Ann Arbor State Reps Hosted UM Sexual Assault Town Hall

Eve Kucharski
By | 2018-04-11T13:42:58+00:00 April 11th, 2018|Michigan, News|

In light of the Larry Nassar trial at Michigan State University, and recent movements like #MeToo and It’s On Us, sexual misconduct is currently being discussed on national platforms. In an effort to bring more public understanding on this topic, State Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) along with State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) hosted an April 5 town hall meeting at the University of Michigan to discuss available resources and legislation for students on college campuses.
“More importantly than anything, we felt that a dialogue and an education around this topic needed to happen,” Zemke said. “So, several weeks ago we started creating a panel as to who really would be the experts.”
The event’s panel consisted of Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center Director Kaaren Williamsen, SAPAC student volunteers Gabby McFarland and Maya Chamra, Chair of the UM Mental Health Work Group Dr. Todd Sevig, UM Title IX Coordinator Pamela Heatlie and openly gay UM Police Sgt. Janet Conners.
And although sexual misconduct can occur anywhere, statistics show that college campuses have an especially harsh rate of sexual misconduct. A 2015 study reported by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network or RAINN showed that that year, there were two sexual assaults for every one robbery on campuses, one in six college-aged female survivors sought assistance from victim service agencies and 21 percent of TGQN — transgender, genderqueer and nonconforming — college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18 percent of cisgender — non-TGQN — females and 4 percent of cisgender males.
The town hall’s primary focus was to provide a broad public overview of UM’s specific services in the realms of sexual harassment and assault, and to provide a welcome forum for the public to get answers to their pressing questions. Notably, Williamsen outlined that sexual assault care services can range drastically from student to student.
“I think that’s partly why you see the various kind of resources up here, is that as institutions we know this,” Williamsen said. “People are going to look for various kinds of support at different times in their process. Some will want to go directly to the police, some will go directly to Title IX, some will want to institutional resource first. Most of the time, we know, people go to their friends. So, they will go where they are comfortable.”
The panelists also discussed the strengths in their ability cross-communicate between departments, underlining that students can feel comfortable with UM services and are welcome to report sexual misconduct and violence to any of the present departments — even for off-campus incidents involving students.
“I know that a lot of times Title IX will call us, or SAPAC will share their information. As far as an answer to the previous question about an off-campus incident, if that comes through us maybe through SAPAC or Title IX, we will send the agency a report that has the basic information and then I turn that right over to the Ann Arbor police and then they will assign an investigator to that,” Conners said. “We have a close working relationship with them for incidents that occur off-campus.”
Heatlie also emphasized in the meeting that as of last fall, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights created new guidelines for dealing with sexual assault, in an effort to make things “fair(er) toward respondents” of sexual misconduct complaints.
“And they said they were going to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking and we’ve all been waiting since September for that to happen. We’re in a little bit of limbo in terms of what our rules are going to be from OCR, but I think the thing to remember is the statute is still there and enforcement is still going on, but we just don’t know what the guidance is going to be going forward,” Heatlie said. “When that notice of proposed rulemaking comes out, every single one of you has a voice and you should certainly submit comments if this is a topic that interests you.”

About the Author:

Eve Kucharski
Writing became my life when I enrolled at Michigan State University's journalism program. In May 2017, I earned my bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in electronic news media. I am thrilled to be working as an editorial assistant at Between The Lines.