Photo courtesy of Emma Donnelly

By Sarah O’Connor, Staff Writer

USM students have ditched silence about rape culture and campus sexual assaults, and have started a discussion with the #MeToo: The Fight Against Campus Sexual Assault event. Huskies for Reproductive Health, USM’s Queer Straight Alliance and the Portland Branch of International Socialist Organization (ISO) teamed up on March 20 for a discussion about campus sexual assault and the #MeToo movement. Featuring a panel of five individuals, each from different backgrounds and with different perspectives, the event was able to tackle the broad subject.

The #MeToo movement has taken the nation by storm; in Hollywood, offices, and universities. The speakers highlighted that USM should not be ignorant of #MeToo. The event description explained what the discussion was based on, including, “what USM can do to help its students, trans and queer violence, what we can do as students to change our culture of campus rape beyond policy, and the culture of rape on college campuses across the country.”

According to Fern Thurston, chair of the event, the #MeToo discussion was inspired by the current lawsuit against USM by a women who is dissatisfied by how her sexual assault case was handled by administration several years ago.

“The news that USM mishandled a sexual assault case in 2012 came out a few weeks back,” said Emma Donnelly, president of Huskies for Reproductive Health and a Women and Gender Studies major.  “It has been increasingly important to recognize that sexual assault happens here on our campus, and to discuss what we as students can do about changing the culture here at USM.”

Donnelly hopes that by attending events like this #MeToo discussion, students “will be empowered to share their #MeToo stories, spark change on campus, whether that’s through one of the student groups sponsoring the event or starting a movement of their own, so that no one ever has to say #MeToo at USM again.”

To begin the event, each member of the panel spoke, then the forum was open up for discussion. Fern Thurston, chair of the event and a member of the ISO, had the introduction. They commented on a new consciousness around sexual assault amidst the discussion and activism around the #MeToo event. They gave the statistic that one in six women are sexually assaulted, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

Devyn Adams, a Resident Assistant on the Gorham campus, provided additional statistics, including that 50 percent of trans and bi-women will experience sexual assault. Forty four percent of lesbians and 51 percent of bi-women will experience sexual assault and stalking, compared to 45 percent of heterosexual women. Adams discussed the trouble that queer individuals face, especially if they have not revealed their sexuality to individuals that they know well, to report sexual assault to a university.

Panelist Caitrin Smith-Monahan, from ISO, who is also a middle school educator, shared her story. She explained that, “hearing a survivor break the silence and expose the reality of what womanhood means for some in this country may inspire others to do the same.”

Smith-Monahan discussed her experience of exposing the inappropriate behavior of her professor at her university in Montana, who had been harassing her and other students, especially women. She and the other students were able to get him terminated from the university, but she reflected on how the closed-door deal of his termination had more consequences for the victims than for the guilty professor.

“Today I imagine what would this fight have looked like in the context of #metoo,” Smith-Monahan said. “What if instead of a handful operating in the shadows, we had a whole network of supporters, a movement at our backs?”

She also discussed, along with the other panelists, the fact that most rapes do not happen in a dark alley, but behind a closed door with someone that was thought to be trusted. These are settings out of the public eye and are hard to report. She asked, “Where’s the blue button for that?” referring to the emergency poles that are placed around campus.

Kaylee Wolfe, a Family Crisis Services Campus Advocate, discussed her experiences of becoming an advocate. She went to an all girl Catholic school in Ohio, where their sex education was minimal. She became a sex educator in high school and continued through college. She had expected technical questions about sex from students, but many people wanted to talk about their trauma regarding their sexual experiences.

“They need a space to talk. They need to be believed. They need to be told it is not their fault,” Wolfe said. “Be what they need right then.”

Wolfe said that it is a responsibility one must undertake to be there for people with trauma and get them to a resource. She learned through her experiences how to talk and be there for them.

“Women have to go to the ends of the earth just to be believed,” Donnelly said.

Wolfe provided resources that any person can use for problems that may arise. She insisted that no problem is too big or too small to ask for help. There is the Domestic Violence Resource in Portland. There is a 24 hour domestic abuse and sexual assault hotline. There is an option to contact Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine (SARSSM).

#MeToo: Taking a Stand Against Women’s Oppression is an additional event to continue discussing the movement. It will be hosted by the ISO on April 11 in Payson-Smith Room 207 on the Portland campus.


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