Organizers of a new student group on the UW-Eau Claire campus wish they hadn’t felt compelled to start the organization.
They wish there was no demand to talk about the subject that is their focus, but, sadly, that’s not the case.
Instead, founders Grace James and Taylor Limberg, both juniors, have found that a lot of people on campus are grateful they launched Student Advocates for Sexual Assault Survivors this semester.
Despite knowing sexual assaults are considered to be vastly underreported, James said she has been surprised to learn how many people she knows personally who have been victims of such crimes.
The story is similar for Limberg.
“I’ve had seven or eight students tell me they were sexually assaulted on campus and they’re glad we started our group,” Limberg said. “I even had one person say this group gives me the strength to report my assault and speak out.”
That’s a powerful statement of affirmation for the group’s co-founders, who both revealed they have been victims of sexual assault.
Issue hits home
Limberg said she was assaulted by a male co-worker while walking to her car after work one night as a Minnesota high school student. She was wearing dress pants and a work shirt, not a short skirt — not that it should matter — so no one could make the lame argument of implied consent.
She reported the traumatic event, and the perpetrator, son of a police officer, eventually was convicted of juvenile criminal sexual misconduct.
James, by contrast, never reported what happened to her multiple times in a high school relationship and didn’t really recognize it as sexual assault until she got to college and watched a dramatic performance about consent.
“It all seemed way too familiar,” James said. “I never understood before that you can withdraw consent during a sexual act.”
For Limberg and James, their personal experiences, combined with all of the attention gained by the #MeToo movement in which women are acknowledging on social media incidents when they were victims of sexual assault or harassment, provided motivation to start SASAS.
“At some point you get fed up and want to do something about it,” Limberg said. “I just didn’t want it to happen to someone else.”
The student advocacy group, which has about 30 members and an active Facebook page, defines its mission as educating students and the community about topics surrounding sexual assault, consent and the rights of survivors. SASAS also seeks to promote volunteering with community sexual assault advocacy groups and working with faculty, campus police and the Eau Claire Police Department to create a better, safer campus.
James said she believes SASAS can offer a much-needed supplement to the university’s efforts to promote awareness of and provide training about sexual assault and harassment.
“I’m really excited they started this group,” said UW-Eau Claire affirmative action director and Title IX coordinator Teresa O’Halloran. “It can be a real help for students.”
In particular, Limberg hopes the group can help empower more people to become active bystanders and intervene when they see someone being groped or pressured into unwanted sexual activity.
The need is apparent, as evidenced by the group’s positive reception and the #MeToo posts Limberg reported seeing all the time on her social media accounts.
“A sexual assault is a traumatic event, and talking about it is a way to heal and get through it,” Limberg said. “Our group also hopes to harness that energy into a way to make change.”
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