Senior Christine Walker expected an increase of emails when she took her role as student government president last year. But she didn’t expect some of them to share stories of sexual assault.
Five times during her term, women have emailed Walker recounting their own or their friends’ encounters with sexual violence on campus. As her term comes to an end (inauguration for 2011-2012 president Charles Pierre is May 1), Walker will focus on raising the volume on the conversations she’s been having about women’s safety at DePauw.
“I don’t know if it’s because other women are identifying with me as a woman and they see me as a leader and they bring those things together … but I’ve received multiple emails from girls … all kind of saying, ‘We didn’t even think this could happen at DePauw. What can you do or provide to make sure this doesn’t happen?'” Walker said.
Director of Public Safety Angie Nally said there hasn’t been an increase in sexual assault in the past month or semester, but it’s always an issue.
“We always, always, always — because of the age group of the students here, because of the dynamics of the campus environment — will always be facing issues of sexual assault,” Nally said.
This semester, there has been one sexual assault reported to Public Safety (March 17), and there have been three incidents reported this academic year (a sexual assault in December and a sexual battery in October). Getting victims to report such attacks has always been an issue, not just at DePauw but for women everywhere, Nally said, which is one explanation for the discrepancy between Public Safety’s numbers and the five emails Walker has received.
The three incidents posted to Public Safety’s activity log do not necessarily reflect the activity on campus, Nally said. If a student approaches the Wellness Center, the Women’s Center or a Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate saying he or she has been sexually assaulted, those entities notify public safety for statistical information. Unless that student also approaches Public Safety, however, no action is taken to hold an attacker accountable. The victim must decide whether to pursue further action.
As far as resources for the sexually assaulted, DePauw provides various support outlets. In 2010, the university received a grant for $299,006 from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, which will be used to reduce domestic, dating and sexual violence on campus and in the Greencastle community.
Jeannette Johnson-Licon, director of the Women’s Center, said in an email that the grant will be distributed from now through Sept. 2013 and will focus on providing services to sexual assault victims through local organizations, continuing education on sexual assault and equipping local law enforcement and health providers who assist such victims. The grant will also allow three local health workers to be trained as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, which will add to those already working on campus.
Walker said she has had informal conversations with women around campus to find out the extent of the sexual assault issues here. Not only does Walker want to continue these conversations, she wants to get men involved.
“I would be completely fine and confident in saying 99.9 percent of men on this campus would be just as outraged as the women,” Walker said. “But because we disclude [sic] them from the conversation, we make it a female issue which cuts the number of eyes and ears for this issue in half.”
Nally and Walker agree there needs to be a heightened awareness of sexual assault on campus not only to encourage people to report it but to intervene and prevent high-risk situations from escalating to assault. Walker hopes that women who are comfortable talking about their experiences will come forward, share their stories and give a sense of reality to sexual assault.
“Something tells me this is a unique thing that these women reached out to me because I’m a woman,” Walker said. “I don’t want the fact that the next person to take this position is a man to make this [conversation] go away, because I know that’s not what Charles would want. I think we have to keep talking.”