After reading the BDN story, senior Amy Fortier-Brown started the Facebook group Look Us In The Eyes to allow students to share their stories and organize for changes. On Wednesday she asked the panelists to describe the most pressing issue relating to sexual assault on campus and how they would solve it.
“I think it’s information,” Brown said. For example, education about sexual health and healthy relationships could be better woven into the curriculum and emphasized more at orientation, he said.
It’s important to keep “the momentum alive and up,” Shore said, adding that she would like to see more participation from faculty, staff and students in the conduct boards that adjudicate cases.
Shaw, with the UMF Campus Violence Prevention Coalition, said men have a responsibility to change a culture that permits toxic masculinity. He asked how many men in the room had volunteered to take notes in a meeting. About two hands went up. When he asked the women, about half the people in the audience raised their hands.
“That’s the difference. We subjugate women,” Shaw said. “Women, I would say you have a responsibility to remind us to shut our mouths in as many different ways as you possibly can, up to and including talking over us.”
Given that campus police didn’t tell Woodward, whose case was highlighted in the BDN article, to get a rape kit done to look for evidence, a woman in the audience asked whether the campus police department had since changed its procedures.
[After 2 women described mishandled rape response, Maine university president says school will make changes]
Brock Caton, director of public safety and chief of campus police, said the district attorney’s office may not need a rape kit, and an officer would explain that to the person reporting an alleged sexual assault. “The rape kit’s very invasive,” he said. “We’re very cautious if we have to do it.”
“But will victims at least be informed of the option?” an audience member said, asking him to say yes or no.
“Yes,” Caton said.
Nicole Kellett, a professor of anthropology, said she sensed frustration and anger in the room. “I hear you guys want action steps,” she said. “You want to hold us accountable. … This is a moment … for you all to hold us accountable. Keep us accountable.”
Additional students expressed concern about the school allowing students who have been found responsible for raping someone to remain on campus where they can run into their alleged victims, which happened with Woodward, and they asked if there was a way to share more information about known offenders.
“It’s the hardest thing for people to understand. The respondent also has rights,” said Amie Parker, director of human resources. “I know that’s a very inflammatory statement.”
Ciera Miller, a sophomore, said the problem is that women don’t feel safe. “What are you doing now to help us feel safe?” she said. “Do we have to file a protective order … so we can protect ourselves while you figure out what you’re doing?”
In addition to potentially getting no-contact orders through the court, the school can issue them administratively, Caton said. There is also an escort service to help students get from place to place.
Both women in the BDN story had protection from abuse orders but described how they still saw their alleged perpetrators on the small campus.
“I think the best question is not how we can make you feel safe. I think the best thing is to hear from you how we can make you feel safe,” Parker said. “I don’t presume to know what you need to make you feel safe.”
After the panel, students said they remained frustrated, particularly at the idea of putting the responsibility on students to come up with changes. “I do believe we are all responsible for keeping a safe campus, but I am not an expert. I want to be part of the conversation, but I need help,” sophomore Eliza Robinson said.
“There was a bit of volatility in the room that, while justified, I’m not entirely sure was productive,” said Murnane, one of the students.
Students in the Look Us In The Eyes Facebook group are meeting with officials to try to make what they call systemic changes. Several women in the group said they would like to create a class on sexual and mental health, have a kinder response to victims who come forward, reform sexual harassment training for students, institute greater police oversight, produce clearer information about Title IX, draw more male voices into the conversation, and remove the ability of one person to overturn a case.
Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News . Questions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.