based sexual assault prevention and response training for all students and staff;
• Offering confidential advising services to survivors to make clear their rights and options;
• Ensuring a fair and timely investigation of all claims of sexual misconduct, conducted by trained personnel and with equal protections for both parties
• Providing free access to medical treatment and counseling for survivors;
• Preventing survivors from being punished for reporting due to alcohol or drug use at the time of an assault;
• Collecting public data on sexual violence to increase transparency, measure progress, and improve policy

Although our bills passed in both the House and the Senate last session, the two chambers were unable to come to an agreement about the final version of the legislation, and the bills died on the last night of session in 2018. This session, the bills have the second-most cosponsors of any legislation in Massachusetts, and we are hopeful that after 5 years of student advocacy they will pass into law — because students can’t wait.

During your time working on this issue, have you noticed any positive changes (in policy or culture) that have given you hope?

Danielle – I think that the culture is changing little by little. I think more survivors feel as though it is their time to stand up and be heard, and they are coming together to support each other. I think that if anything has positively changed it’s that survivors are not being silent anymore. They are taking a stand and fighting back.