Eastern Michigan University hosted a public informational session called "Got Consent?" on Wednesday, Oct. 12, which describes dating and sexual violence and how the criminal justice system operates.
Turnout for the event was in record numbers as more than 300 students filled the Student Center ballroom with Washtenaw County assistant prosecutors Mark Kneisel and Arianne Slay presenting. The first half of the event went over legal definitions of topics including sexual penetration, physical assault and consent.
By definition sexual penetration is any kind of intercourse or intrusion into the vagina or anus; ejaculation is not required. Sexual contact is the touching of intimate parts or clothing that covers intimate parts for sexual arousal, gratification or for humiliation.
"For that last part comes up in fraternity hazing," Kneisel said. "Maybe that's not sexual, but that's still sexual assault."
Sometimes there is a physical assault that is non-sexual such as grabbing an arm or beltline, but none of the intimate parts actually get touched. If the reason for the grab is for sexual gratification then that's still assault with intent of sexual misconduct.
Forceful coersion was also discussed and Kneisel said that's what he argues the most in court.
Kneisel said, "It's not just physical force in the physically threatening sense, it could also be threatened use of force, concealment or surprise."
As an example if a woman was to get into bed with what she believed was her boyfriend, but another man is in the bed and it's the wrong person it would be considered sexual assault because of concealment or surprise.
"On the flipside if there is force, there's no consent and if there's consent there's no force," Kneisel said. "However, you can't force somebody to consent."
If the victim is unconscious, asleep or unable to communicate unwillingness to an act such as being drunk or high, it's considered sexual assault.
Kneisel briefly discussed police practices in the past that made many victims not want to report. In what he refers to as "the bad old days" when a victim would come to the police station to report sexual assault, the first thing police would do is ask them to take a polygraph, or a lie-detector test.
Michigan law now makes it illegal for the police to even mention taking a polygraph test to a sexual assault victim.
Kneisel also spoke about attempting to change sexual assault perceptions in younger students including the perception that sexual assault is difficult to identify and prosecute.
"I think it's awesome to be talking to a bunch of collegians, mostly freshmen it looks like, but part of me is starting to think that it's a little too late," Kneisel said. "By the time we get to college we've had 18 years of socialization and messages that sometimes can have some pretty bad effects."
According to Kneisel these perceptions create a cycle because there's a hesitation to talk to the police or go to the hospital. After several days of being out of the routine or seeing the assailant, the victim may eventually talk to the police.
"Now the interval between the crime and reporting has grown a little bit and that makes it tougher," Kneisel said. "You can see how the cycle repeats and who benefits from that? The predators and the offenders."
Consent and Domestic Violence
Slay presented after Kneisel and showed the audience a video that made the analogy between consent and serving someone a cup of tea. While the video was meant to be humorous it served the purpose to convey that it must be made absolutely clear by the other party that they give consent. If consent is unclear at any given time sexual advances should not be made toward that person.
The power and control wheel was brought up, which segments all of the ways in which someone might be in an unhealthy relationship in the form of pie slices.
Slay said, "When someone is engaged in a battering or domestic violence relationship, the batterer uses these different slices of pie to maintain power and control over their partners."
First time offenders that are not engaging in power and control wheel tactics are very unlikely to go to jail and will often be on probation and required to attend a batterer intervention program. For repeated offenders, the second time that someone is convicted of domestic violence they may serve up to a year in jail. The third time they do it can lead to five years in the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Slay spoke about stalking behaviors and told the audience a story that a friend of hers experienced while she worked as a police officer in Philadelphia. In the story a woman who lived on campus walked into the campus police station looking disheveled, panicked and in her bath robe. She told the police that 12 long stem roses were delivered to her by her ex-husband.
After being dismissed several times by the police station she left to go pick up her children and told the police to send a patrol car if they don't hear back from her in 10 minutes. After 14 minutes pass, reports start coming in of gun shots fired on campus.
"What she didn't have the opportunity to share with that person [police] was that her ex-husband said, 'the day that I've decided that you're going to die, I'm going to send you 12 long-stem roses,'" Slay said. "For years this went on. Every time she had a knock at the door from an unexpected visitor, she had to think 'are these the flowers?' Every time someone got a flower delivery at work she would hold her breath."
According to Slay this woman was isolated and had no one to reach out to. The power and control wheel was in effect and the ex-husband did a good job of making sure that friends and family weren't around when she needed them.
"She was so emotionally distraught over the years that she couldn't convey how much danger she was in to the police," Slay said.
After telling this story Slay said she would appreciate the opportunity to talk to every student in the audience about domestic violence.
"I don't want to meet any of you in the morgue and that's happened," Slay said. "People have come up and haven't been able to get out of a relationship and that's the way that Mark and I meet them, on the slab. That's the way that we meet your family. Save your life or someone else and don't be afraid to reach out for help."
Before the event Abigail Tandoh, business management major at EMU, didn't know anything about the material that was presented and the event helped to "open her eyes" to the subject of domestic and sexual violence.
"I was afraid to go to the police about certain stuff, but I'm like, 'okay, they're friendly, I can definitely go to them for stuff like this now' and I don't have to be afraid," Tandoh said. "They really went into depth about explaining certain stuff and that was really helpful."