As the end of the year approaches and the temperature drops, more and more students are choosing to drive to class or the library. Since the parking space on campus is limited, this often means that drivers end up walking alone from parking lots or structures. According to the MSU Police Department’s website crime alert page, the commute from on and off-campus parking areas can be a dangerous one. Though 75 percent of sexual assaults happen to women who are in a familiar place, a small percentage occur while women are walking alone on campus, sometimes from their vehicle.
“We had a couple of people who were groped in Lot 93 earlier this year,” said Sgt. McGlothian-Taylor of the MSU Police Department. “Most cases of assault occur when the woman knows her attacker and in those situations we will prosecute the person.”
Taylor couldn’t ballpark how many people are involved in stranger assault and get away without charges, but he said that victims of assault are offered any assistance in tracking their attacker that the police department can provide.
The MSU Police Department guarantees full confidentiality in regards to sexual assault cases, as well as a sensitive and professional approach to each situation. Sexual assault victims will be provided an up-to-date report of all legal action taken with the attacker and are offered assistance to set up any medical or counseling appointments needed.
Students who find themselves walking alone at night can do a few things to reduce the risk of being assaulted.
“Call a group of friends to come pick you up so you’re not walking alone from your car,” Taylor said.
“It’s important to let someone know where you’re going and what time you leave if you expect to be walking alone,” said Lauren Allswede, the advocacy coordinator for MSU’s Sexual Assault Program. The best way to react if you find yourself about to be assaulted is to try to overcome the initial “freeze” that you feel when you’re frightened, she advised.
“Use whatever is around you as a weapon and yell to get the attention of anyone who might be near by.”
The best defense against sexual assault is awareness, Allswede said.
“I’ve heard of a lot of advice that women are given to avoid sexual assault like not wearing a pony tail or not talking on the phone while walking, but the truth is, if someone is intent on attacking you, they will. The most important thing is to stay alert.”
LaShonda Windham, the co-coordinator for the Take Back the Night event that happens annually on campus, agrees.
“A lot of women believe that they could have done something to prevent an attack. The truth is that the only person who can prevent an attack is the assailant. [Getting attacked] is not your fault,” Windham said.
Windam also said that assault victims are often given too much blame.
“A lot of people read about cases of assault on campus and are quick to assume that the assault is the victim’s fault. They say things like ‘Why was she walking alone late at night?’ or ‘Why was she wearing this or that?’ If you think about it, these are ridiculous statements. Everyone should have the right to wear what they want and walk freely around campus,” she said.
Windham said the university could do more to prevent sexual assault and stated that MSU should provide more education to students about the danger of being attacked.
“Being educated about sexual assault and domestic violence is the best way to protect yourself because there are so many myths surrounding the topic.”
The Take Back the Night event was established as a good place to get involved and help spread knowledge about rape, assault and violence against women. Take Back the Night is a day full of events that raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence. Typically, the day consists of a march around campus, which symbolizes a unified resistance to violence against women, as well as short skits to raise awareness and a candle light vigil. This year Take Back the Night will be held on April 21, 2010 during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
MSU does offer some services to students who might be walking alone late at night.
“There is a two hour self-defense class that I recommend,” Allswede said. “Also, there are people who will accompany you on a walk home or to your car if you’re leaving the library after dark.”
The green lights on campus have proven to be quite affective as well.
“If a button is pushed, someone will be there as immediately as possible to help,” Allswede said. “Ideally, the best way to signal help using the green lights is to continue pushing them as you run from your attacker, though it’s difficult to plan such a calculated route.”
In addition, MSU Safe Place is an on-campus program for students, faculty, staff and retirees in the Lansing area who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence. It offers counseling and other educational programs about abuse and assault, as well as a confidential place to stay for victims who experience continuous domestic violence or need somewhere to hide.
Olin Health Center and Sparrow Hospital also provide support for students who have been sexually assaulted. Both have a 24-hour crisis line available to anyone who has been a victim of rape or assault, needs medical attendance or would like resources regarding what to do after an incident. Sparrow’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program offers a confidential examination, STD treatment, referrals, emergency contraception and education for victims. For more information and counseling, contact the Sexual Assault Program located in the Student Services Building. The program is part of MSU’s counseling center and is offered to anyone in the area who has been a victim of sexual assault. Last year the program helped over 300 people with legal or medial aid and acted as a place to go for those who were afraid and confused after an assault incident.