Mich. summit focuses on preventing campus sex assaults
Lansing — Emma Hanrahan was 18 years old and in her first days of college five years ago, when she went to a party, drank a little too much and got separated from her friends.
Three basketball players told her to come with them to another party where everyone else was headed. But when they got to the house, there was no party and soon after her life was forever altered.
"They forced me to have sex with them and oral sex with them at the same time," said Hanrahan, a speaker from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. "I remember I was crying and I just kept saying no over and over again, as if it was going to change their mind."
Hanrahan told her story Monday to 450 students, activists, university and policy leaders in Lansing who gathered for the state's first summit to discuss best practices for preventing and ending sexual assaults on college campuses.
The daylong event was convened by Michigan first lady Sue Snyder, who said she hopes to make Michigan a national model in the fight against sexual assault.
"I have no doubt that together we will set a positive example and make Michigan a leader in the fight against sexual assault on our college and university campuses," said Snyder, who was motivated to tackle the issue after her youngest daughter, Kelsey, enrolled at the University of Michigan last fall. "While we may not like to believe it, sexual assault can happen anywhere, and to anyone. Our colleges and universities are already taking positive steps to prevent these crimes. But there's always more that can be done. It is my hope that we can build on these efforts."
The issue has become a focus among national leaders.
In 2014, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault issued its first report, Not Alone, which said one in five woman will be sexually assaulted in college. President Barack Obama spearheaded a campaign last year focusing on the issue.
Federal officials have been investigating scores of colleges for how they handle complaints from students who report sexual misconduct, including cases at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University.
"We are on a learning curve," said Debi Cain, executive director of the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Treatment Board. "We know that sexual assault has gone on college campuses for many, many years. Times are changing, there are new compliance issues, but this is more than about compliance."
During Monday's event, the Snyder administration announced a $500,000 item in the state budget in 2016. It will be allocated for implementing best practices on college campuses to help prevent sexual assault.
"This is not about politics, this is not about party, this is about helping people," Gov. Rick Snyder said. "This is a day where we can all agree that we don't want to see sexual assault on campus ... What can we do to stop it, prevent it, make sure it never happens again? And in the meantime, what can we do to provide better support for the people who have suffered through these terrible acts?"
Besides testimony from sexual assault survivors, the day's events included break out sessions and presentations by experts on trauma and best practices.
The role of alcohol was discussed by Antonia Abbey, a Wayne State University professor who studies the issue. She said that about half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol, which lowers sexual inhibitions and increases aggression. But she stressed that alcohol doesn't cause sexual assault.
"Alcohol is just one more factor that could tip the scale and make people cross that line and act in a sexual aggressive manner," Abbey said. "But it can happen without alcohol."
The event, "Inform. Empower. Prevent. Let's End Campus Sexual Assault Summit," was co-hosted by Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker and Rebekah Warren and Reps. Laura Cox and Marilyn Lane. Along with the bipartisan group of legislators, the summit was attended by college and university representatives, law enforcement officials and students.
"We all just want to learn and do what's right," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a former member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors. "When I was on a college campus, … we didn't talk about it, it was stigmatized, people wouldn't listen to you. We all want to learn what is the right way to do this."