On Saturday, August 15, 2015, a diverse group of high school and college students, parents, university administrators and faculty, government officials, parents, activists, and others gathered at a movie theater in Bellevue, WA, for a screening of the riveting documentary on campus sexual assault, The Hunting Ground, followed by a thought-provoking and informative panel discussion of the issues raised in the film. The screening and panel discussion were spearheaded by Loria Yeadon, a Washington resident and Legal Momentum board member, to create diverse and inclusive dialogue, raise awareness of the rape crisis on college campuses, and catalyze community engagement to end this epidemic.
Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles provided opening remarks at the screening and set the stage by sharing statistics about sexual assaults on college campus, which are well-documented in the "The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault" (February 2014):
One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Most often, it happens her freshman or sophomore year. In the great majority of cases (75-80%), she knows her attacker, whether as an acquaintance, classmate, friend or (ex)boyfriend. Many are survivors of what's called "incapacitated assault": they are sexually abused while drugged, drunk, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated. And although fewer and harder to gauge, college men, too, are victimized.
After the screening, many attendees expressed a full range of emotions—outrage, sadness, helplessness, utter disbelief that rape is rampant on college campuses nationally, and disappointment that more had not been done to combat this issue. This gathering proved to be more than emotional reactions and conversation about campus sexual action, but also a catalyst for action and empowerment. During the conversation, attendees moved from asking "how can this be?" to asking "what can we do now to address this issue?" In response, each panelist provided their call to action to end sexual assault in America's schools and the stigma for survivors, emphasizing the need for increased involvement from parents, students, and the broader community.
Carol Robles-Román, president and CEO of Legal Momentum, called on the federal government to be responsive in the first instance to students and to the colleges second. Title IX investigations are taking years to complete, and victims are not being served in real time. A culture of accountability must be established for all who are part of the enforcement scheme. Faculty should be encouraged to confront campus sexual assault, rather than be penalized as the film illustrates. Faculty members should not be mere bystanders; they should be encouraged and rewarded first responders and advocates.
Legal Momentum has created two new resources for survivors of campus sexual assault—a "Know Your Rights" fact sheet, Surviving Campus Sexual Assault: An Overview of Your Rights as a Student, and a list of Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors in Seattle. Both are available for free download from Legal Momentum's website.Shannon Baillie, director of health and wellness at the University of Washington urged parents to step up their involvement and ask schools (whether at the primary, secondary, or collegiate level) the tough questions, such as:
- What education is being offered around sexual assault prevention?
- How does the school handle complaints brought forward?
- What do the school's judicial proceedings look like; how often are they finding students responsible for these actions; and what type of sanctions are they utilizing?
She encouraged parents to demand that schools have adequate programs and services. She also encouraged them to have open conversations about consent, alcohol, and sexual assault with their children, beginning in late grade school, in order to demystify these topics and help them to understand the dynamics involved. Finally, she pointed out the need for more research into evidence-based prevention and education. She said that the following areas need to be examined: the effectiveness of bystander education and other campaigns to combat the culture of hyper-masculinity that silences men, disenfranchises women and minorities, and lashes out against those who speak up and take a stand against sexual violence.
Simona Sharoni, professor of gender and women's studies at SUNY Plattsburgh and co-founder of Faculty Against Rape, called for increasing faculty involvement in research, teaching, advocacy, and policy reform on campus sexual assault and for developing broad networks to ensure that colleges respond with comprehensive plans (instead of superficial attempts to be "in compliance"). She pointed out the need for national leadership to act as a clearinghouse for student activists, faculty, legislators, parents, and alumni.
Peter Qualliotine, co-founder and director of men's accountability for the Organization of Prostitution Survivors (OPS), called on men and boys to become involved in the movement to end sexual assault on campus and all other forms of gender-based violence. He encouraged them to have the courage to step into a full humanity that is not defined and limited by an identification with a "toxic masculinity" that requires the sexual subordination of others (of any gender).
Professor Alissa Ackerman, survivor and assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Washington -- Tacoma, urged everyone to begin having conversations about sexual violence—no matter how uncomfortable they are. She asked the audience to take a proactive approach to learning about rape culture and rape myths—both on campus and in the greater community—and to understand that the negative emotions such as shame, guilt, and fear that occur in the aftermath of sexual violence can be exacerbated by negative reactions to disclosures. "Believe people when they tell you about their experience," she said. "Each and every one of us plays an important role in ending sexual violence. It is on us."
Haley Higgins, survivor and Student at the University of Washington - Seattle, exhorted her fellow students to "Be LOUD against sexual assault and engage in those difficult conversations in order to end the social stigma around this pervasive problem."
In her call to action, Loria Yeadon said, "We can no longer allow universities to self-manage this issue. The community must have a louder voice and provide support. Parent must engage, be informed and drive accountability." Loria implored parents to "engage your sons and daughters now, as they return to campuses, on sexual violence issues to ensure that they are aware and informed of the steps they should take to keep themselves and others safe." As a parent of college and high school students, she said "we must be proactively involved to help drive awareness and accelerate creation and implementation of meaningful solutions and accountability. The lives of our daughters and sons depend on it."
To continue to build the momentum created at this screening, many of the panelists, co-champions, co-sponsors, and attendees are working together and planning future gatherings, driving greater community awareness on this issue, engaging university administrators, alumni, and trustees, and supporting victims and survivors.
The screening was free to all 240 registrants due to the generosity of 20 individual Co-champions committed to ending sexual violence on college campuses and impacting other social issues affecting multiple and diverse communities nationally. Co-sponsors of the screening included: Legal Momentum, Essex Community Outreach Corporation, Washington Coalition for Sexual Assault Programs, University of Washington (Health & Wellness Center), Faculty Against Rape, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, Legal Voice, King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Sexual Violence Legal Services Program of the YWCA Seattle|King|Snohomish.