Survivors shouldn’t have to advocate for themselves
For the past couple months, the University of Toledo Feminist Alliance has been protesting against the administration’s decision to move and change the Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Program. In early September, the administration tried to move the SAEPP office from a very private area to a very public area in the Office of Student Involvement.
The members of UTFA felt it was highly irresponsible of the administration to overlook the privacy and confidentiality of UT students who utilize the services of SAEPP. Recently, President Lloyd Jacobs admitted in a public forum that there would be changes to SAEPP; however, he assured the audience it wouldn’t be moved to a public location.
This is a huge issue because, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, on a campus with about 10,000 female students, about 350 rapes are estimated to occur in a year. However, less than 5 percent of completed or attempted rapes were reported to law enforcement officials and about one-third of survivors didn’t tell anyone.
To put this into perspective, UT has about 21,000 students; half of which are women. Whether or not sexual assault is widely discussed on college campuses, it’s undeniably an issue when looking at national statistics.
In the past, I’d always been proud of our institution’s sexual assault policy and SAEPP. However, due to the ill-informed decisions by our administration earlier in the semester, it makes me question my past trust in our institution’s response to sexual assault.
In UTFA’s meeting with Kaye Patten Wallace, vice president of student experience, she made it clear that she wanted to get students’ thoughts about SAEPP. A huge concern of UTFA is that due to the vicious and pervasive stigma attached to rape and sexual violence, students who actually utilize the services of SAEPP are unlikely to come forward publically, or even on a confidential basis, in order to speak on behalf of the program. Nor should these students feel pressure to come forward to speak on behalf of a program that advocates for them.
Well, if they want a personal testimony, here it is.
When I was about seven years old, I was sexually assaulted by a family member. Shortly after he attacked me, he was convicted for sexual assault of a teenage girl and sent to prison. I remember a few of my family members referring to the teenage girl he assaulted as “bad” and placing blame on the girl for my relative’s attacking her. Other family members just denied that anything happened all together.
Since I was only a child, I didn’t even have the words to describe what happened to me. Based on my family’s reaction to the teenage girl, I was afraid to try. As I got older, I internalized messages from our culture that blamed me for the assault. During my assault, I’d never said “no,” in fear of what would’ve happened if I’d protested. There would be nights I wouldn’t sleep because I’d lie in my bed wondering if there’s something I could have said or done to stop what happened.
It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I told someone about my assault. And even though I’d finally told someone, I still lived with these feelings that I was to blame. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college, when I attended a SAEPP event, that I’d heard for the first time during a poetry reading that it wasn’t my fault.
During this event I had this huge realization that there was nothing I could have done to stop or prevent my sexual assault. I was only seven years old. I was attacked by a 30-year-old man. How could this ever be viewed as my fault?
After the poetry reading, I started to attend more SAEPP events and learned more about the program. I found out that SAEPP not only does educational programming, but it provides advocacy services for survivors of violence.
I was 7 years old when I was sexually assaulted. I didn’t have an advocate. I probably will never get justice for my sexual assault since I have no way of proving it. However, it doesn’t have to be this way for UT students who survive sexual assault.
Survivors of violence shouldn’t have to advocate for themselves. Students deserve to have a trained confidential source to know their options and rights when it comes to sexual assault. It’s UT’s responsibility to assure that students are connected with a trained advocate. It’s also UT’s responsibility to actively educate the campus about this issue since it affects a large population of students.
I hope the administration considers the experience of survivors before implementing any changes to the program that’s already effective. If there are changes, they should be based on how to make it better for the students who utilize the services, not what is convenient for the administration.
If you’re concerned about this issue and the potential changes made to the program, feel free to contact Kaye Patten Wallace at Kaye.PattenWallace@utoledo.edu. Also, if you need to talk to someone about your own experiences or would like to know your options, you can go to the SAEPP office, located in the Student Union Building Room 1511 for the time being, or the Counseling Center, located in Rocket Hall Room 1810.12
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