The Oakland/Macomb MI National Organization for Women (NOW) resolved to take action regarding the issue of sexual violence last year after learning of the pervasive mishandling of sexual assault cases by universities. Currently 95 universities are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for their handling of sexual assault cases, including the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Michigan State University, and Grand Valley State University. Our chapter’s ENDS NOW (End Sexual Assault NOW) program focuses on making prevention education available for every student, and bringing justice for survivors of sexual assault.
The Centers for Disease Control (2014) has identified sexual violence as “a serious public health problem affecting the health and well-being of millions of individuals each year in the United States and throughout the world.” An estimated 19.3% of women (>23 million) and 1.7% of men (almost 2.0 million) have been raped during their lifetimes (see source). The statistics show an overwhelming number of cases of sexual violence occur before people have even graduated from high school. According to the CDC, each year since 2001, between 7.3% and 9.0% of high school students reported they had been physically forced to have sexual intercourse, while in Michigan, a 2007 study reported a rate of 10%.
The statistics on youth sexual violence are alarming and unacceptable. No one wants to believe that sexual assault could happen to our children, but the reality is that this is occurring at a rate of epidemic proportions. The CDC recommends providing age-appropriate training in healthy relationship behavior beginning at an early age before adolescents have started dating relationships, while behavior is modifiable. Local organizations such as HAVEN and Turning Point are doing a phenomenal job of forming relationships with school systems, and bringing age-appropriate prevention education programs to students. Turning Point, for example, is already in 67% of the school districts in Macomb County.
The Oakland Macomb MI NOW is seeking legislation that will make this vital education available to every student in Michigan. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia has co-sponsored a bill called the Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015, which is is currently in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Teach Safe Relationships Act would add safe relationship behavior education as a required form of sex education. It would “provide age-appropriate education that promotes safe relationships and teach students to recognize and prevent physical and emotional relationship abuse, including teen and adolescent dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual violence and sexual harassment. This includes education regarding consent as well as emotional health and well-being in relationships” (Kaine, 2015).
We are heartened to see that a bill like this has finally been introduced that could make this vital education available for even more students, but according to govtrack.us, the bill has only a 2% chance of being enacted.
We can’t wait for this bill to get through the Washington gridlock. We need Michigan to be a leader in taking on this epidemic, which is why we have begun to lobby for the introduction of a similar bill into the Michigan House.
In addition to learning how to make prevention education available for more students, we have also been focusing on what we can do to bring justice for survivors of sexual assault. In January we learned about the fundraising efforts of a local organization called Enough SAID (Enough Sexual Assault in Detroit), which was raising money to get the backlog of over 11,000 rape evidence kits tested, and have the cases investigated and prosecuted. A rape kit is used to collect evidence from a sexual assault victim in case they choose to prosecute their attacker, and can take up to 4-10 hours to perform. These kits had not been tested due to both a lack of funding, and not being made a priority due to a culture of victim-blaming. In 2009 the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office discovered the kits in a Detroit Police storage unit. Testing these kits was finally made a priority thanks to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s relentless efforts in pursuing this, even when other leaders wanted her to drop the issue.
Enough SAID is an independent collaboration between the Michigan Women’s Foundation, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the Detroit Crime Commission. A group of private foundations is financing the infrastructure for the fundraising effort, so 100% of all donations go directly to the cause. The testing of the rape kits has been completed, but more money is needed for investigating and prosecuting these cases, a cost estimated at around $10 million. The Oakland/Macomb MI NOW has created a team page on Enough SAID’s fundraising website to raise funds and awareness for this cause, and has been raising money at our events.
I will have the honor of presenting at the Michigan NOW conference on Saturday, May 30, and the MI Lead meeting on Friday, July 10 on the work Oakland/Macomb MI NOW is doing with our ENDS NOW program. This presentation will be a discussion on the pervasiveness of sexual violence, local programs providing prevention education, legislation that has been introduced to implement prevention education, the NCAA policy addressing this issue, and our fundraising for Enough SAID. We would like to invite you to join us to learn more about what we have been working on and to join the conversation.
For more information about the May Michigan NOW conference, visit http://www.michnow.org/. For more information about the July MI Lead meeting, please contact email@example.com.
Written by: Michele Sedlak, Oakland/Macomb MI NOW VP of Membership