10 Things I Learned from the Summit on Sexual Assault and Conference on Ending Gender-Based Violence

A lot happened in the month of May. I finished my second year in my program, upgraded to an enhanced driver’s license, and I attended an extremely informative conference at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. Over the past month, I have reflected on all that I have learned from the diversity in speakers and interactions with the attendees and now I’m excited to share with you some important take-aways!

For the conference I attended, the pre-conference was the Summit on the Prevention of Campus Sexual Assault, and the rest of the conference was focused on Ending Gender-Based Violence. This is the first time I’ve been to a conference where I was interested in nearly every single talk – it makes sense since most other conferences I have been to have a larger focus and this happens to capture the very essence of my research interests.

This post will just simply be a reflection on the conference, but it marks the beginning of a series. In the process of writing this weeks ago, I realized how many topics I’d like to cover and thought it be best to split them into separate shorter posts. I’m hoping this will help encourage discussions on these topics; I’m always looking for people to talk to about these issues and would love to hear your feedback and thoughts! Please do not hesitate to ask questions, share comments, or even share this or future posts. Thanks!

Here are 10 things I learned from attending this conference:

  1. Gender-based violence – what is it? Why is the focus on female victims and male perpetrators? What about male victims? etc. etc.
  2. Technology provides a new avenue for violence to occur in relationships. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Find My Friends etc. are all great for connecting with your peers, but also easy ways to inflict emotional and verbal violence in relationships. We should be concerned – like really concerned.
  3. We suck at studying “intersectionality” in research and we suck even more at implementing what we know about intersectionality action and policy change. If you don’t know what intersectionality means, don’t worry, I’ll break it down!
  4. We need to stop thinking about social movements as being independent of each other. If we want to end sexual violence, we need to think about also ending sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination and addressing power imbalances between dominant and non-dominant social groups. We need to join forces together and realize we are fighting the same fight.
  5. We do a terrible job of crediting women of color for their contributions. For instance, the #MeToo movement was started by a woman of color, Tarana Burke, over 10 years ago! And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
  6. Men’s peer and social networks play a large role in influencing beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors that justify and support sexual violence. I guess what they say about you being a reflection of your friends is true! However, there is a positive spin on this: increasing diversity in men’s social networks can actually reduce and even prevent them from becoming sexual assault perpetrators.
  7. Prior sex education is important in preventing sexual violence. Ahem, this is for all you conservative parents who remove their kids from sex ed every time it is offered and then decide to talk to them about it when they are getting married – at which point all their kids have learned about sex from friends, movies, music, video games, porn, etc – we need to break the stigma of talking about sex in the first place or else how will our youth know what a healthy safe relationship looks like?
  8. Most of the research out there is on white heterosexual people, which completely discounts the cultural nuances that affect individual’s beliefs and behaviors. This is why I’m focusing on South Asian, Arab Americans and Muslim communities! Exhibit A: See number 7.
  9. Smaller focused conferences are more effective, beneficial, and fruitful than large broad conferences. See below for reflection!
  10. There is still a large disconnect on public issues, like sexual assault, between research, practice, and political action. I’m looking to connect with others who are interested in this topic, but maybe in other fields. Please reach out to me! See more below.

I have provided my reflection on two things from this list, and will publish at least one think piece a week on one of the topics above!

Smaller focused conferences are more effective, beneficial, and fruitful than large broad conferences.

Smaller conferences with specific focused topics are more beneficial in regards to learning and networking. Unlike other research conferences I have attended, this conference was more holistic, in that presenters and attendees were from academia, research institutions, clinics, non-profit organizations, the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control, Sexual Assault Awareness groups, hospitals and the medical setting, the political action etc.

We had some amazing speakers, ranging from local professionals working toward preventing sexual assault on campus and how to handle intersectionality of identity in the realm of sexual violence, to political figures running campaigns and researchers who have worked in the White House in developing policies around sexual violence.

What we benefit from this is all people in all aspects of the issues are being exposed to the same information and able to take part in the conversation together. We all offer different expertise and perspectives, and also offer different skills sets toward ending and preventing sexual violence. It makes more sense to learn how to work together and gain knowledge about each others work and efforts through this collaborative setting.

There is still a large disconnect on public issues, like sexual assault, between research, practice, and political action.

Although this conference highlighted several aspects of how the public is addressing sexual assault, it was clear that there is still some gaps in communication between these different entities. Unfortunately, we aren’t working together to efficiently and effectively tackle this complex social issue.

I’m genuinely curious and interested to meet more people working in other fields who deal with issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, gender-based violence, etc. Whether its working in law, policy, or the public sphere to help make changes in the law, or the health setting as a doctor, nurse, therapist, or clinician where you see victims of sexual violence and abuse, or a researcher, academic, student leader, activist, or someone who passionately cares for learning about these issues and acting on them to help make social change, I’m interested in joining forces with YOU!

I started this blog because I want to really engage with the community and others like me, hopefully not only educating you all about what I do and these important issues, but also to develop and foster relationships and connections to make change happen. We need people on all fronts, and everyone can make a difference even if they start with themselves. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of this series and welcome anyone to contribute their thoughts or own pieces!

Please feel free to use this as a platform for your voice the community!! 

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”


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Hi, I'm the founder of The PhDream. I'm a second year doctoral student who wasn't satisfied with just sitting behind a desk and writing papers. While my research may have an indirect impact, I wanted to engage more directly with the community and provide a platform to discuss neglected and sensitive issues. Along with that, I try to stay sane in my program by stress baking, glamming up even when I'm down, and sharing my dad-joke captions on the gram -- if only that creativity could translate into my research... Anyways, I'm always looking for contributors, collaborations, and people to eat my zelicious creations, so don't hesitate to reach out or follow me @ZuniJilani :)

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