March aims to stomp out sexual assault

March aims to stomp out sexual assault

By Shawn Bowen, @ShawnBowen_DE

With signs raised and chants ringing, a group of about 40 people took to the sidewalks of SIU’s campus on Thursday to rally against sexual violence.

The march was organized by The Women’s Center and brought Sexual Assault Awareness Month to a roaring end.

Megan Jones-Williams, program coordinator for rape crisis services at The Women’s Center, said the purpose of the march was two-fold: First, the center wanted to state its desire to end sexual violence. Second, the march served as a reminder to survivors of sexual violence that resources are available.

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Since 1972, The Women’s Center has been a safe haven for women dealing with sexual and domestic violence.  It offers victims various services, including counseling and legal assistance, all free of charge. 

Kia Smith, a junior from Chicago studying journalism who participated in the march, said it was a success.

“We had the support of students, the support of community members and all types of different people with the common goal to end rape culture,” Smith said.

The website for Marshall University’s Women’s Center defines rape culture as, “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.”

Smith said society must start a conversation about sexual violence.

“I don’t think gender violence is something that should be so heavily engrained in our culture and our society as a whole,” she said.

Jones-Williams said on-campus groups like the Progressive Masculinity Mentors, which supports men acting outside of societal norms in support of women, can help in prevention efforts by changing the way men think about sexual violence.

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“It’s often difficult for men to feel like they can stand up against violence against women or gender violence because it’s not seen as manly,” she said. “Being a part of a group like that gives them support to be an active, engaged bystander and a compassionate mentor to middle school or high school boys in the community — even some older college students mentor the younger college students.”

Adam McCallister, a rape crisis services prevention educator at The Women’s Center, said events like the march are crucial.

“People who are seeing it can see that there are all sorts of people involved in the movement,” he said. “Being a progressive man means you don’t stand for gender violence.”

Thursday’s march was just one of the events on campus this month concerning sexual violence.

During a town hall-style meeting on April 20, university administrators discussed ways to end sexual assaults at SIU.

“It’s not about the one magic pill [that will end sexual assaults],” interim Dean of Students Katie Sermersheim said during the open forum. “But instead, it is an entire cultural shift where it’s in the moral fabric of the university. Working together is how we will get through this challenge.”

Nine people were convicted of a sexually related offense on campus in 2013, according to statistics compiled by the SIU Department of Public Safety.

Jones-Williams said those interested in volunteering at The Women’s Center, located at 610 S. Thompson St., can fill out an application on its website.

The center features a 24-hour rape crisis hotline at 1-800-334-2094.

Shawn Bowen can be reached at [email protected]

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