By Vica Kazantseva
In order to spread awareness on sexual assault and the different resources Whatcom provides for victims and witnesses, the SOJEP (Social Justice, Equity and Pluralism) committee conducted a panel discussion Wednesday in Heiner Theater directed toward informing students about sexual assault.
The discussion was led by questions students provided for the different representatives speaking. Appearing on the panel were Becky Rawlings the Human Resources director and Title IX Coordinator at Whatcom, John Duke (CASAS) at Western Washington University, Kathy Hanbury, a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Claudia Murphy a sergeant with the Bellingham police department.
One of the emphasis that Sergeant Murphy and Becky Rawlings made was to “encourage to report.” According to Rawlings, Whatcom has had an increase of reports being made to Title IX. “Title IX focuses on protecting classes not just based on sex but also any kind of discrimination on religion, disabilities, things like that” Rawlings said. Another component of Title IX is providing students with the ability to continue education if their education has been impeded because of a sexual assault or domestic violence in any sort of relationship. “That’s when the colleges get involved to provide resources and opportunities for students to be able to continue their education,” said Rawlings. One thing that Sergeant Murphy added was that “Whether you’re intoxicated or high doesn’t matter when you need to report a sexual assault” and that most people underage are worried they will get arrested or charged for drinking underage.
Becky Rawlings duty as the Title IX coordinator is to review the complaint made by student affected and bring the student in to have a conversation with them. “The main question I ask is, what do you want as an outcome?” Rawlings said. Most times the college responds with keeping the perpetrator away from the student affected, expelling him/her or going into a full on investigation regarding the case. In just one quarter, 8 cases have been made in comparison to just 2 cases before fall quarter at Whatcom. Students were able to ask any type of question and the facilitators Margaret Vlaho and Paul Curd, counselors at Whatcom, provided the questions for the different representatives to answer.
One of the questions asked was “Who can students go to if they have been affected by sexual assault and what kind of resources are available to Whatcom students? Margaret Vlaho, a counselor at Whatcom informed about the services DVSAS (Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention) provides for anyone going through abuse as a 24/7 helpline or walk-in that provides counseling, support groups, legal assistance, etc. She also reminded the services that she and Paul Curd provide as counselors at Whatcom. Another question that was asked was, “What does a student do if a friend comes to them and reports that they’ve been sexually assaulted, how can they support them?” John Duke responded with, “I think hearing what it is that they want is important. Its about the survivor and what you can do to help in their time of need. We’re in a culture that tends to blame victims as opposed to supporting victims.”
CASAS and Title IX provide emotional support, consultation, support groups, and medical/legal/academic advocacy and are completely confidential if so desired. John Duke was one of the representatives and he is a Men’s Violence Prevention and Mental Health Promotion Specialist with CASAS (Consultation and Sexual Assault Support) at Western Washington University. “Just because reports have increased doesn’t mean that crime has increased,” said Duke. Rawlings and Duke both agreed that people have been “feeling more comfortable in sharing and reporting cases,” hence the increase in recent reports. “Just because you’re looking for resources doesn’t mean your weak…we should encourage students to report anything that makes them feel unsafe so we can assist in the ways that’s possible for us,” said Rawlings.
The second day of the event a documentary called “The Hunting Ground” was shown to students to give an inside look on what is actually happening on college/university campuses nationwide regarding the issue. Multiple victims shared their stories and talked about the lack of concern and action the college campuses took to help them recover. Most often the students involved in sexual assault cases did not receive 100% justice for any crime committed and perpetrators were not convicted nor expelled from their college. When asked his opinion on the discussion, Kobe Laird, a Whatcom student responded, “They were very well done! Very educational and they did a great job putting the whole event together. It was pretty eye opening and the statistics were a lot worse than I thought for sexual assault on college campuses.” Joel Eschbach another student commented, “I think this issue should be continually addressed, and it seems that colleges are getting the hint, but the consequences are nowhere close to where they should be.”