Students stay WOKE at sexual assault panel

By Josie Norris, editor-in-chief.

Panel held at Delta to combat sexual assault

UNIVERSITY CENTER – A group of English students and their professor, Kathie Marchlewski, are seeking to awake the Delta community to the reality of sexual assault. Thourgh Woke: A Proactive Approach and Prevention, Marchlewski and her students brought together experts to discuss the topic of sexual assault on April 3 in the lecture theater on main campus.

Marchlewski’s students were reading the book “Missoula,” which was centered on sexual assault on university campuses. When an incident of alleged sexual assault was reported on campus, Marchlewski said, “Everyone became deeply concerned.”

She went on to say that the classes felt that the issue became “more real.”

During the investigation of the reported incident, it was determined by Delta College Office of Public Safety that it did not happen on Delta’s campus. However, the students decided they wanted to do something reactive, not passive, according to Marchlewski.

“Students began talking about solutions, and agreed that effectively addressing the problem of sexual assault requires more than teaching women to protect themselves and telling men not to rape,” Marchlewski said in a press release.

Members of the panel were Thomas Haller, a parenting and relationship specialist; Steve Goss, a fitness instructor specializing in combat and self-defense training at GossFit and Goss Mediation; Nikita Murray, a Delta College counselor; C.J. Miller, a sexual assault survivor; and Wendy Sterling of the Sexual Assault Center of Saginaw.

The topic of consent was a large portion of the event.

Murray defined consent with: “Did the person say ‘yes?’” After a pause, she continued, “If you don’t have a ‘yes,’ you don’t have consent.”

Haller further expanded on Murray’s definition with, “It’s not consent if you make someone afraid to say ‘no.’”

Haller explained that learning the concept of consent should start early with children and teens. He said that consent is not just something to do with sex; it has many other everyday uses, such as being allowed to make choices and those choices being respected no matter how old a person is.

“Asking consent as well as giving it communicates [a person’s] autonomy,” according to Haller.

Sterling spoke on another aspect of consent that isn’t often addressed – consent in relationships.

“A lot of times when people are in relationships, they assume that if they have sex once, they are obligated to have it again – that’s not true,” Sterling said.

Murray went on to say that sexual assault is not the “stranger rape” many people think of – perpetrators are often people whom victims know.

“Most people who have been sexually assaulted have been sex assaulted by someone they know, as a child or as an adult,” Murray said.

Miller shared his experience of sexual assault with audience and admitted it was the first time he publicly shared his story. For him, “survivor” isn’t the only hat he wears, but it is one that shaped his life. When Miller was 10 years old, he was raped by a friend. He lived in silence for many years.

“I lived in fear for 30 years… I lived in fear of the impression, the stigma that would have been thrust upon me,” Miller explained.

After sharing his story with people in his life and working to heal from the experience with therapists, Miller confessed, “I still cannot forgive that kid for what he did to me.”

Just like Miller, there are many people who are sexually assaulted but do not report it and as a result sexual assault is the most underreported crime. Sterling explained that societal pressures, misinformation and fear of not only reliving the assault, but also facing the perpetrator, keeps many individuals from reporting incidents.

Statistics don’t necessarily provide an accurate depiction of the number of sexual assaults happening, but it can give an idea said Sterling. According to Sterling, in 2014 there were 279 sexual assaults reported and the Sexual Assault Center of Saginaw provided services to 721 individuals.

Sterling also said that one in five women and one in 16 men have been sexually assaulted in college.

All the panelists voiced concerns with the prevalence of rape culture in society today. Haller explained that rape culture “is perpetuated through use of misogynistic language, objectification of women’s bodies and glamorization of sexual violence.”

Haller encouraged audience members to actively point out sexist messages and explain why it’s wrong to young people.

“It’s not just a discussion women need to have – it affects all of us,” Haller said.

Sterling had tips for audience members to make a difference, such as encouraging men and women to express their emotions; to speak up when you hear about sexual assault; to believe and support survivors; think critically about messages in media and to get educated on the realities of sexual assault.

To conclude the evening Goss demonstrated and shared various self-defense tactics.. Marchlewski said that the students were nervous to include the self-defense portion because they didn’t want to have a program that put the responsibility only on women to prevent sexual assault.

“We really wanted to have a program that would allow people to carefully think about solving the problem of sexual assault,” explained Marchlewski.

Goss explained that knowing how to defend oneself is “something that brings hope while we’re working on the cultural change.”

Even as the weaker individual in a fight, Goss said a person’s strongest points are your mind, leverage and your voice  to “be able to say ‘no’ loud enough and repeatedly to get help you need.”

Goss went on to demonstrate and teach audience members self defense moves and said “the more you practice this, the more confidence you’ll have.”

As a counselor at Delta, Murray is trained to assist and help victims of sexual assault and explained that “there is a process in place for students who experience something in this space that Delta is responsible for.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and several events will be held on campus. On April 10 at 7 p.m. the event “Speak Like a Girl” will be held in N12 featuring poet Olivia Gatwood. In addition to the poetry reading, a “It’s on Us” roundtable discussion will be held April 12 at noon in N12.

For students interested in getting involved in efforts to end sexual violence, a new student organization is forming titled Rise. For more information contact club president, Olivia Rose at [email protected] or JodiAnn Stevenson at [email protected]

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