MSU reacts to Obama's comments on sexual assaults

A prominent issue in the MSU community, sexual assault, received attention on the national stage this week when President Barack Obama addressed the issue directly in a speech delivered to the White House Council on Women and Girls.

A White House report on the issue estimates 20 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted, while only about 12 percent of victims report it.

In an October interview with The State News, Sexual Assault Program Coordinator Shari Murgittroyd said she estimated only one in five assaults at MSU ever reach official ears.

Jayne Schuiteman, interim director of the Women’s Resource Center at MSU, said she thought the president “hit the nail on the head” with his remarks, but acknowledged the issue was not a new one.

“It would have been ideal to have this addressed sooner, but I think Vice President (Joe) Biden has a great track record at looking at issues of violence against women,” Schuiteman said. “The fact that President Obama’s doing it — it’s time.”

MSU has its share of problems with sexual assault. Twenty sexual offenses were reported in 2012, a number that has remained relatively unchanged from past years, according to MSU’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. There have been a string of high-profile assaults in recent years at MSU and in East Lansing — some have ended in arrests, while others remain unsolved. Even fewer are reported.

During his speech, Obama also announced the creation of a new task force meant to work with educational institutions to improve the way they prevent and respond to assaults.

“These young women worked so hard just to get into college, often their parents are doing everything they can to help them pay for it,” Obama said. “So when they finally make it there only to be assaulted, that is not just a nightmare for them and their families, it’s an affront to everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve. … It’s totally unacceptable.”

The university offers a variety of services and support for victims. MSU’s Counseling Center has an office devoted to sexual assault, and every freshman at the university is mandated to attend a workshop on how to prevent the crime. Many services are confidential, and the university has outlined detailed reporting procedures, as federal guidelines mandate.

“People often do not feel comfortable coming to the police department,” MSU police Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor said, noting police are willing to meet victims elsewhere. “They’re in shock, often.”

MSU students interviewed said they were generally aware of MSU’s services, but the services don’t help psychology junior Michelle Abraham feel safe when she walks alone at night.

Abraham said she was walking alone in East Lansing one evening and felt comfortable until she was approached by several strange men. Nothing happened, but that didn’t keep Abraham from worrying.

“I walked down here all by myself and these random guys were catcalling me and stuff, and this one guy tried to make me get in a car with him,” Abraham said. “I was so freaked out.”

No-preference sophomore Shida Chen said he didn’t think sexual assault at universities has received much attention.

“I don’t think it’s addressed at all, honestly, but I think it should be addressed more,” Chen said.

Schuiteman said it’s necessary to understand that the issue is not restrained to single demographic.

“We need to get past this notion that it’s strictly a women’s problem and realize that it’s everyone’s problem,” Schuiteman said.

At the end of his remarks Wednesday, Obama emphasized the need for support.

“We need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted, you are not alone,” Obama said. “You will never be alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back.”

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