April 14 2010 12:00 AM

April is sexual assault awareness month



It was near finals week in 2006 when K’s best friend sexually assaulted her. A sophomore at Michigan State University at the time, K had found herself alone in his dorm room. Alcohol was involved. The rest of their friends were in an adjacent room. But years later, her emotions are still too raw to talk about it further.

“I often wonder, why was a moment of temptation worth destroying a friendship?” asked K (a pseudonym). “In that moment, everything we had was shattered forever. I’m just not sure I’ll ever understand why, and it still makes me cry to this day.”

K’s story is a reminder that sexual assault can happen anywhere, to anyone, and can be perpetrated by even the people whom you trust. In memory, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

K used MSU’s counseling services at the Sexual Assault Program for help. The program runs a crisis hotline for victims to talk about his or her own, or a friend or family member’s, experience with sexual violence.

Lauren Allswede, advocacy coordinator for the Sexual Assault Program, said other than the crisis line, the program also provides medical advocacy at Sparrow Hospital and legal assistance. The Sexual Assault Program at MSU will hold a series of events this month including poetry readings, lectures and a Take Back the Night vigil.

“I’d like to move away from the whole term ‘date rape,’” says Allswede. “I think it gets downplayed a lot, and I’d just like to highlight rape for what it is: It’s an act of violence, power and control, and I think sometimes it can get minimized in our society.”

Melissa Hasbrook, a writer and community organizer, is contributing to sexual assault awareness with a poetry reading on April 15 at (SCENE) Metrospace called “Hope at the Center.” Half of the proceeds go to the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Hasbrook said.

As a survivor of domestic and sexual violence, Hasbrook has been involved in local activism from childhood.

“Once you’re a survivor, you’re always involved,” said Hasbrook. “It’s challenging, but it opens up spaces for people to be honest about their own stories.”

Scott Harris, owner of Everybody Reads bookstore in Lansing, had a friend who still suffers the effects of assault from childhood. It has been about 30 years, but Harris says the experience affected her relationships with men.

sexual assault doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it doesn’t happen just to
people in the paper or on TV. It happens to our sisters, to our
daughters, to our moms, to our friends,” Harris said.

“It’s not something you necessarily heal from without having scar tissue,” said Harris.

Harris has never been in a situation where sexual assault has taken
place, he said it does not mean he cannot empathize.

not having been through something akin to that, there’s enough empathy
out there that makes us care,” said Harris. “Even though it might not
affect us as individuals, or it might not be a part of our history, it
still affects those that we care about.”

To raise awareness, Harris set up a display in
the front of Everybody Reads to bring attention to the problem. There
is also a section of books on how to prevent sexual assault and on the
healing process.

Take Back the Night event will bring survivors and allies of survivors
together to help promote awareness. The event begins at 10 a.m. April
20 at Beaumont Field. The vigil concludes with a march beginning at 8
p.m. from MSU to the 54B District Court in East Lansing.

said seeing the people at Take Back the Night every year helps her heal
and sheds light on an issue that can sometimes be tossed aside.

if they haven’t gone through it, people can become aware of the issue,
and unfortunately the scope in which it occurs,” she said.

too often the myth culture of rape and sexual assault supersedes the
truth, whether it is through the media, the rumor mill or general speculation.”

Attempts to interview males in the MSU area were unsuccessful. None wanted to talk about their experiences with sexual assault.

know there are anecdotal cases where women initiate it, but truth be
told that is the exception,” Harris said. “And when a lot of light is
shown upon something that is an exception, it gives the impression that
it’s greater than it really is. It does happen, we see it in the paper
and hear about it on the news, but it stands out because it is such an

K said she still struggles to associate the perpetrator’s face with what he did.

don’t hate him, but I hate what he did to me,” she said. “Rape is about
possession, the attempt to take someone else’s body as yours. I’ll
admit, every day, in one facet or another, I’m still endeavoring to
take it back. He may have had my body for a moment, but never my soul.”