[saam1] Several weeks ago, I was walking alone in downtown East Lansing at about 10 p.m. As a female college student, I have heard all the rules regarding my personal safety again and again – especially from my mother, who I\’m pretty sure would tell me not to walk alone at night every day if she could get away with it.
On this particular night, I was clearly breaking the golden rule, but I wasn’t traveling far and I was walking in a well-lit, populated area. I felt fine.
That is, until a stranger – a middle-aged man in business attire – reminded me of my blunder as I stood behind him waiting to cross the street.
“You know, you really should be walking with a friend out here,” he said, turning to me.
“I know. But I like to think this is a pretty safe city,” I responded.
“Well, we’d all like to think that,” he said.
I was so bothered by the comment, I hurried ahead of him and crossed the street with a thousand thoughts running through my mind: Was that a warning – is he going to attack me? Should I really never walk alone?
More than anything, I was outraged. I want to be able to walk the streets at night without fear, with no one warning me that being a woman alone on the streets is unthinkable.
Within a few days, I found out Take Back the Night was coming up as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). I was really excited. After my encounter on the street, this was the perfect opportunity for me to protest with other women who were sick and tired of feeling unsafe on campus, in dorms, on the streets – anywhere. Take Back the Night is an international tradition started in 1973 as an opportunity to speak out against sexual assault and violence against women. It is meant to empower women while raising awareness in the community.
The march was to start at 8 p.m. on April 20. I got out of work early, hurried like crazy to make it on time and arrived at Beaumont Tower just as the clock chimed eight times.
[saam4] But I didn’t see the expected crowd chanting and waving signs.
“Hi, I’m here for the march – did they already start walking?” I asked the first woman I saw, who was loading boxes into her car.
“No, this is it,” she said, and as she did, I turned to see one other student standing there on Beaumont Field.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. All day I had imagined dozens, even hundreds, of women taking to the streets for the cause. Where were they? Isn’t this the university where thousands filled the streets after a championship basketball game?
Why are we not marching against sexual assault?
The two of us waited around. No one showed up for 10, 15, 20 minutes. The other student, education sophomore Jennifer Weston, and I exchanged disappointed glances and words of disbelief.
“It just shows where our school’s priorities are,” Weston said. “It’s really discouraging.”
The Listening Ear Crisis Intervention Center was sponsoring the event, as it has for over 20 years. The Listening Ear provides free and confidential service for telephone and walk-in clients in crisis. We didn’t see anyone from The Listening Ear, until finally they arrived at about 8:20 and told us they were canceling the march and the rally that was supposed to take place at M.A.C. and Albert.
Other campus coverage played the event off like a success, even if it mentioned the small crowd. With so many sexual assaults on campus, Take Back the Night was hardly what it should have been, and was no success.
Someone blamed it on the weather – it was one of those first chilly nights, but I found that hard to believe. It was nothing a jacket, hat and mittens couldn’t fix.
“A lot of people didn’t know about it,” said Alicia Kon, a psychology and studio art sophomore and sexual assault counselor at The Listening Ear. The event-organizing committee had sent out press releases and written messages in chalk on campus sidewalks.
[saam2] “But it means a lot to us that you came out,” said Taylor Krugman, a journalism freshman and sexual assault counselor at The Listening Ear. She promised it would be better next year. Could it get any worse?
Someone decided we should “march” to the steps of the library and take turns saying a demand into the microphone. By then there were 11 of us and it felt silly to be chanting as we marched.” When it was my turn to speak into the microphone, I demanded support from the community.
Earlier that day, The Clothesline Project had filled Beaumont Field to celebrate women who have survived acts of violence or sexual abuse and to provide testimonial to those who did not survive. This particular effort by the Mid-Michigan Clothesline Project included almost 200 shirts that have been displayed throughout Michigan and Ohio. The clothesline symbolizes the lifeline that can be created when survivors join together to support each other. Clotheslines are usually linked to the woman’s traditional role of washing, and here it is used as a symbol of empowerment.
“It’s been interesting to watch people – one T-shirt in particular will catch their eye,” said Angela Rogers, a family community services senior and staff coordinator for The Listening Ear. Students who took the time to read through the shirts were confronted with powerful messages.
Others would walk right by the clothesline without making any eye contact, Rogers said. “They don’t want to admit it’s happening in our world,” said Drew Sheldon, a telecommunication senior, crisis counselor and in-service training coordinator at The Listening Ear. “Most likely it’s happened to you or someone you know. It doesn’t discriminate – it affects all different types of people.\”
[saam5] And it’s also likely the perpetrator was an acquaintance. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 70 percent of female rape survivors knew the assailant and four out of 10 sexual assaults occur in the victim’s own home. So, if most perpetrators aren’t hiding out in bushes, why can’t women feel confident walking alone at night?
“We need to stop perpetrating the myths,” Rogers said. “The more education, the more it can be stopped.” Awareness and prevention programs can be something as simple as an e-mail distributed to all MSU students clarifying the myths, such as the bogeyman waiting to attack. Sheldon agreed everyone should be more educated about sexual assault. “And don’t be afraid to educate others,” he said.
Hillary Justin, a psychology and studio art senior and sexual assault counselor for The Listening Ear, expressed the need for women to dispel the myths by doing things like walking alone at night. “I’m not letting the idea of what rape is keep me from having a life,” she said. Living in paranoia is bad enough, but then if a sexual assault does occur, the woman is often considered somehow at fault. She may be blamed for dressing too sexy or being too flirtatious, among other accusations.
Most sexual assaults on campus go unreported, Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney Stuart Dunnings, III, said. Statistically, one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. MSU has over 24,000 undergraduate women, but only 13 sexual assaults have been reported to DPPS this academic year, and two were later recanted. The majority of survivors never tell close friends or loved ones, let alone the police.
Many women aren’t immediately ready to deal with the fact that they’ve been sexually assaulted. “Some deny it and say it was consensual,” Dunnings said. Even if a woman isn’t sure she wants to prosecute, she should still file a report. “We usually sit with a plausible case if it was not consensual,” he said.
Justin is frustrated that sexual assault is often dealt with in a reactionary manner, not a preventative one. “No one is talking about how men shouldn’t rape,” Justin said. To get men on campus talking about sexual assault, a men’s forum was held in the Union on April 20. Travis Reed, a biochemistry and microbiology senior and president of the MSU Men Active Against Sexual Assault (MAASA), said men should be empathetic and supportive of survivors.
“Tell them you believe them and that it wasn’t their fault,” he said. The forum had 14 people attend (more than any previous year), and discussed some of the “gray areas” related to sexual assault, such as what happens when both individuals are drinking. They also discussed the various myths about sexual assault.
There are several programs on campus serving to educate the public on sexual assault. The Sexual Assault Crisis and Safety Education Program at MSU is run through the Counseling Center and provides education programs to the community. The prevention education programming consists of sexual violence awareness presentations and multi-session workshops. Topics covered are rape 101, myths and facts, consent, rape culture, drug-facilitated sexual assault and risk reduction. These programs are designed specifically for the classroom, residence halls and the Greek community.
The program also provides immediate crisis intervention and advocacy services to women and men who have been impacted by rape or sexual assault, according to Carmen Lane, advocacy coordinator for the program. Services available include a 24-hour hotline, medical advocacy and legal advocacy. These services are available to survivors of sexual assault and their non-offending significant others. The Counseling Center also offers follow-up counseling services for MSU students.
Lane said the more we speak out against women-targeted violence, the safer our communities will be and the more perpetrators will be held accountable for their behavior.
Michigan law defines sexual assault according to criminal sexual conduct codes (CSC). For example, CSC I is a felony and involves both force and penetration of any type (vaginal, anal, oral, with penis, finger or object). In contrast, CSC IV is a misdemeanor and involves unwanted sexual touching.
Olin Health Center houses the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, which encourages students to make healthy decisions, Olin Health Educator Nicolle Stec said. She said students should watch out for their friends. “Just make sure you’re being safe – there are a lot of people on campus.\”
If someone who has been assaulted comes to Olin, health officials will take them through the necessary steps, such as an exam with a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) and/or STD testing. The survivor is then referred to the Counseling Center, where they are provided with further information.
Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor of DPPS said there are different divisions around campus to help survivors of sexual assault, each with expertise in its own field. DPPS is centered on the criminal aspect, Taylor said. The department starts the legal process by filing a police report, which is then turned over to the Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Knowing where to go after a sexual assault can be overwhelming. Bethany Andorfer, a social relations junior, decided to make this process a little easier. She created a Web site called the MSU Help Source (www.MSUHelpSource.com) after a friend was sexually assaulted and found the information about the different resources on campus to be scattered.
“I wanted to make a centralized website,” Andorfer said. She eventually hopes to make magnets, T-shirts, pens and other promotional items to get the website’s name out on campus. “I want to get students more aware about what services there are,” she said.
Andorfer was one of two student representatives on a committee formed to discuss sexual assault on campus after heightened media coverage over the sexual assaults on campus.
The first committee met in November to talk about the issue and included about 10 people, including representatives from the Women’s Resource Center, the Counseling Center, MSU Safe Place and the MSU faculty, Andorfer said. A larger committee of about 50 people formed in January and included even more organizations and students, from groups like LBGTA, Black Caucus and the Greek community. The committee put together a report that will be reviewed in early May by Lee June, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Services.
“It’s supposed to be a comprehensive effort to look at all aspects of the community,” she said. “It’s more than adding green lights on campus and telling people to lock their doors. It’s an effort to really change things on campus.” Andorfer said she wasn’t sure what was going to happen once June reviewed the report.
Jayne Schuiteman, acting director of the Women, Gender and Social Justice program, was one of the people responsible for the committee. “In essence, we are recommending a campus-wide, comprehensive educational effort,” Schuiteman said. The goal is to increase awareness, dispel myths, provide for a better understanding of the dynamics of assault and relationship violence – including the role of alcohol – and hopefully change attitudes among both women and men. “We are also recommending the need to better coordinate existing services,” she said.
While individually each service is doing well, Schuiteman said better coordination among them would enhance the services provided to the campus community. Faculty and staff need to be better educated, in part because they are not immune from victimization, but also because they may be who students turn to after a sexual assault. “They need to know the resources available to best assist students,” Schuiteman said.
“Continued attention should be given to the physical nature of the campus (lighting, sidewalks, parking areas, etc.) as they increase safety regarding stranger assault and increase a sense of well-being,” she said. Finally, the educational and coordination efforts must be evaluated for effectiveness and subsequent change within the campus community as we strive for zero tolerance of assault and relationship violence.
Hopefully, the administration will take the report into account. “We just hope they respond to something,” Rogers said. “Acknowledge that something is happening.”
Having a mandatory sexual assault education and prevention course for freshmen has been brought up on campus this year.
It is my hope that eventually we won\’t need a month like Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every day of every month should be pro-survivor and pro-woman. For now, we can show our support at events like Take Back the Night.
So mark your calendar. Because next year, we have no excuse.

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