Sexual assault awareness month is just a few days away. Assignment: Radio’s Lydia Theban, Pamela Ortega, ECU’s Lisa Laxton and I found out that sexual violence touches the lives of people here in our community. Sexual assault prevention programs, personal stories and successes make up this weeks Assignment: Radio.
Today, an average of 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted. Many of these cases go unreported, and even more go without justice. Last November a high school sexual assault made headlines when a male student was publicly accused of raping two female students at Norman High School. He was ultimately charged with two counts of first-degree rape of an unconscious victim.
This charge didn’t come without a fight. The organization “Yes All Daughters” and thousands of students and staff held a protest outside of Norman High School on November 24th to protest how the school handled the allegations and the bullying of one of the victims. Ever since the protest “Yes All Daughters” has taken the issue by storm.
Stacey Wright is a parent of a student at Norman High School and when she saw that the school was letting the bullying of the victims continue she organized “Yes All Daughters.” Their mission is to promote “awareness of bullying and sexual harassment of victims.”
“In fifteen days from beginning the group to our November 24 protest at Norman high, we made international news and affected some real change at the local school district level,” Wright said. “Just today, we managed to get a important bill moved through the common education committee.”
That bill, HB1362, would amend current law and create a “Safe School Committee.” The committee would guide the principal of each school on how to respond when a student is raped or assaulted. That program would also provide information to both the school staff and students on the types of support and treatment these victims need. Wright described her emotions when the committee passed the bill unanimously.
“One of our girls was with us and she and I locked eyes and just started crying,” Wright said. “My eyes just welled up. This feels like one of our major victories in the fight. Like I said, five days ago this wasn’t even on the agenda the fact that we got it on the agenda that fact that we got it to the capital. We launched a change.org petition and implored all our followers to call in. And we did it. They passed it unanimously.”
A week later, the full House of Representatives heard the bill and passed the legislation 95-1. The state representative that introduced the bill, Claudia Griffith, publicly thanked the “Yes All Daughters” movement on her Facebook page. Wright hopes the new training will allow students, teachers and staff to be more supportive to victims. She says since starting the campaign, she’s already seen improvements in people’s understanding of sexual assault.
“I remember specifically a friend of my daughters who was absolutely convinced that one of our girls hadn’t been raped,” She said. “She had seen the video that was passed around by the rapist and she was totally convinced that the girl hadn’t been raped and I very firmly told my daughter that girl didn’t have all the information and that that was classic victim blaming and she needed to educate that woman on what really happened and she did and that young woman became a supporter of ours so if one person can education ten people on what victim blaming is then those people can go out and they can initiate a conversation and continue to spread it out.”
The bill is still in the process of being signed into law. To help you can contact Education Committee senators, as well as senators in your district.
The fight doesn't end with the passing of this bill. When asked what their biggest challenge is, the University of Oklahoma Women’s Outreach Center said getting men to speak out about their experiences. Approximately 1 in 71 men reported experiencing rape at some point in their lives according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, these are only the reported cases and men are much less likely to report their assault. Joseph Nigh is involved in the Greek Ally and Step in and Speak Out program at the University of Oklahoma, and has met men that have been sexually assaulted. He says he sees a social stigma attached to male sexual assault.
“You have the classic difficulty associated with being a victim but also you’ve had basically how society views your masculinity, you’ve had that undermined so you have to really come to grips with yourself, I’m still valued as a person and as a male,” he said.
Alex Ruggiers is also a volunteer for the women’s outreach center.
“Men aren’t supposed to be raped, that’s the myth that we tell men, that they shouldn’t be raped, and if they do they shouldn’t talk about it,” Ruggiers said.
They say this social stigma is the reason so many male sexual assault cases go unreported. But Ruggiers said that society could make a change.
“We need to sort of dispel that and let men talk about it so that we can get a bigger picture of what’s going on,” he said. “We also need to let other men know that is isn’t just a women’s issue.”
The hope is that opening up a dialog will allow for more actuate numbers, and a change in the stigma of sexual assault only being a women’s issue.
The University of Oklahoma is implementing programs constantly to promote sexual assault awareness. Ruggiers and Nigh are involved in the Greek Ally and Step in and Speak Out program that aim to start a conversation with college students about rape culture and prevention.
Pamela Ortega learned about OU’s Safewalk program that aims to prevent violence before it’s even an option. Benji Burnett used to be an OU “Safewalker” and explains how the program works.
“On occasion sometimes multiple times, multiple nights sometimes just once at night sometimes not at all, we’d get a call it would be a student, a lot of different students, sometimes one student would call at the same time a week,” He said. “We would go out and meet them, we’d go and meet them and we would go in pairs. Someone would stay back in the office, and essentially meet up with them and walk them to wherever they needed to go.”
Students, faculty, staff and visitors who do not wish to walk alone can use the OU Safewalk escort service. The contact number is 405- 325 WALK, and within 10 minutes an escort will arrive to escort someone to wherever they need to go. The program extends from Boyd Street, all the way to Lloyd Noble and include the Greek houses.
“One of the things OU really loves doing is you know serving those like very niche parts that just otherwise ignored, and so I think a lot of people really did get a lot of comfort from having someone to walk with, that they otherwise wouldn’t. Like I said we had some regulars, they would have an evening class in Catlett and would want to walk back to the dorms but don’t want to walk by themselves, having someone they knew would walk with them every week was very comforting for them,” He said.
For those without these resources, sexual assault prevention can be much more difficult. ECU’s Lisa Laxton found out about an even darker sexual violence, sex trafficking. Suzi Hanson works for the Beautiful Dream Society Shelter in Oklahoma City and says that the age of the girls she sees is shocking.
“A lot of people wonder how old these girls are and a very scary statistic that we have to give is that the average of a trafficking victim is 12 years old,” Hanson said. “We had a girl come through the shelter last year that at the age of 11 was sold to her first pimp by her own mother.”
Oklahoma City is the sex trafficking capital of the nation. Hanson explains that technology plays a huge role.
“I get asked a lot, how does this happen?” She said. “What are some signs that parents can look for in their children? One of the largest places that pimps will go to prey on these vulnerable little girls is the Internet. The Internet is today’s playground. We use to go out to the park and ride our bikes outside until the streetlights came on and then come in the house for dinner. But today’s kids playground it the Internet. You’ve got social media, they’ve got different apps that go on all the smart phones that kids are now carrying today and so this right here is a trafficker’s playground. I’ve had girls come through the shelter who met their pimps at the mall. They are at the movie theaters; the skating rinks.”
She said the best way to prevent sexual assault and sex trafficking is simply to learn more about it.
“Education is power,” She said. “Educating our kids that this is happening is the power that they need to protect themselves in these situations.”