April 8, 2015
It was late. It was dark. I had just entered the stairwell of a parking ramp and started up the stairs. Suddenly, a young man threw open the door of the stairwell and ran up the stairs until he was right behind me. My heart quickened and I picked up my pace. I instinctively moved my car key through my knuckles so I could use it for defense if needed and I was already planning my escape…and then we reached the second floor and he politely said, “Excuse me,” and went around me and out the door. I had nothing to fear, and yet that was my first instinct. I’d argue that it’s a good instinct because you should always be aware of your surroundings, but it’s still sad.
I was relaying the story to some friends the next day when the lone male of the group expressed surprise that all of the women said that fear is always top of mind when we’re alone and run into a lone male. Whether it’s a parking garage, an elevator, our neighborhood, a bike path…it’s just how we’re wired. Granted, there are plenty of men who are victimized, but when you’re a woman just a bit taller than five feet, you’re definitely at a disadvantage.
However, everyone knows sexual assault does not just occur in stairwells or jogging paths and the criminals are often not strangers. It’s no secret to anyone who’s been reading the news that college campuses are grappling with the very serious problem of sexual assaults and how to stop them.
This week, MSU sent all students a confidential climate survey designed to gather information that will help guide decisions and policies regarding sexual assault in the campus community. The survey, sponsored by MSU in collaboration with the Association of American Universities, is an important tool to assess current programs and gauge student opinion.
It might be in the news often these days, but it isn’t a new problem by any means. Michigan State staff, faculty and students have long been aware of the issue and have been working at solving it from many angles.
The Michigan State University Sexual Assault Program recently marked 35 years of
providing direct services and advocacy for victims of sexual violence in the greater Lansing community. The program responds to victims of sexual violence and supports others who are impacted, including family and friends. They provide individual therapy and support groups to MSU students, as well as a 24-hour sexual assault crisis line and advocacy services.
MSU Safe Place is celebrating 20 years of providing supportive services to domestic violence and stalking survivors in the MSU and Greater Lansing communities. MSU Safe Place was the first domestic violence shelter and support program on a college campus in the United States; the program offers emergency shelter and/or supportive services annually to approximately 70-100 adults and children. In addition, MSU Safe Place annually provides training and education to more than 15,000 people on campus and in the Lansing community.
This weekend, they will hold their annual fundraiser, Race for the Place, a 5K run, walk or wheel that will take place on campus April 12.
The Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives has been running the No Excuse For Sexual Assault Campaign to bolster the university’s commitment to maintaining an environment that is safe and that supports educational and career advancement.
Earlier this year, that campaign joined with the national It’s On Us movement that promotes responsibility and involvement from all of us to stop sexual assaults on campus. Students quickly got involved in the movement. The Associated Students of MSU, MSU Athletics and the MSU Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention Team produced their own videos to help engage the community in the effort. (Watch the videos by clicking on the links)
Our researchers are also involved in finding solutions for the larger problem of sexual violence. This week, the National Institute of Justice released a report that showed a project in Detroit designed to solve the problem on untested rape kits is a “huge catalyst for change” and is a model that can be used in other communities. The high-profile project was led by MSU researcher Rebecca Campbell, who was recently recognized the American Psychological Association for her anti-violence efforts.
Apryl Pooley , a neuroscience researcher, has bravely used her own experience as a victim as a stimulus to research how post-traumatic stress disorder affects the brain in men and women differently. She recently penned a memoir about her experiences and works as an advocate on campus. Read her moving FACULTY VOICE: Shadow Brain, to learn more about her work.
Our students are making their voices heard too. Laura Swanson, a media and information senior, was one of only two students nationally to be awarded an iAspire Grant, a national award for students who are working to affect change on the issue of sexual violence on college campuses.
Swanson was part of a team of College of Communication Arts and Sciences students who produced a documentary, titled “Every Two Minutes,” that features the stories of 17 sexual assault survivors who break their silence to bring a face to the victims of this crime in an effort to empower others. The film also includes interviews with therapists, nurses, police and sexual assault advocates. Read the STUDENT VIEW: Creating Change, to learn more about this inspiring undergraduate.
As I sat down to write this column, I wondered about even sharing this, but if we don’t talk about the problem, how can we solve it? Years ago, when I was a high school student, I went to a party with some friends who were older. I went upstairs to a bedroom where the coats had been put to get some lip gloss out of my pocket.
An older boy I knew followed me in, shut the door, and proceeded to try and push me down on the bed. He was drunk; I was not. He was much bigger than me and while I struggled, it would have been a losing battle. Luckily for me, a guy friend of mine pushed open the door and shouted my name. The other guy got up and ran and my friend grabbed our coats and took me home. He had noticed I was missing and set out to find me. Without him making it his problem, I could have been a statistic. He stepped up and made himself the solution.
This isn’t a female problem or a male problem. It is not a rare problem. It’s not just a college campus problem or a big city problem. Most importantly, it’s not someone else’s problem. Spartans never back down from a problem and our collective power is a force to be reckoned with. So, speak out. Protect your friends. Protect strangers. Educate others. Step up and be the solution.
Photo by Kurt Stepnitz