Lawmakers, university officials discuss unifying campus sexual assault prevention statewide
On June 8, the Snyder administration announced a $500,000 proposal for the 2016 fiscal year budget to go toward preventing sexual assault on college and university campuses.
The announcement came from Michigan State Police director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue at the Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault summit, hosted by Michigan’s first lady Sue Snyder.
The money will be offered to colleges and universities statewide in the form of grants they can apply for to create new programs aimed at sexual assault prevention.
“It really allows colleges and universities to be creative, to be thoughtful and to be forward-looking,” Gov. Rick Snyder said.
Rick Snyder said the government’s only real involvement with the grant program will be to make sure the money is spent in a way that will benefit the state and its colleges and universities.
“Let’s get the community involved,” Rick Snyder said. “Let’s do this from the grassroots, from the universities and colleges to come up with ideas of how we can learn from one another. It brings up the concept of innovation and creativity about a very important and sensitive topic.”
Etue said this the first time the state of Michigan has dedicated general funds that will work to prevent sexual assault in Michigan. The Michigan State Police will administer the grant.
Details will be worked out over the next year by a committee consisting of a diverse group of people, from college administrators to law enforcement, legislators, experts and more — to ensure everybody’s needs are met, Etue said.
She said the grant money can not be used to replace existing prevention programs, it has to be used to educate and/or create new programs and initiatives aimed at preventing sexual assault on college campuses.
“$500,000 will not go very far, but it’s a good start,” Etue said. “And I think what we can look at is what is the need out there? What are some of the innovative ideas that we could educate and look toward prevention on college campuses? I think we will see a lot of good applications, and we’ll take it from there.”
State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, was a co-sponsor of the summit and said she would like to see some of the grant money go toward educating students.
“There are certain rights under Title IX. Andhow many of those students out there on our college campuses know their rights if they are the victim of sexual assault?” Schuitmaker said. “I myself am an attorney and I did not know that these students had these rights.”
Over the past several years, survivors have successfully sued colleges and universities in both federal and state courts for ignoring known situations of harassment, which is illegal under Title IX, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rick Snyder said the issue of campus sexual assault has been a priority of his administration for a long time, and is excited about the discussion and dialogue between colleges, universities and the community.
“I think this is a good learning opportunity for those institutions and how we can share and be stronger together,” Rick Snyder said.
First lady Sue Snyder said the issue of campus sexual assault has become personal to them since their youngest daughter, Kelsey, went to college last year. Sue Snyder said she was disturbed by the inconsistencies of how sexual assault is handled at different colleges and universities in Michigan.
“It really came to light what’s going on,” Sue Snyder said. “These kids are out having new experiences, first time away from home, and there’s alcohol, there’s new environments, new acquaintances. We’ve got to put an end to (sexual assault).”
In 2013, there were 159 reported cases of sexual assault on college campuses across Michigan, which is almost a 34 percent increase from the 119 reported cases in 2011, according to a report from Bridge.
State Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, said she believes a unified system of reporting and dealing with sexual assault on all of Michigan’s college and university campuses could be beneficial.
“It’s just like we’re trying to call 911 when you need help, or 211 when you look for resources,” Lane said. “To be able to have a unified program in place that everybody could become aware of and that this system would be effective in doing well, helping victims become survivors.”
Sue Snyder said one of the main objectives of the summit was to get college and university officials from around the state together, to begin the discussion of what methods work best to prevent sexual assault.
Sue Snyder said she will be traveling to colleges and universities across the state once the fall semester begins to see what the school administrators took away from the summit, what’s working and what’s not.
“While we might not like to believe it, sexual assault can happen anywhere and to anyone,” Sue Snyder said. “Our colleges and universities are already taking positive steps to prevent these crimes, but there is always more that can be done.”
“Led by our students, our university representatives or our community experts on this topic, I know this summit was just a first step in a movement that can and will make Michigan a leading state in preventing assault, and protecting our young people.”