[rape2] There have been ten sexual assaults reported since the beginning of last month. Last year there were eight reported for the entire 2003/2004 term. It is safe to say that rape has reached an epidemic on campus. Many students stand amazed and feel powerless when they look at the numbers. Others rally together to try and make a difference. The scary reality is that while women can attempt to protect themselves with self-defense or by staying in numbers, the problem lies with how men treat women. Violence against women is not new to MSU but this year the statistics are particularly alarming.[rape]
Last month, an anonymous email was sent out encouraging students that felt outraged about the recent rapes and how the administration reacted to them to attend a discussion-based meeting on the topic. The meeting was on September 27 in the Union Cafeteria, and had a good turn-out that included both men and women of all ages and that lived on and off campus.
The atmosphere was tense as those gathered expressed anger towards how the media made the female victims seem at fault and that the rapes were not something to be alarmed about. The group was reluctant to talk to the press, myself included, in fear of having their words turned around. They even denied speaking with a State News reporter and vowed never to talk to them again after some of their articles related to sexual assault.
The meeting covered the “rape culture” that exists in the media, which makes it seem acceptable for men to sexually pursue and harass women. They mentioned such products as “Pimp Juice,” which is available right here at MSU in the Union convenience store.
Student representative from the Womyn’s Council, Kim Drotar, attended the meeting in the Union. “This meeting was [meant] to empower themselves- all women and women who know someone who has been sexually assaulted,” Drotar said. “We are a voice for all women on campus and we try to raise consciousness about sexual assault.” The Womyn’s Council is part of the Council of Progressive Students and meets every Wednesday at 9 p.m. in room 441 of the Union.
The men and women gathered in the basement of the Union decided right then to actually do something about their feelings instead of just talking about it, so they brainstormed ideas such as starting a petition to give to the Administration Board or having a seminar on sexual assault for incoming freshmen at orientation. It was finally agreed upon to have another meeting Thursday, September 30 in the Union at 9 p.m. to make T-shirts and organize the rally “Take Back the Afternoon” on Friday, October 8 at the Beaumont Tower from 9-11 a.m.
Only a handful of men and women showed up in their red T-shirts for the rally on October 8. The original plan to rush the Administration Board meeting that day was cancelled, because participants felt it would not be as effective with so few people involved. A discussion session was held instead about the assaults going on at MSU. Those present sat in a circle on the ground right in front of Beaumont Tower. Although campus seemed dead all around, the bells chimed right during the group’s moment of silence.
“I am here because I was concerned with the numbers, first year graduate student and event organizer Meleia Egger said. “Basically, I’m a new student and I was shocked. The idea of ‘Stop the Rape Epidemic’ should be mentioned because it is what brought 40 plus people to the meetings and pulled them together.”
Jayne Schuiteman, personal safety coordinator for the Women’s Resource Center and acting director for the Women, Gender and Social Justice program said that it is good when students come together and are concerned, want positive outcomes and do not just reinforce victim blaming. “Students can affect tremendous change; it’s a matter of coming together,” Schuiteman said. “Students need to be mindful of their incredible informal power.”
While many students are shocked, Schuiteman was not surprised at the number of recently reported sexual assaults. “The beginning of the year on campus is the most dangerous time of year because students are not overburdened by classes, the weather is still nice, and there is an influx of new students who want to make new friends and find their ‘social niche’,” she said. “They say ‘yes’ to go on dates with guys they are clueless about and the willingness to take chances with someone you don’t know is heightened.” She added that 85 percent of rapes include the use of alcohol. However, Schuiteman was surprised at how many women are willing to come forward, which she feels is very positive.
Naturally, with ten rapes in not even seven weeks, there has been considerable media attention. Schuiteman sees the media coverage is a good thing. She explained that because of media coverage, law enforcement agencies are more sensitive to victimization, medical facilities have been getting the word out about seeking medical treatment and as a result more women are coming forward. “They are educating better to say it’s not okay,” Schuiteman said.
Schuiteman firmly believes that the public needs to understand what men can do about their behaviors toward women instead of focusing on what women can do to protect themselves. She has come up with a new development involving messages for the initiator and the one who is being initiated upon and has sent it out in the Women’s Resource Center newsletter. “If consent is not freely given and boundaries are not respected, you’ve got a problem,” Schuiteman said. “Men need to learn to respect boundaries and women need to know what they want; they can’t be wishy-washy.”
Even with ten sexual assaults reported thus far, this is not an accurate depiction of rape on campus. According to the FBI, 1 in 10 rapes have been reported and there is no doubt that many rapes go unreported. Yet, Schuiteman said that when women come forward it sends a clear message to the campus community that it is not okay. She also values any effort in holding someone accountable. “There’s never an excuse for rape, Schuiteman said. “The poorest choices never justify rape.”
Detective Anne Stahl of DPPS also agreed that it is a good thing that more instances were reported and said that it doesn’t necessarily mean there have been more occurrences. “The statistic on campus is still that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted,” Stahl said. She also feels the extra media attention was good because the administration is now talking about a mandatory class for incoming freshmen and addressing the tailgating ban. “I personally have seen from the administration a commitment to address this issue and not pretend that it is not happening,” Stahl also emphasized that alcohol is the most common date rape drug.
Whether there are more rapes or more women coming forward with their assaults, the numbers alone are staggering. Signs reading “Alcohol is not consent” and “No means no” paint our streets and walkways. People are gathering together and raising consciousness about sexual violence. It’s time to get angry and not let this epidemic mark our university.

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