An Ohio Wesleyan alumnus developed a smartphone app to promote a nationwide initiative to aid sexual assault victims on college campuses, which in turn has led to major change at OWU.
Jack Zandi is the creator the Reach Out—College Edition app, which provides victims of sexual misconduct with information on how to report the incident, where to get medical care and more.
“Right around [the time of my college graduation], the issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses started to gain traction in terms of media attention, and the topic was becoming increasingly contentious,” Zandi said. “And so it started coming up in our conversations. We identi ed a need
for students to have all this crucial, hard-to-find, often difficult-to-understand information in an easy, intuitive and accessible format.”
The app is supported on campus by Dwayne Todd, vice president of student engagement, and has been supplemented by the work of Josh Lisko, residential life coordinator.
“I work with [Zandi] on the content of the app, making sure that what we have in there is the best information for our stu- dents,” Lisko said. “I’m constantly moni- toring the app to make sure that if there’s things that are meeting our student’s needs, we’re adding those, and if there are things that aren’t meeting our students needs we’re removing those.”
While the app is still relatively new to OWU, it has sparked a series of initiatives against sexual assault on campus. A new program called Sexual Aggression Free Environment OWU (SAFE OWU) is in the works, and will include a variety of programs to help raise awareness and help victims.
“I think it’s going to be a culture change a few years down the line,” Lisko said. “That’s really what we’re going for, is building a culture of love and respect here at OWU.”
Although Reach Out is only the beginning of these programs, it has already provided a basis for contact information and support systems that are free to access and guarantee anonymity, according the app’s FAQ page.
The app explains that it provides sexual misconduct survivors with a “unique feature [that] will guide a user step-by-step from getting help, to preserving evidence, to getting medical care, to understanding all the reporting options and then finally to healing,” according to the app’s instructions.
“Our company has many goals,” Zandi said. “But to put it simply, we want to help campuses and organizations [create] environments that are safe for everyone, and not just the privileged few.”
The university already has procedures in place for reporting and investigating sexual misconduct, most of which takes place on campus, according to the OWU student handbook. However, the app expands victims’ options by including links to off campus support, legal resources, hotlines and other independent aids.
The app is available to 2,488 colleges across the country and has information specific to each campus, according to Zandi. The app is free to download, is available on any iPhone or Android device and does not require any personal information to use.
1 in 3 women worldwide experience some form of sexual violence or intimate partner violence. 1 in 6 men experience sexual violence. Less than 50 percent of victims report these crimes, according to Take Back the Night’s website.
Take Back the Night (TBTN) began in the late 1960’s. This international event and non-profit organization is committed to its mission of ending sexual assault, domestic violence, relationship vio- lence, sexual abuse and all other forms of sexual violence.
Ohio Wesleyan has participated in TBTN for over ten years. The Sexuality and Gender Equality House (SAGE) led the annual speak out and walk on the evening of Mar. 30. The evening began with a talking session and was followed by a walk around campus.
More than 600 communities around the world have held TBTN events, ranging from college campus demonstrations, to biking events and yoga events.
Senior Lissette Gonzalez, house moderator for SAGE and head of speak-out committee at TBTN, helped foster an environment where those who were speak- ing and those who were listening could feel comfortable.
“TBTN is a national event where other campus’ host it, and it’s really nice to have that type of support from a bigger organization like that,” Gonzalez said.
The Benes room was filled with survivors of sexual violence, as well as allies showing support for victims. Prior to the speak-out session, allies spoke of ways others can recognize abuse, the availability of resources and the importance of speaking out.
Junior Paul Heithaus spoke as an ally and said it was a powerful event; one that allows students to become closer with one another.
“It was empowering to be a part of the process. You feel like you’re more a part of the tight-knit community across Ohio Wesleyan,” Heithaus said. “But at the same time, you’re going through a roller coaster of emotions; you’re feeling for the people that have been through some traumatic situations but at the same time, they are standing there defeating whatever happened to them.”
The speak-out portion of the event allowed survivors to break their silence, reflect and share their story with peers.
“It’s the one time in the year where we allow survivors of sexual assault to talk about their experiences. It’s something that is really empowering to them and is something that can be emotionally draining, but in the end, has a powerful message,” Gonzalez said.
Purple candles in hand, students walked in solidarity from Hamilton Williams Campus Center to the previous house of Peace and Justice.
TBTN was held during Women’s Week and is the first event SAGE hosts with their new members. Gonzalez said it is a fun way to collaborate with their new members and couldn’t be held with- out their help.
To learn more and get involved, visit takebackthenight.org.
We all know about the man in the dark alley at night. We’ve heard all about him since we were little. Heard about his hunger, his violence, his hands. He’s always a man. He’s always in an alley. It’s always at night.
Among female college students, nine out of ten rape and sexual assault survivors say they knew their attacker.
That “man in the dark alley” is the guy we worked with on a group project last semester. That man is the upperclassman we’re in a club with who we thought we could trust. That man is the suitemate, the adviser, the neighbor, the friend and, yes, sometimes it’s also the man in the dark alley at night.
This is a small campus, guys. We all know everyone by just a few degrees of separation, if that.
But if we’re all so familiar with each other, then why do I feel the need to run from my car to my house when I get back from the library late at night? Why don’t I feel safe going to parties at certain fraternities by myself? Why do I always feel like I’m one moment away from becoming a statistic?
This is not the life I want for myself, or for my little sister, or my friends, or anyone. Ever.
We need to start recognizing that people who have been sexually assaulted at OWU walk among us, and so do their attackers. Chances are they even knew each other beforehand and still run into each other sometimes.
We focus on the man in the dark alley because it’s an easier image to swallow. We think if we can just avoid strangers and alleys we’ll be safe, that no one who knows us would ever want to hurt us like that. This is a lie we choose to spread, and we need to stop.
But then, where exactly does the truth leave us? Are we supposed to live in constant fear of everyone we know? Never leave our rooms, just in case? No.
Instead, we should quit projecting our own perceptions of sexual assault onto survivors and stop perpetuating harmful misconceptions. Rape culture exists, and we’re part of it, but we can choose not to be.
If you have been assaulted and need help and support, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
The Sexual Assault Response Network (SARN) of HelpLine of Delaware and Morrow Counties, Inc. is bringing a sexual assault program to Ohio Wesleyan.
The facilitator of the support group, Nora Flanagan, said her “role will be to start the meeting with an introduction to a topic regarding sexual violence, open up for discussion and then have time for sharing more personal stories if people wish.”
The group is a peer-led support group and therefore members have a majority say in how to spend the time.
“The facilitator is there to explain and keep ground rules of the support group in play and to be ready to assist if anyone is triggered or needs extra support after the group,” Flanagan said.
“This particular group is based on a four session curriculum. The topics we will talk about include what is sexual assault; setting boundaries; trust after trauma; triggers; and self-care. After the sessions participants are welcome to continue to access our services in any way that is found to be beneficial in their healing journey.”
Flanagan explained her role is also to ensure confidentiality, provide a non-threatening, supporting, open and non-judgmental conversation. She is trained in trauma informed care.
“We provide rape crisis and recovery services for all survivors of sexual assault. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual activity you don’t agree to when you are coerced, threatened, forced, intoxicated or unable to consent in any circumstance, for any reason,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan has worked in the field for 15 years, first as a liaison to the judicial system then to volunteering at a nonprofit. She then took the position as the SARN coordinator. Flanagan works with survivors both in hospital and law enforcement settings but most often will work with survivors who reach out to the SARN hotline in a one-on-one capacity.
Senior Ali Smith said, “I think it’s great that this program is being offered at OWU. Women that have experienced sexual assault will have a safe place to discuss issues caused by the assault.”
Flanagan said “this group has been designed specifically for the 18- to 20-something-year-old female population who identify as sexual harassment, abuse or assault survivors. Registration consists of interested participants contacting us, getting more information and being signed up.”
Junior Macie Maisel said, “I don’t think we have a major problem on our campus compared to large campuses, however I think taking precautionary steps is needed so that this doesn’t become a large issue.”
The program is currently being offered and is being considered for fall 2015, spring 2016 and possibly this summer.
HelpLine’s SARN program has been a yearly participant in Take Back the Night, various campus awareness and educational groups and held a similar support group last spring.
Since World War II, as many as 1,000,000 men and women have gone into the service, eager to serve their country, only to be sexually assaulted by their comrades. Most never reported it and only a very few that did saw their assailant be convicted and thrown out of the service.
The number of military sexual assault survivors is greater than that of servicemen and women killed in action in every conflict the U.S. has taken part in—combined.
According to recent testimony by Marine Commandant James Amos, 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults remain unreported in today’s military, despite twelve months of efforts by the top brass to effect change.
Now, after so many decades, Congress is planning legislation to fight the problem, either by putting control of sexual assault cases at the highest levels of military authority (as Ohio Rep. Mike Turner’s bill advocates) or removing it from the military’s control all together (what Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is calling for).
Under the current system, an officer in charge of the case can change the verdict on a whim, even without being present at the trial, because the alleged rapist is a husband and father, and it’s thought they don’t do that sort of thing. It’s happened.
Ultimately, that’s the problem with any system that tries to handle sexual assault cases in-house — it creates a recipe for potential injustice. Look at the Catholic Church or Penn State; look at the allegations of failures in reporting and violations of survivors’ rights at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill or Dartmouth College.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have balked at Gillibrand’s call for sexual assault cases to be overseen by civilian prosecutors, saying it would undermine unit discipline and trust.
“The role of the commander should remain central,” said U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. “Our goal should be to hold commanders more accountable, not render them less able to help us correct the crisis. The commanders’ responsibility to preserve order and discipline is essential to effecting change.”
But it’s not essential, though, as several nations have proven.
In the militaries of England, Canada, Australia, Germany and Israel, for example, unit commanders do not have control over sexual assault cases, and their militaries aren’t falling apart.
When asked about the methods foreign militaries use to combat sexual assault, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said they’d “look into it,” so maybe that’s why they’re convinced commanders need to retain their control — they aren’t actually aware there are other systems that actually work better.
Military commanders have frequently claimed social change is a threat to unit discipline and order in response to government pressure, whether it was for racial integration, allowing women to serve in active duty or overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And now it’s being marched out again, hopefully to the same lack of success as in the past.
While congressmen and women from both parties have been united in their pressure on military officials to carry out effective changes, one took the opportunity to put his foot in his mouth and make one more misguided statement about the causes of rape.
“The hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), in a statement that bumbled him into the realm of Todd Akin and so many other politicians — from both parties — who have made callous or misguided remarks about sexual assault.
While his statement was slammed in the media, conservative news site RedState posted a strong defense of Chambliss’s remark, claiming “the liberal media” was deliberately ignoring the context of the statement, and that the context excuses it.
The whole six-and-a-half-minute speech Chambliss gave, the “context” RedStateoffers, has nothing to do with hormones, but with how the military has failed to create an environment that makes men too afraid to commit rape; instead they’ve created an environment that explicitly or implicitly permits it.
But then Chambliss made his claim, wholly unrelated to the speech he just made, that it’s the natural hormones that make this possible.
As RedState writer Erick Erickson puts it in his defending piece, it’s because 17-23 year old men are “horny” and a commander was “encouraging soldiers to hook up on base as much as possible” — and when these base impulses are added that to a broken system of reporting and prosecution, rapes are going to happen.
(Side note: if Erickson’s name is familiar, it’s because he, along with Lou Dobbs, recently lost a heated on-air debate on gender roles and sexism with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly — and I doubt he’s learned much from it.)
Here’s the thing though, Sen. Chambliss and Mr. Erickson — hormones, as you put it, are “natural.” That means we all have them — so if all the men in the military have these hormones and many are in these systems where they can get away with rape, why don’t they all do it? And why are some of the alleged rapists outside that 17 to 23 age range?
Chambliss’s and Erickson’s statements presume that if a young man is in a room with a woman he’s physically attracted to, and there’s little chance of punishment involved, he’ll have sex with her whether she wants to or not, because the hormones take over.
It’s a disgusting premise for us young men, that we all have some repressed rapist on our shoulders; and it’s one that completely ignores the gender dynamics of rape survivors in the military (more men have been raped than women, according to DoD estimates) and the more common reasons most rapes occur in the military.
As with any crime, the motives behind these rapes differ from case to case, but “natural hormones” are one of the least common factors. Military sexual assault, like prison rape — another systemic failure of reporting and justice — is primarily a crime of predation and power rather than passion, targeting the people offenders see as weaker and subjecting them to what they consider to be the worst humiliation.
It’s not about sexual desire, but establishing and reinforcing power and control, and sadly the military already has a power-based hierarchal system that is being exploited by sexual predators who target their subordinates in the ranks.
In addition, rape — often against women and children — has been one of the oldest weapons militaries use against their enemy’s populations to further subjugate them and weaken their morale. It’s seen in ongoing regional wars around the world; in the invasions of the Germans, Soviets and Japanese in World War II; and in hundreds of other conflicts going back to before ancient Rome and Greece. War and sexual violence have been entwined since the first groups of humanity took up arms against their neighbors.
In the case of our current military, I see some of these assaults as a violent physical expression of a broader attitude infecting the services — that women are weak and good only for sexual subjugation. It’s part of a last-ditch effort to keep the military exclusive to men, and sexual assaults are an unseen salvo in this mostly undeclared war.
When it’s not directly about power, it’s because men think they have a right to use women or men for their own sexual gratification, regardless of their wishes. While Chambliss’s solution — that the military stop rape by making men fear the consequences too much do it — might work sometimes, it’s still not the right solution.
Instead, the military, and our entire society, need to teach men to treat people with respect and dignity, and to value the consent of their partner. That’s how we take back the military and end the invisible war.
But enough of Chambliss, Erickson and their wildly off-kilter perspectives on the causes of rape, which thankfully have been slammed by politicians on the left and right — let’s look at something else in this debate, something favorable a politician said.
“I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over continued reports of sexual misconduct in our military,” said Arizona Senator John McCain, a Navy veteran. “We’ve been talking about this issue for years and talk is insufficient.”
He recently said that he could no longer recommend to women in his constituency that they join the military, due to the rampant sexual assaults.
It’s a bold move for a politician to tell citizens not to join the military, and I applaud McCain for doing so. But he missed one particular statistic about rape in the military: over half of survivors are men, not women.
It’s not that surprising, when you consider that there are six times more men than women in the military; and men are less likely to report assaults than women, due to the aggressive hypermasculinity of military culture, which portrays being assaulted as the ultimate weakness in an environment where power is paramount. Like I said, this is about power, not passion.
“The biggest reasons men don’t come forward (with sex assault reports) are the fear of retaliation (from fellow troops), the fear of being viewed in a weaker light and the fact there are very few, if any, services for male survivors,” said Brian Lewis, a Navy veteran and rape survivor, in an NBC News interview.
In light of this, I’d say everyone, regardless of gender, should think about the risks before enlisting in the military. I know I won’t enlist as long as the problem continues. Not just because of the danger, but because I refuse to be part of an institution where rape is an occupation hazard.
That’s not hyperbole, not a slick phrase I made up — it’s an actual judge’s words, based the number and frequency of assaults, from a 2011 lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates.
“If they actually had systems of accountability that prosecuted and imprisoned perpetrators, you would get rid of the rapes right away,” said attorney Susan Burke, who represented the plaintiffs — 28 veterans who were raped during their military service — in the 2011 lawsuit.
I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say a new system would end rapes entirely – it should be based off the civilian criminal justice system, and sexual violence is still a serious issue outside of the military. But it would certainly be better.
The current system has failed most veterans who turned to it at every step of the way.
It’s failed at preventing assaults; it’s failed at offering comfortable reporting of them; it’s failed at prosecuting assault cases; it’s failed at punishing those convicted in accordance with their crime; and it’s failed at treating survivors’ mental and physical scars as a result of their military sexual trauma.
The civilian criminal system is not without its flaws — look at the absurdly lenient sentences of the Steubenville rapists, or the grotesque case of the Central Park Five (teenagers of color wrongly convicted in the 1989 rape of a white woman).
But it’s still an improvement over the current military system, and it’s long past time for the military brass to swallow their pride and adopt a new system – or for the government to compel them to do so through legislative mandate.
Each day last year, an average of 38 men and 33 women in our armed forces were sexually assaulted by those they served with.
They’d each made the noblest choice an American can make — stepping up to risk their lives in our defense.
I’m hard-pressed to think how their commanders, as well as our collective response to the problem, could have let them down more.
For an in-depth view into this crisis, watch “The Invisible War,” available on Netflix Instant.