Sexual assault cases spark protests on campuses across the United States

The reported sexual assaults sparked large protests on college campuses in at least seven states just weeks after the start of the new school year, which advocates say both reflect greater vulnerability among students who have spent last school year learning from a distance and a greater capacity of young people to be heard. On the question.

Such protests are not new, but there seems to have been an unusually high number this semester already, with protests over the past month at schools in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Alabama, Michigan, Massachusetts and Missouri. Protesters accused their schools of doing too little to protect students and of being too lenient towards the accused.

Those calling for tougher measures against sexual violence also say the protests are led by students familiar with the #MeToo movement and cases like that of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar and Bill Cosby. And they say a protest on one campus inspires them on others.

“It’s this national push that we’re starting to see for college accountability,” said Tracey Vitchers, executive director of It’s On Us, a nonprofit focused on building a movement to fight violence. sex on campus.

More than half of sexual assaults against students occur between the start of fall school and the Thanksgiving vacation, and typically freshmen and transfer students are the most vulnerable to sexual assault because they are unaware of the issues. campus and have not solidified their social networks. . Victims’ advocates call this period “the red zone”.

“We are in a double red zone period,” said Shiwali Patel, senior lawyer for the National Women’s Law Center, who is also leading her efforts to bring justice to survivors of assault. “We have the freshmen and sophomores who are now on campus for the first time. “

The wave of protests began after a student reported being sexually assaulted at a Nebraska-Lincoln University fraternity house just before midnight on August 24. Police have received a separate report of a “wild party” there.

The following night, around 1,000 demonstrators surrounded the fraternity house. Police are investigating the assault report, and the university has temporarily suspended fraternity operations as it examines the group’s conduct.

Protests at the University of Iowa began less than a week later against a chapter of the same fraternity over a year-old sexual assault allegation that authorities are still investigating.

In Kansas, students protested last week at the University of Kansas, Wichita State University and Topeka West High School against various reported assaults, and students from Auburn University in Alabama and the United States. Eastern Michigan University also staged protests. This week’s protests included one at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

At Central Methodist University, a small liberal arts school in Missouri between Kansas City and St. Louis, about 50 students demonstrated this week in support of Layla Beyer, a 19-year-old sophomore who said another a music student sexually assaulted her during the first semester of her freshman year.

The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Beyer has authorized the use of her name.

The university said it could not comment on an individual student’s case, but spokesperson Scott Queen said: “There will be discussions going on regarding the topics discussed at the protest.”

Beyer reported the assault and said he received a restraining order against his assailant, who played the same instrument and was constantly around. But she said he raped her repeatedly without incurring serious consequences.

“Often the survivors have no one to defend them except themselves,” Beyer said.

Administrators at other colleges have said they are committed to helping victims and educating students on appropriate behaviors.

University of Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green presented plans that included expanding from two to four members of a team that helps victims and improving sexual assault training and education .

New Eastern Michigan initiatives include annual training for students and separate training to encourage people to step in if they see inappropriate behavior. He also reflects on the future of a fraternity at the center of multiple allegations of sexual assault.

“Students are speaking out, protesting and taking action because they want their institutions to respond with the same level of anger, determination and commitment to keep their communities safe,” said Walter Kraft, vice president of communications from eastern Michigan.

Vitchers said helping survivors was no longer enough. She said universities need to educate students to prevent assault and punish perpetrators and groups fostering an environment in which sexual violence is seen as normal or unimportant.

Older advocates said current students have better access to social media and embrace activism more easily than their predecessors. Angela Esquivel Hawkins, administrator at Stanford University and CEO of a group that helps friends and families of victims, said students are now more savvy about things like choosing hashtags to get messages across on Twitter.

“The more social media iterations there are in the future, the more people will become more connected and more savvy on how to organize themselves and be effective in their efforts,” said Hawkins.

At the University of Iowa, 18-year-old freshman Amelia Keller and her friends took to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to rally people over the recent school protest. Keller has also worked with an academic group advocating for rape victims.

“We want to be able to trust and depend on those who claim to care about protecting vulnerable students,” Keller said in texts to The Associated Press. “At the moment, we cannot. “

In eastern Michigan, Abbie Francis, an 18-year-old freshman, helped organize last week’s protest at that school and used an app to attract dozens of members in two hours to a new group awareness of sexual assault and rape. Students from eastern Michigan also staged a protest in March.

“Everyone I have spoken to in the past few weeks has expressed that they feel extremely unsafe,” she said in an email to The Associated Press.

At Central Methodist, Beyer said she felt compelled to choose between dropping out of the group or having to face her attacker frequently, despite repeatedly telling administrators that he should be the one to leave. . She said the administrators “completely invalidated me.”

And Beyer said she lost her passion for music because of the assault and its subsequent treatment. She dropped out of her major in music education and is now majoring in psychology instead.

“You get to the point where nobody hears you and nobody does anything for you,” Beyer said. “Having students, especially those who attend your school, by your side and standing up for you means a lot. “


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