Panel discusses sexual violence on college campuses

Ellen Collier of the EMU Women’s Center tells about what the Women’s Center is doing to help with sexual violence on campus at Effective Responses to Campus Sexual Violence on 20 March at McKenny Hall.

A panel discussion on sexual violence titled, “Addressing Sexual Violence on College Campuses: A Panel and Workshop,” was held at McKenny Hall Thursday to address the elements of sexual violence and the dangerous situations victims find themselves in, like stalking, harassment and rape.

The panel consisted of Cristy Cardinal and Kole Wyckhuys from HAVEN, a nonprofit organization for victims of violence and sexual abuse, Ellen Collier from Eastern Michigan University’s Women’s Resource Center, philosophy professor Margaret Crouch and EMU Police Officer Candace Dorsey.

Cardinal began by discussing prevention on campus and in the surrounding communities.

“Prevention is something that’s really hard to prove,” she said. “When you prevent something from happening, you don’t know that it didn’t happen.”

Cardinal also said preventing sexual assault isn’t going to happen overnight – it is something that is going to take hundreds of years.

“I don’t mean to sound depressing,” she said, “but it’s not something that is going to happen in the next 10 minutes or while I’m talking to you, although that would be pretty great if I had that magic power.”

She said that the best solution to the problem of sexual assault on college campuses is to address the issue frequently and to change cultural and social norms.

Cardinal said that HAVEN defines sexual assault very broadly.

“Sexual activity without voluntary, enthusiastic consent is sexual assault,” she said. “That’s the difference between willing and wanting. Your partner not only needs to be willing to have sex or have the affiliated activities, but also wanting to have sex.”

When it comes to addressing the focus of prevention on college campuses, Cardinal said from a professional standpoint, many factors play a role. These factors include ideals about women and gender, beliefs about violence on campus and attitudes toward sexual violence. There are also group factors and campus policies and procedures.

“A high-risk environment is a difficult thing to talk about,” Cardinal said. “I actually think, in my work, that there’s no such thing as a low-risk.”

She said HAVEN encounters things such as sexual assault, violence, inappropriateness and harassment every day.

“Sometimes it’s like a big ocean of hostility that’s all around us,” Cardinal said.

She also said people need to look at community factors and public policy in society. In order to effectively address the issue of sexual assault, people need to look at what is going on at those particular levels of influence. Cardinal said better services need to be provided and people need to have a place to go to talk to someone who has the training to help those who do come forward when dealing with sexual assault.

Cardinal also talked about victim-blaming.

“Victim-blaming is one of those things that happen when we spend too much time and energy focusing on proving why it happened to that particular person and what they did wrong to make it happen,” Cardinal said.

She said there are instances when victims of assault will be severely traumatized and when questioned about what happened to them, they end up getting his or her information scrambled. This tends to lead those who are investigating the situation to find the victim less credible.

Cardinal said when someone has been traumatized, he or she might not recall every little detail about what happened. She said that is why there needs to be more people who are educated in the knowledge of neurobiology who can focus on that process and the needs of the person in question. She said more police officers should also be trained in this area.

“Responding appropriately to survivors who disclose makes a difference,” Cardinal said. “The victim and survivor needs to feel supported and empowered, but the interrogation, the questioning is all directed at the perpetrator. I’ve seen or heard of investigations happening where the goal walking into the place was to prove something didn’t happen. We need to change that.”

Wyckhuys from HAVEN said his job is to engage men with the information in which they need to know about sexual assault prevention and gender-based violence.

“I feel like it’s important to define what gender-based violence is,” Wyckhuys said. “Gender-based violence is a very specific kind of violence that is perpetrated against someone specifically due to their gender or perceived gender. It serves two purposes. One, to keep women and girls in a position of inferiority, and the other to police behaviors of individuals that don’t follow the traditional gender expectations, such as people in the LGBT community.”

Wyckhuys identified himself to the audience as a trans man, which is someone who is a female-to-male transgender or a transsexual person. A trans man is a female at birth, but identifies as male. He also said that he is undergoing the complete transition to male. The reason why he mentioned this is because he is now on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to sexual harassment.

Through his transition, Wyckhuys said he was able to identify the cultural narratives that dictate an extremely toxic American masculinity.

“The cultural narratives and socializations that I began to adopt made me become personally aware,” he said. “Through transition, I began to become aware of gender socializations, advertising, music, gaming – just about everything in our culture feeds a social structure and imbalance that objectifies women, dehumanizing women in such a way that it is a foundation for sexism to happen.”

Ellen Collier said her work at the Women’s Resource Center is very important to her and the Center works with different groups on campus to inform students and others about sexual misconduct, education and awareness about rape culture and prevention.

She said that what she has found on various occasions during her work is when people tell her that when they have to stop and ask if the other person is OK with going through with any sexual act that it “ruins the mood.” She said that a person needs to be aware of consent and basically if it is an awkward setting, maybe it isn’t the right time to be engaging in sexual activity.

“If you’re not hearing an enthusiastic ‘yes,’” Collier said, “that says to me that maybe there’s a disconnect.”

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