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College student works to raise awareness about sexual assaults

Posted by Roy Greene  November 18, 2013 05:36 PM

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(Contributed photo)

Ali Safran has brought her message to an international audience.

In October 2012, Ali Safran, 21, of Newton, returned to the spot where she’d been sexually assaulted in a car by a former friend three years earlier.

She hung up a poster urging the community to get active in the fight against sexual violence and included statistics: An estimated one in six women will be sexually victimized in her lifetime. A sexual assault is committed in the United States every two minutes. One in four college-age women will be assaulted.

These grim statistics inspired Safran to create the online project Surviving in Numbers in April 2013, which has recently gained nonprofit status. Safran’s project aims to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault and show how important it can be for a survivor to tell his or her story as part of the healing process.

Safran, now a senior at Mount Holyoke College, has already brought her project to Tufts and Boston universities and posts submissions online for an international audience.

“I wish there were four more hours in a day,” Safran says, sitting in a coffee shop on BU's campus. Her long brown hair flows over her slim shoulders.

About 5 feet tall, Safran is a powerhouse in her community. In addition to double majoring in psychology and politics, she runs the online blog for Surviving in Numbers and is in charge of its nonprofit aspects.

“I have no Friday classes, so I try to reserve that for my nonprofit,” she says. Now interested in law, she’s torn while choosing a profession but wants to change the legal process for victims of sexual assault.

Most assault cases don’t get prosecuted, a fact she wants to change.

“We focus a lot on unnecessary drug crime as opposed to [crimes that are] actually hurting someone else. That needs more attention in the legal system.”

Obtaining nonprofit status for Surviving in Numbers has been an important step in furthering the reach of her project because donations can now be accepted. Safran finds the time to devote to her nonprofit, but admits it’s been busy.

“With grants, ideally, I’d hire someone to help with the poster making aspect,” she says, adding that she’s received more than 100 new submissions since April. Safran typically transcribes stories onto posterboard with multicolored markers and uploads a photo for the website.

Surviving in Numbers has reached across continents thanks to its online presence. Safran has received submissions from as far away as Scotland and France, as well as Canada. She also hopes to travel to more high schools and colleges to display the project, which showcases those survivors’ stories.

She’s developing curriculum with Newton schools which promotes healthy relationships and violence prevention among all relationships, a point Safran and others who have worked with her do not want forgotten.

“There can be abuse in any kind of relationship,” she says.

Kaitlyn Clericuzio, a student at Buston University, worked with Safran to bring Surviving in Numbers to campus. She emphasized that while there were only a few submissions from Boston University at the time, the project was still a success because it can be such a difficult topic to discuss, even anonymously.

“Working with Ali was enjoyable,” Clericuzio says via email. “I believe there were not a large number of participants considering the weight of the issue: it is very difficult for survivors to come forward and address their histories.” The project has since grown substantially, and posters from other campuses were displayed at Boston University as part of the project.

“How far I’ve come being willing to speak out about it, it’s crazy,” Safran says. She spent months fighting and speaking out, only for no justice in the end – the case against her attacker was dismissed before the case made it to trial . “Certainly there was a time I wouldn’t have talked about this publicly,” she adds. “[Surviving in Numbers] aims to remove the stigma: it’s not your fault. Do what’s best for you; it varies by person.”

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This article is being published under an arrangement between The Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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