Think Piece: Sexual Misconduct and Violence on Campus
- Jan 26, 2018
Many of you are angry, resentful, tired, saddened. I am, too.
At this time, when we as a community want to heal, but don't know how, I feel it is important to use my position as both a student and peer advisor to discuss openly the issue of sexual assault, harassment, misconduct, and violence on campus.
The fact is that the first allegation against Larry Nassar happened in 1997. Since then, more than 160 women, many of them children at the time of their continuous assaults, have come forward to ensure Larry Nassar never hurts anyone ever again.
Why did no one stop Larry Nassar when the first allegations against him happened 20 years ago? This is the question that I, and the overwhelming majority of people tuning into the Larry Nassar trial, have been pondering. But if I were honest with myself, and with you, I am not surprised. And I can assure you that the majority of women aren't, either. Here's why.
First, it is very difficult as a woman, as a person, to accept that what happened was assault or harassment. I didn't realize it was sexual harassment when a coach associated with a club sport (who no longer works at MSU) sent creepy messages to me, at least not until I began joking about it and showing the messages to my friends. But reconciling with yourself that you were a "victim" is difficult; it's more socially acceptable to just consider the interaction "awkward" and save yourself the label.
Second, people don't want to believe you when you come forward. Jamie Dantzscher, one of the women who spoke out against Larry Nassar, said it best herself: "People didn't believe me... [they] even accused me of making all of this up just to get attention." Somehow, it's easier for people to believe that a woman, that a child, just 'made up' accusations instead of accepting, with bile rising in your throat, that the person you adore, the person you trust, the person you respect could violate someone. However, it is not your job to decide whether or not a person has been victimized. It is your job to offer basic human decency to the person coming forward to you and taking their words seriously, taking their words to heart, and offering your assistance.
Third, I find that students are not inherently clear on what courses of action they can take against their harassers. I wasn't even clear until this year that there were resources out there for me to utilize, and by then I'd been harassed by the coach, physically groped by someone I considered a friend, and stalked for months by a grad student. And those are just the ones I deemed serious enough to have reported.
So if you have been sexually harassed or otherwise, here are some resources I want you to be aware of:
Sexual Assault Services:
- MSU Sexual Assault Program – Counseling Center: 517-355-3551 (Business Line), 517-372-6666 (24hr Crisis Line), endrape.msu.edu
- MSU Women’s Resource Center: 517-353-1635, www.wrc.msu.edu
Relationship/Domestic Violence Services:
- MSU Safe Place: 517-355-1100, safeplace.msu.edu, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- End Violent Encounters (EVE, Inc): 517-372-5976, 517-372-5572 (24hr Crisis Line)
- Personal Protection Order Office: 517-483-6545
- Sparrow Hospital: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Unit (SANE), Free and confidential: 517-364-3641, www.sparrow.org/SANE
- Olin Health Center: 517-355-4510, 517-353-5557(24hr nurse line), www.olin.msu.edu
- McLaren Greater Lansing: 517-975-6000, www.mclaren.org/lansing/lansing.aspx
Personal Protection Orders (PPO):
- A PPO is an order issued by Circuit Court that forbids or requires a person (the respondent) to do something. If you want to obtain a PPO, you (the petitioner) have to file a petition with the court. PPOs can be issued for victims of relationship violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
- The PPO office and Circuit Court are located in the Veteran’s Memorial Courthouse at 313 E. Kalamazoo St, Lansing MI 48933.
The phone number is 517-483-6545.
- More information pertaining to PPO’s can be found at: www.eveinc.org/services.html#ppo
- A free anonymous service that gives victims of crime information a notification about offender custody status and related court events, with an option to receive automatic notifications.
- More information can be found at: www.vinelink.com/#/home/site/23005
If you want to report your sexual assault, sexual harassment, or relationship violence, you can:
- Complete the university’s online Public Incident Report Form available on the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) website: oie.msu.edu.
- Completing the online Public Incident Report fulfills your obligation to notify both OIE and MSU Police.
- Please note: A Public Incident Report Form is NOT a police report. To file a police report directly, please contact the MSU Police at (517) 355-2221.
- Call OIE at (517) 353-3922
- Call MSUPD at (517) 355-2221
If you want to report an incidence regarding any unwanted sexual incidents, but don't want to report it alone, you can talk with any mandatory reporter and they will be able to submit an incident report with you, or on your behalf. All faculty and staff on campus, including student workers, are mandatory reporters. So you can go to anyone you trust for help in accessing the report and filling it out. You always have the option of filling it out with a trusted friend if you are not comfortable filling it out with a faculty or staff member.
You can put as much or as little information into the incident report as you want. If you don't want to name the other person, you don't have to. If this person has repeatedly harassed you or assaulted you, you don't have to provide examples of each and every incidence, nor do you need to go into detail if you are uncomfortable doing so.
So what now? Larry Nassar will go to prison, and President Simon has resigned.
But that doesn't mean that this is the end of sexual harassment and assault on campus. Nor does it mean that we will be receiving better aid in dealing with such incidents, or be taken more seriously. Only time will tell what changes new leadership will bring.
So while we await these changes, let's consider what we as students can do in regards to sexual misconduct and violence on campus:
- We can listen to those who have been silenced. If a person approaches you regarding such things, actually listen to them. Thank them for trusting you, ask them if there is anything you can do for them. If they just want to talk, let them talk through what happened. They are never to blame for being harassed, abused, or assaulted. If they want your help in filling out a report, help them. Offer your services, whatever they may be, to let the person know that you are with them 100%.
- Unless you are fulfilling your mandatory reporting duties, under no circumstances should you share someone else's story of assault, unless they give explicit consent. Whether you just overheard it or were told directly by the person, it is not your story to casually share. It is absolutely mortifying to hear people gossip about your sexual harassment or assault - I know because people have gossiped about mine. Whispering as if they had a say about whether or not what I felt was sexual harassment. It's like re-opening an old wound and being silenced at the same time because you feel like you can't trust anyone if another incidence occurs.
- Don't take advantage of someone who is inebriated in any capacity. Step in if you see someone in a bad situation.
- If your friend feels unsafe walking home at night, especially after an outing, walk or drive your friend home. If your friend lives far away, offer them your futon so they can leave safely in the morning.
- Stop trying to convince women (or men) to sleep with you. That is a form of coercion.
- Before engaging with someone, consider telling them what you are comfortable doing at that time, and ask them what they are comfortable doing. You can revoke your consent at any time, much like you can decide to change what you are comfortable doing.
- Always ask for consent. Consent once does not mean consent a second time.
- If you believe that you have harassed someone, learn from that experience. Consider the following rule of thumb: if this happened to me, what would my reaction be? Would I be creeped out by me? If the answer to that is anywhere from a maybe, to a probably, to a yes, then don't do it.
- If you are old-fashioned, consider what your reaction would be if your mother/daughter/sister told you what happened to them. That being said, having female family members shouldn't be the determining factor for not harassing someone. Women are humans. Don't harass other human beings.
- Do not ostracize victims of sexual misconduct, and don't treat them differently just because you know a very personal detail about them. These people are strong, and what they really want is to move forward with their lives. It is very difficult to move forward if your own friends don't know how to talk to you anymore and treat you like a victim. Our entire personas were not based in victimhood before our incidents, it should not be based in victimhood afterward. We are still human beings with an array of characteristics and experiences that define us more than the label of 'victim'. A lot of us prefer to be called survivors.
- As a community, we can hold informal sessions where men and women alike can share their experiences with sexual harassment and assault. The best way to learn about the misconceptions of sexual misconduct and abuse is to be able to openly discuss it with those who have such experiences. If we truly want to lower the number of assaults that occur on campus, we must lift the veil of ignorance concerning consent, harassment, assault, and misconduct. And I don't mean doing SARV every year - that is not enough. We need more programs and resources to prevent sexual misconduct, not just resources for dealing with the aftermath.
- Right now is a time for change. Hold people accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. Contact the Board of Trustees, contact the MSU government - show them that you are not going to be ignored, you are not going to be silent, that you demand change and you deserve change.
Enough is enough. If nothing is done, who's to say another 20 years of victim silencing won't occur? As a community, we must come together to prevent such things from happening ever again. It is our duty to future generations of men and women to make sure that they feel safe at this university.
I wish I could end this on a light, or positive note. I can't. Instead, I will end this with the following images: