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Letter to the Editor | REBUTTAL: Support The Survivors

This article is a rebuttal to contributor Joe Janosik’s “Support the Survivors” Article.

By Alexis Sargent

In the wake of Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics’ systemic and reprehensible cover-up of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, the topic of sexual assault has been highly prevalent on MSU’s campus, the East Lansing community, and those conceptualizing the scandal on a global scale.

Journalists, victim advocates, parents, community members, and most importantly, survivors, have used their voices to prompt widespread discussions of sexual violence prevention, perpetrator accountability, and how to support survivors.

Incorporating conversations of supporting survivors into public discourse is always significant and topical. However, whether an opinion piece or not, sexual violence must be considered with the utmost seriousness. When journalists create content regarding sexual violence, this material must be deliberated deeply and researched heavily.

Yet, sometimes commentary concerning sexual violence is not given the care it deserves. In my opinion, a recent opinion article published by The Morning Watch, Joe Janosik’s recent “Support The Survivors” does not adequately describe what MSU is doing for student survivors nor provide readers with useful information on how to support sexual violence survivors.

I believe Janosik’s article wrongly articulates or ignores much of the work MSU sexual violence advocates are doing on campus for survivors.

MSU has sexual assault and relationship violence prevention and education training for students that is much more extensive than Janosik’s article suggests. “Supporting the Survivors” references a few of the resources MSU has available to student survivors: the MSU Sexual Assault Program’s 24/7 Crisis Chat phone line, the MSU Sexual Assault Program’s free and confidential individual counseling for survivors, the MSU “My SPP” confidential online and app-accessible 24/7/365 Counseling Support for students, MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services, and five support groups for sexual abuse survivors.

According to the MSU Prevention, Outreach and Education Department, all MSU freshmen take an in-person sexual assault and relationship violence prevention training and all MSU sophomores take an in-person bystander network workshops. All junior and senior undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and employees are required to take online sexual assault and relationship violence prevention training courses.

Also, MSU student athletes, students involved in MSU Greek Life, and other student populations take additional in-person sexual assault and relationship violence prevention training courses.

MSU has a troubled past with its handling and reactions towards sexual violence, but there are institutional improvements being made for supporting survivors. The recent establishment of the MSU Prevention, Outreach and Education Department and future creation of the MSU Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program are projects sexual assault advocates are praising.

As an MSU student and alumni community, let us always be advocating for more of these resources and programs for survivors.

The notion argued in Janosik’s article that sexual assault education and prevention programs are not working because there are still occurrences of sexual assault on MSU’s campus is, in my opinion, unwarranted.

According to sexual assault researchers and advocates, when reporting of sexual assault goes up on university campuses, this is actually positive. This occurs when student sexual assault survivors are more informed about the reporting mechanisms available to them on their campuses.

Also, according to studies by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, most sexual assault crimes are not reported in the United States [and at U.S. universities]. This means that universities with higher reporting rates of rape are fostering environments where student survivors feel more comfortable reporting personal sexual violence experiences.

Ideally, MSU should want reports of sexual assault going up and incidents of these crimes going down. Information, awareness, and education are crucial to decreasing instances of sexual violence on college campuses. Just because “we still have assaults on this campus,” does not mean that programs working to prevent sexual violence at MSU “clearly do not work.”

Janosik states, “To anyone who is afraid to speak out, please do so.” According to trauma-informed sexual assault support research, this approach could not be more wrong.

Sexual assault survivors do not need to report their sexual assault if they do not want to. It is their choice. If a survivor confides in you about their assault, it is not your choice to tell them what they should do regarding reporting their assault. It is their decision; it is not your decision.

Janosik's article talked about a friend who allegedly shrugged off her sexual assault, but I disagree. Sexual assault survivors often feel guilt, anger, anxiety, confusion, and a multitude of other emotions. Maybe the survivor believed that reporting her assault would be complicated and increase these negative emotions stemming from her trauma.

If you are in a situation where a friend confides in you about their sexual assault, I would encourage you to inform them about the MSU Office of Prevention, Education, and Outreach, the MSU Sexual Assault Program, the MSU Online Chat System for Sexual Assault Survivors, MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services, and the MSU Office of Institutional Equity and other available community reporting systems; do not push them to do anything they are not comfortable doing. That is not support, that is placing your own motives into their trauma.

Since Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse became public, “changing the culture” at MSU has been central to student and university conversations. In seeking this change, I advise we actually speak with survivors. Let’s ask them what they want and need in regard to their trauma and healing. Survivors should not only be involved in these questions, but should be leading these debates. It is only when we listen to sexual assault survivors that we can actually support them.

Janosik: Instead of telling your friend to report her sexual assault, although it is stated in your article she does not want to, ask her what she wants to do. Listen to her. Believe her.

Alexis Sargent is a senior studying in MSU’s James Madison College and Honors College. She has held internships at the U.S. Department of Justice-- Office on Violence Against Women, the United Nations, and the U.S. Congress. Only in the case of rebuttals concerning sexual assault survivors is Sargent a contributor to The Morning Watch.

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