IU Student Government organized a panel on sexual assault and violence Wednesday in the Grand Hall of the Neal-Marshall Education Center. The event, called the Power of Believing, focused on the science behind sexual assault trauma and ways IU can foster a safe community on campus.
The event’s purpose was to teach about sexual assault awareness and the importance of the survivor’s voice, said Becca Townsend, IUSG chief of Health and Wellbeing and one of the event’s organizers.
Panelists included speakers from local shelters and crisis centers, the prosecutor’s office and IU faculty and staff from the Office for Sexual Violence Prevention and Victim Advocacy.
The conversation examined rape culture and how to combat it at IU.
“Each of us as individuals can speak up when we hear people say things that suggest a victim is to blame,” panelist Zoë Peterson said. “We can speak up and challenge that.”
The first step is believing victims, said Stephanie Waller, panelist and advocate at Middle Way House.
Panelist Kiev Tolka, who works at the Julian Center in Indianapolis as an advocate and therapist for survivors, wore a shirt scripted with “I Believe You” and emphasized that theme throughout the night.
The group discussed resources both on and off campus. Students have access to nurse examiners, sexual assault crisis services and also Confidential Victim Advocates from the Office for Sexual Violence Prevention and Victim Advocacy on campus.
Services at Middle Way House are also confidential, Waller said.
Panelists explained both legal processes and IU’s conduct processes to the attendees.
The audience asked questions throughout the dialogue. Freshman Maddie Dederichs asked how resources and processes would be changed if the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX policies go into effect.
Prevention resources and Confidential Victim Advocate services will continue if the proposed changes go into effect, said Sally Thomas, senior assistant director of victim resources at the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Victim Advocacy and moderator of the panel.
Panelists discussed the physiology of trauma and how memory works before diving in to how different marginalized groups are affected by sexual assault.
Waller spoke of the rates at which different minority groups are affected, saying, for example, Native American women undergo sexual assault at a much higher rate than white women.
“We need to have better, more inclusive services,” she said.
While the event focused on survivors, panelists also spoke of how they cope with their workload.
“Self care is crucial," prosecutor Becky Sharon said. "It is hard when you’re dealing with the worst moment of someone’s life all day every day, but you have to have hope.”
The conversation centered on the importance of finding balance.
“I do get reminded all the time how incredibly resilient people are,” Peterson said.
Panelists lauded the creation of this event as hope the systemic sexual assault climate on college campuses could change.
The panel was designed to create dialogue and promote understanding of what survivors go through and the resources students have, Townsend said.
“It’s important to see the emotional side of what survivors are going through,” Dederichs said. “It’s very important to keep reinforming yourself and hearing new ideas and new perspectives.”