If you’re driving into Fremont south along U.S. Highway 77, pay attention -- there’s an important message greeting motorists along the way.
Just south of the Fremont Church of Christ, by Judy Avenue, is a billboard, featuring a boy and a girl with their hands raised beneath a night sky filled with stars. Next to them is a message about sexual assault, put up to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which takes place throughout April.
“Consent is more than just asking,” the sign reads. “Let’s prevent another #metoo story.”
The message matches the theme for this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month: “I Ask For Consent.”
It’s a theme meant to spark conversation about the importance of consent. The billboard was put there by the local non-profit The Bridge, which provides services to victims of domestic and sexual assault. But the artwork on the billboard comes courtesy of Samantha Montante.
Montante is a senior at Fremont High School, an aspiring graphic artist who will be attending college at Metro Community College next year with a major in graphic design. And with the help of her teacher, Kristen Strickler, she’s partnered with the Bridge to help produce the new billboard along Highway 77.
According to Montante, the design is supposed to blend this year’s “I Ask” theme with the recent “#MeToo” movement, in which individuals shared personal stories of sexual assault and harassment, inspiring a nationwide reckoning around topics like consent. The two individuals raising their hands represent a nod to that movement, as if the characters are offering to share their own stories. And the night sky above them represents hope.
“They’re both looking into the stars for hope. Every time you look at the sky, you’re like, relaxed, happy -- you’re looking for hope,” she said. “And that’s why I put the night sky.”
Montante has been working with Strickler for this past year in an internship of sorts, part of the district’s “school to career” program, Strickler said.
Through the program, Strickler and Montante sought out partnerships with community organizations to help give Montante real-world experience in graphic design. It’s the first time that the graphic arts program at Fremont High School has had a program like this, and Strickler is in the process of finding a new student to participate after Montante graduates.
“Samantha’s an extremely talented artist and she has tons of potential. Honestly, it’s been an honor to be able to work with her,” Strickler said. “I think that this is super important because for a lot of students at this level, they don’t know what they want to do, so I feel like this gives them an opportunity to try something out that they think they have an interest in and really see what it’s like to do some of these real-world projects.”
The program also helped Montante get involved in some important causes. The billboard isn’t the first project that she’s done with The Bridge to spread awareness about an important issue.
In October, Montante designed an informational poster for Domestic Violence Awareness Month that was displayed in the windows of various businesses around Fremont.
Montante believes these awareness campaigns are important. Both this month’s design and the October posters, for instance, feature both a male and a female -- a reminder that domestic and sexual violence affects both genders.
“I think it’s something that needs to spread awareness, that both genders get abused sexually and mentally,” Montante said.
According to numbers provided by The Bridge, one in five women, and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. Ninety-one percent of victims of rape and sexual assault are female and nine percent are male. And 20 to 25 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men are victims of forced sex during their time in college.
Additionally, rape is considered to be one of the most under-reported crimes, according to the Bridge: 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
According to Linda Schlapfer, outreach coordinator with the Bridge, the partnership with Montante started last fall, when Schlapfer reached out to area schools to discuss the possibility of implementing hands-on partnerships. She was connected with Strickler, and they arranged the partnership.
“The Bridge has been able to display their talents in a visual means, while educating and making the community aware of domestic violence and sexual assault statistics,” Schlapfer said. “We are grateful for the wonderful interactions we have had with the students from Fremont Public Schools and Mrs. Strickler’s graphics class.”
Montante’s partnerships are still continuing -- she’s also designed the new logo for Life House’s thrift store, Thriftology.
The new billboard is located on the west side of Highway 77, facing north toward Nickerson, near Judy Avenue and the Fremont Church of Christ.