WARNING: The following article contains content regarding sexual assault.
Lee University, in partnership with Street Grace Ministries, recently held an event titled, “Make a Change,” in order to foster compassionate and restorative dialogue regarding sexual assault.
“Make a Change” was hosted in Pangle Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m. to dispel myths and misconceptions that the public may hold about sexual violence.
Violet lights filtered onto the stage as Lee University’s Vice President for Student Development, Dr. Mike Hayes, stood unaccompanied and addressed the crowd.
“While we’ve been able to address this topic in a lot of different ways and in a lot of different venues,” Hayes said, “this is a big first for us in terms of a campus-wide invitation to focus solely on sexual assault awareness.”
“I want to uncover this topic,” Hayes said. “I want us to be able to talk openly about it, and I definitely want to drive out shame when its related to sexuality.”
Hayes introduced the president and CEO of Street Grace Ministries, Bob Rodgers, who served as the discussion’s facilitator.
Street Grace Ministries is a faith-based organization with a goal of ending the sexual trafficking of children by bringing awareness, education, and action to various communities across the U.S.
Rodgers addressed the willingness of Lee University to further the conversation of the damaging impact of sexual assault.
“One of the things that I’m proud of is that Lee is approaching this in an authentic way that is a little riskier to just allow realistic and open dialogue to take place around this issue,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers addressed various myths surrounding sexual assault, including the misconception that “men can’t be raped” or the accusation that “she asked for it.”
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, 20 to 25 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men are victims of sexual assault during their college career.
Rodgers referenced phrases associated with the #MeToo movement that took the world by storm in October of 2017.
“I’m talking about what’s happening in the culture and society around us,” Rodgers said. “It’s not possible to live in our society without encountering the effects of a culture that glamorizes sexuality.”
The evening included a panel discussion with Christian sex therapist and certified traumatologist Dr. Vanessa Snyder, assistant district attorney for the Tenth Judicial District Krista Oswalt, sexual assault nurse examiner Keshia Peterson and Sgt. Evie West of the Cleveland Police Department.
Panelists began by defining sexual assault to clear any possible confusion before proceeding.
“Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent,” West said. “That could include rape, sexual battery, aggravated sexual battery, and the list of offenses continues.”
Snyder shared what the family and friends of a survivor can do to create a relationship of support rather than harassment.
“What the perpetrator did to this victim is take their autonomy, their volition and their voice,” Snyder said. “We don’t want to…push somebody who just had power taken from them already.”
"Be their support, their encouragement and be the person who doesn’t go away after a few weeks when they should be ‘over it,’” Snyder continued.
The panel then articulated their thoughts on vigilance after an audience member asked, “How do I feel safe and enjoy life without being naïve?”
“Vigilance is my number one [advice],” West said. “If there is ever a time when you see something that gives you an odd feeling, go find someone else, hit your car alarm or go back inside.”
The event concluded with a final thought from Rodgers, who urged the importance of understanding around the subject of sexual assault.
“People who come forward to have open and honest dialogue about [sexual assault] are some of the strongest and most courageous people that I know,” Rodgers said. “If the rest of us understand how to honor and appreciate that, the healing and the progress will come exponentially faster.”
For additional information on how you can get involved in Street Grace's ministry visit their website here.