As a former intern in the Sexual Exploitation and Crimes Against Children Unit in a Metro Atlanta DA’s office (that specializes in prosecuting cases of physical and sexual assault), I unfortunately know some of the ugly truths about interpersonal violence. I know that over 90% of victims of campus sexual assault don’t report their assault out of fear, as it is incredibly difficult for victims to come forward. I know that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 18 men will experience some kind of interpersonal violence in college. Regardless of race, ethnicity, religious denomination, political affiliation, cultural background, gender identity and sexual orientation, interpersonal violence (especially sexual assault) is a severe problem worldwide, and Clemson is not exempt.
Interpersonal violence affects everyone on and off campus, especially gender, sexual, and racial minorities. According to the CDC, over one in four members of the LGBTQ+ community has experienced some kind of sexual or intimate relationship violence. And further, studies done by the US Department of Justice show that black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women experience sexual violence at rates either at or significantly above the national average.
Clemson's current resources for assault survivors are wholly inadequate. Clemson has no victims advocates, a combined Title IX and interpersonal violence prevention office (making it very possible that victims may run into their assailants on the way to get help), and strained mental health counseling services. Alden Parker, a certified victims advocate and one of the leaders of the Clemson Women's March, said she's heard 100 stories of interpersonal violence so far this year and she is at the hospital weekly serving as an advocate for students who are victims of assault on our campus. Last year, Clemson only reported eight sexual assaults for the entire year, which is improbable at best. The lack of adequate resources for survivors on campus, combined with a lack of discussion, makes it highly improbable that victims will want to come forward. Further, many of those who have come forward have felt that the university failed to represent them.
In light of the widely reported assault in Clemson's library, it became abundantly clear that there needed to be a change fast. Clemson University Student Senate's Health and Human Services Committee should receive credit for helping implement the "Angel Shot" program in downtown Clemson a few months ago. They did a fantastic job; our fellow students stepped up to lead the charge to keep their fellow Tigers safe. The program will have a positive impact on our community, but more is required. Stricter policies set by the administration would lead to people feeling safe enough to come forward and report interpersonal violence.
In order to actually facilitate a change on campus, leaders of the #cmetoo movement stepped up to lead the campaign for change and they delivered it peacefully and efficiently. Some of the march leaders published a petition (now with over 2300 signatures) that not only called for change, but laid out succinct policy changes that Clemson could implement. They also began a large scale social media and campus wide awareness campaign under the hashtag #cmetoo, and organized the Women's March this past Friday. The images of the march leaders leading hundreds of people through the heart of campus, standing hand in hand on the steps of Sikes, as well as the impassioned speeches they gave will forever stick with me through the rest of my time in Clemson. On the heels of the march, the University issued a statement that they would be working with the organizers of the march and authors of the proposal to implement the changes required on campus. Further, the University also announced that they secured the funding to hire two of the three victims advocates the petition called for.
Through leading the march, publishing the petition, and actually getting the university to reform its victim services, the leaders of the #cmetoo movement demonstrated remarkable leadership when few others would. They've delivered positive change to Clemson, raised awareness about assault and shown the 90% of victims who didn't report their assault that they are heard, valued and that there is someone fighting for them. Further, many of those who marched showed the administration that they were fed up and they would not stay silent anymore. Tigers stood up for Tigers and gave voice to those who feel they can't speak up.