15 reported sexual assaults inspire student action
Miami University sophomore Emily Pawlecki was walking to a date party while scrolling through her phone on a late Thursday night in early October.
She had just received a notification that the FBI was planning to release a statement in the morning about then Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The statement would reveal whether or not the the sexual assault allegations made against Kavanaugh were corroborated.
After arriving at the party, Pawlecki isolated herself from her friends and sat down to email her senator, Rob Portman.
She found his contact information in a friend’s Snapchat story urging people to reach out to their elected officials. As a last ditch effort, Pawlecki joined others throughout Ohio in petitioning Portman to demand the Senate Judiciary Committee reconsider confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
“I don’t think it made much of a difference,” Pawlecki said. “If a bunch of people had sent those emails then it might make a difference. You’re one person contributing to [building] awareness for a much bigger issue.”
Kavanaugh was confirmed the next day.
Sexual assault has been a recurring issue of Miami’s campus, as well as college campuses across the nation.
Last week, on Wednesday, Nov. 28, the Oxford Police Department (OPD) responded to a call in the 300 block of North College Avenue where a woman reported being sexually assaulted.
The incident was the fifteenth case of sexual assault reported in Oxford this semester.
During the same time period last year (Aug. 28 to Dec. 3, 2017) there were 16 incidents reported — six to OPD and 10 to the Miami University Police Department (MUPD.)
“I think this year, especially, we’ve been a bit more cautious about walking everyone home at the end of the night,” Pawlecki said. “At the height of so many notifications at the beginning of the year, I definitely noticed everyone looking out for each other a bit more.”
Miami frequently sends out campus crime alerts via email when sexual assaults are reported on campus. But not every incident that is reported to either OPD or MUPD is automatically communicated to the Miami community.
OPD keeps track of every sexual assault that is reported (12 of the 15 cases this semester were reported to OPD).
And, while the 16 incidents reported last year is greater than the 15 reported this semester, Chief John Jones said, anecdotally, it feels like there are more reports this semester than in previous years.
That feeling could be in part, he said, due to more media requests, greater interaction with the Oxford community on OPD’s Facebook page and that his detectives are dealing with sexual assault related incidents frequently.
Jones also said that the number of cases does not necessarily mean more sexual assaults are happening in the city of Oxford.
“Realistically, you don’t know if there’s just people coming forward more and there’s more reporting or [if] the actual number that’s occurred [is] still the same,” Jones said.
Alex Saccocio, junior and philanthropy chair of Miami’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi (Beta) wanted to host a philanthropy event this semester that was centered around “starting the conversation” about sexual assault in the Greek community.
Beta does not have a national philanthropy organization, so each individual chapter of the fraternity has the opportunity to pick an organization to support.
Last summer Beta chose Women Helping Women, a Butler County-based organization that provides support services and crisis intervention for all survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, as their philanthropy. Saccocio came up with the idea for a dance called the Beta Ball to raise money for the organization while also encouraging Miami’s Greek community to support women and listen to their stories.
The event would be ticketed and proceeds from those tickets would go toward Women Helping Women.
Saccocio brought up his idea for the Beta Ball at chapter one Sunday afternoon. Initially, most of the fraternity was on board; however, Saccocio faced pushback from a couple of members of Beta.
“We had one or two brothers who were a little wary of the whole, ‘start the conversation theme,’” Saccocio said. “But I was like, ‘Really?…Start the conversation is the least political thing we could have said.’ It’s about talking about these issues no wants to talk about.”
Saccocio wants to put political difference aside and talk about this issue. It should be bipartisan, he said.
But Saccocio didn’t want the event and its theme of “starting the conversation” to be dominated by the male members of the fraternity.
“I quickly realized having a group of guys talking to women about sexual assault is so hypocritical,” Saccocio said.
So the fraternity came up with an added twist — a social media contest open to all sororities on campus. Each sorority chapter had the opportunity to share their experience of what being a woman on Miami’s campus is like and then one video would be chosen to show during Beta Ball.
While Saccocio and his friends were planning the event and watching the various sororities’ submissions for the social media contest,Saccocio knew something special was happening as his brothers began animatedly discussing the powerful messages behind each video.
“You can’t support a philanthropy with just money,” Saccocio said. “You have to support the message behind the philanthropy. [And] when it comes to something that has become so political, to say that you support the message really goes to a whole ‘nother level.”
The video from Miami’s sorority chapter Alpha Omicron Pi (AOPi), was chosen to be shown the night of Beta Ball, and $300 of the proceeds went towards AOPi’s philanthropy, the National Arthritis Foundation.
Beta also partnered with Kick Back Bath Co., a non-profit organization that funds free self-defense classes for women through bath product sales. The organization was started by former Miami student Maria Racadio who spoke about her experience with sexual assault at Miami during the Beta Ball.
At the end of the night, Beta raised $1,350 for Women Helping Women.
The day after the seventh sexual assault was reported on Monday, Oct. 1, President Gregory Crawford addressed the Miami community in a letter.
“One sexual assault on our campus is too many,” Crawford wrote.
Dean of Students Kimberly Moore and Assistant Vice President for Health and Wellness Steve Large took the opportunity to set up five days of listening hours in Warfield Hall where students could come to talk about their concerns about sexual assault.
“We want to hear from you,” Moore wrote in an email to the Miami community on Oct. 2.
Moore put Ann James, Miami’s Director of Community Standards (OCS), formerly known as OESCR, in charge of drafting guidelines for consistency in Title IX cases.
“The guidelines will ensure all Title IX hearings are approached in a similar manner, so students know what to expect,” The Miami Student reported in early November.
While the 14 incident reports of sexual assault this semester (one of the 15 was from an incident that occurred in October 2016) are a sign of more survivors’ willingness to report assaults, many problems remain ahead as the university continues to address sexual assault.
Thirteen percent of the 6,072 respondents to Miami’s 2017 campus climate survey reported “they had experienced unwanted sexual contact/conduct while at Miami University.”
Miami students, like Saccocio and Pawlecki are interested in prompting Miami to talk about sexual assault more often and want the university to be more transparent about the number of incidents that are reported each semester.
Saccocio reached out to the university to promote the Beta Ball through the university’s official Snapchat but reached several dead ends.
“One of the directors for social media and marketing told me that Miami University does not want parents thinking that sexual assault happens here,” Saccocio said.“That was really frustrating and heartbreaking for me…to say that they didn’t want to talk about this because it wasn’t comfortable made me realize that needed to be the focus for our event.”
Saccocio was able to work with the university’s social media and strategic marketing manager, Kelly Bennett, to promote the Beta Ball on the Miami Instagram page but only by framing the fraternity’s message, “starting the conversation,” in the context of the national scope.
Pawlecki believes Miami is a microcosm of the larger, national problem.
“Even though it’s something huge happening on a national level you can see the connection between…the increase in sexual assaults on campus and with a president in office who had 20-some allegations when he was elected,” she said. “That carries down and that sends a message that there aren’t necessarily consequences for you actions.
“That’s something my friends and I realized when Kavanaugh was confirmed — that’s not a culture that’s changing immediately and that’s really disheartening.”