MSU harassment victim hopes for 'positive precedent'
Elizabeth Battiste is a sexual misconduct activist who wants other women to feel empowered to come forward and share their stories so that men can be held accountable for inappropriate behavior.
That's why Battiste, 28, came forward Thursday and revealed that in spite of her training and activism, she was once a victim: She is the woman whose complaint led to the Michigan State University report of sexual harassment by Scott Westerman, the former associate vice president for alumni relations.
The revelation comes a day after MSU released the final investigative report from its Office of Institutional Equity showing that Westerman "engaged in severe, persistent and pervasive unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" and violated the university's sexual harassment policy.
The report showed that Westerman violated the policy by sending multiple text and email messages that were sexual, intimate, romantic and unwelcome to a woman while she was an MSU undergraduate student and included "some materials on what qualifies as good sexual intercourse" and others that professed love for her. The report also said he made a sexual advance toward her at a hotel in December 2011.
The report, however, had numerous redactions, including Battiste's name. But she said Thursday she wanted to put a face and a name behind her story.
"It was really important for me to report my experience to make sure there would be a line that has been drawn to say this type behavior is not appropriate," said Battiste, a Lansing resident who works in communications.
"There are a lot of conversations going on right now about where we draw the line," she continued. "As vulnerable as it makes me, I am happy to have my report out there to say if you are behaving this way, it is not appropriate. I was hoping this would set a positive precedent for the university moving forward so that more people feel comfortable telling their stories and getting their voices heard."
In the report, Westerman said he was only being a father figure and did not recall the hotel incident but "wouldn't have done that."
Westerman, who became the head of the MSU Alumni Association in 2009, could not be reached through email or cell phone.
He was not disciplined by the university because he left his post in July amid the investigation. When he announced his resignation in April, he said he was stepping down to be closer to family.
In a recent Facebook post, Westerman posted Kent Keith's "Paradoxical commandments."
"If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway," Westerman posted on his Facebook page. "In my experience, some will also twist truths and tell outright lies. Realize that this is the result of their pain and not a reflection of who you really are."
Battiste was born in Harbor Springs and lived in Colorado before graduating from Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy in Pontiac..
While at MSU, Battiste was a volunteer at the MSU Sexual Assault Program in 2009. She was president of Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention Team, a group that at the time provided direct medical advocacy and staffed a 24-hour crisis line and offered judicial advocacy.
She was also one of the first peer educators with the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program and accepted an invitation from former Vice President Joe Biden to attend the 10-year anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act.
She met Westerman in 2010 at a networking event, the Lansing Happy Hour Club, and they started getting to know one another.
"I grew up without parents, my parents weren’t in my life, I lived with a couple of aunts and uncles," Battiste said. "He took notice of that."
As she was studying communications, Battiste thought of him as a valuable connection – he was the executive director of the alumni association and a charismatic person who a lot of people respected.
Their relationship developed from a mentorship that that later became "father like." They mostly talked about her classes, networking and job prospects and professional development.
He stared talking her to lunch, invited her over to dinner with his wife. Then, she said, Westerman hired her to work on an internship at the alumni association in August 2011.
At the time, she needed a job and wanted to do something new. Her older brother had died in June 2010.
"I was going through a tough time and he said, 'Well, why don't you come and work at the alumni association,'" Battiste said.
Between the time she met Westerman in 2010 and through 2012, incidents started to happen. He sent her texts and articles on what to expect from a spouse and materials on what qualifies as good sexual intercourse, according to the report.
Westerman then started telling her that he loved her in emails and ending other communications with "LYNMW," which means "Love You No Matter What."
Things escalated in December 2011 after a Big Ten conference game, Battiste said. She was drinking with friends. She later called Westerman and asked him to pick her up because she did not want to spend the night at the hotel where she was registered.
According to the report, Westerman picked her up in his car and took her to his hotel, where there were two beds. She laid down in one of them.
She said that Westerman rubbed her back and "asked her if she wanted him to hold her," the report saaid. But she said no.
"(Westerman) then told her, 'I wish I could have sex with you so you could know what it's really suppose to feel like,'" according to the report.
Westerman said he didn't recall the event, and but he "wouldn't have done that," according to the report. "That would be so wrong on so many levels."
Battiste said the report speaks for itself.
"It validates what I experienced was sexual harassment," she said, "and it was very clear that the investigators did believe that incident took place."
She added that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, but people shouldn't stay silent.
"It’s important for people to know that even people who have had dozens of hours of training in this can still get caught up in and be a victim of sexual harassment," she said. "I just want people to feel comfortable in coming forward. They deserve to have their voices heard when boundaries are violated."