How wecandubetter’s Instagram brought change to University of Denver | #tinder | #pof


_________________________

Content warning: This story includes descriptions and stories of sexual assaults that could be upsetting to some readers.


One University of Denver student wakes in the night gasping for breath at the memory of a man trying to rip off their clothes in a bar bathroom. For another, PTSD after being drugged and raped altered the trajectory of their life so deeply, they attempted suicide.

Many remember crying — alone on the bathroom floor, in their dorm bed, in a scorching shower — after their sexual assault.

Some reported it. Some didn’t.

Each scroll through the Instagram account wecandubetter brings another contingent of these stories, hundreds and ever-growing, describing horrific details of anonymous DU students’ experiences of sexual assault or harassment. Three DU students, all sexual assault survivors, created the account in January, fed up with what they felt was an overwhelming culture of sexual misconduct on campus.

The young women behind the account originally hid their identities fearing threats or retaliation. But Shannon Saul, Madeline Membrino and Grace Wankelman now have chosen to publicly stand behind their stories and the movement they started. They’re even going national.

Their activism hit a nerve — particularly among DU’s senior administration.

University leaders went from sending out a letter committing to doing better to DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner sitting down with the account’s creators to draft a comprehensive action plan. As sexual assault stories continued to roll in, Haefner said he felt the growing weight of responsibility to protect his students. He promised long-term, institutional change addressing topics like toxic masculinity — all made with input from the three survivors and experts in the field.

“When you read these kinds of stories coming from our students, there’s a deep, emotional reaction that you have,” Haefner said. “Just thinking about it right now, the emotions are being called up. They’re gut-wrenching. They run so contrary to what I envision the University of Denver experience should be like for our students.”

In 2018, DU received 18 reports of sexual assault compared to 25 in 2017 and 45 in 2016, according to the private university’s annual security report. However, rape is the most underreported crime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Exemplifying that disparity, 52% of DU undergraduates said they or someone they knew experienced sexual assault, domestic/dating violence or stalking since enrolling at DU, according to a 2018 campus climate survey Of those students, the survey showed 43% — up from 19.6% in 2017 — did not seek on-campus help or resources. The survey said some who didn’t get help wanted to move on and forget what happened to them, were unaware what resources existed or felt reporting would be useless because DU had a “history of doing nothing.”

Sexual violence is more prevalent at college than other crimes, according to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. . Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of women and 5.4% of men experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.

Only 20% of female student victims ages 18 to 24 report their sexual violence to law enforcement, RAINN statistics found.

When Saul, who’s in her senior year at DU, was asked to share her sexual assault experience, her eyes drifted from glassy to stone-faced in a matter of blinks.

“Which one?” she asked.

Saul described tears streaming down her cheeks while a friend initiated sexual acts that she was uncomfortable with during her freshman year at DU. She already had been sexually assaulted in high school.

Sarah Hurtado, a DU assistant professor focused on researching rape culture on college campuses, said society often thinks about rape as a violent act perpetrated by strangers. But particularly on college campuses, most sexual assaults happen between acquaintances.

Membrino, a junior, remembered staring up at an episode of “The Office” projected on a dorm ceiling while she was sexually assaulted during her freshman year at DU. She was too drunk to consent, but will never forget lying like a ragdoll on her Tinder date’s bed.

Hurtado said alcohol is often a factor in campus sexual assaults.

“I think a lot of times we use someone’s alcohol consumption as a way to blame them or say they should have been more responsible or made better choices, but at the end of the day, there’s only one person responsible, and that’s always the perpetrator,” Hurtado said. “It’s important for people to know that someone can’t consent if they’re inebriated.”

Wankelman, a sophomore, was drinking water at a fraternity party this past fall when she started to feel off. She woke up in the emergency room. Authorities said she was almost certainly drugged, because her blood-alcohol level had been below the legal limit to drive.

“I reported it to DU,” said Wankelman, who survived a previous sexual assault years earlier. “It was the most dismissive experience. Nothing came out of it. Campus Safety asked me several times if I had taken a self-defense class.”

“It just blew up”

Saul, Membrino and Wankelman were working on strengthening their campus’s response to gender-based violence through DU’s student government, but felt like meaningful change wasn’t happening.

Eager for action, the three survivors divulged some of the worst moments of their lives, hoping their pain would elicit a response. Maybe if enough people shared their sexual misconduct stories, they thought, the DU community would be compelled to try something different.

“A really unfortunate reality is in order for people to understand the trauma you go through and for change to be made, you have to relive it,” Saul said. “It shouldn’t take having students expose their own vulnerable trauma to get something done. The administration might have to deal with this for a few months, but survivors have to deal with this for the rest of their lives — every day.”

They created the wecandubetter account about a month ago, amassing followers and heartbreaking story submissions within hours.

The typed-up stories, uploaded daily, sit behind content warnings — sexual assault, groping, suicide, drugging, domestic violence. More than 3,200 people are following the account, which also publicizes resources for those in need.

“It just blew up,” Wankelman said. “I knew there was this tension bubbling on campus where people were getting really sick of this and wanted to see change, but this reaction has been unexpected.”

Some of the submissions thank the account’s creators for letting them know they aren’t alone. Some said the account inspired them to finally seek therapy. Others said they finally felt believed.

“People still use this idea that survivors falsely report,” Hurtado said. “False reporting for rape happens at the same rate as other violent crimes, which is as low as 2%. When somebody comes to tell you that they’ve experienced something like this, statistically, they’re telling you the truth.”

Running the Instagram account — screening the stories to ensure they don’t mention names, taking down posts when survivors reach out saying they’ve been threatened, and dealing with the administrative response — has turned the three survivors’ already busy lives into a whirlwind.

The success of the localized account inspired Membrino, Saul and Wankelman to create a second Instagram account and a full website with the same premise on a national level: thedobettercampaign. The young women hope to become a resource for other university activists who want to do something similar.

“We’re listening”

The tragic stories have not fallen on deaf ears. Chancellor Haefner reads the account in his office and at home, sharing the painful stories with his wife and wondering what he can do to help.

Last weekend, Saul, Membrino, Wankelman and Haefner met to go over a draft plan.

Proposed changes to DU policy include:

  • The Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX — which investigates sexual assault cases — will report directly to Haefner
  • A “dramatic increase” in trauma-informed training for Campus Safety department officers, faculty and staff
  • Expanded educational programming and training focusing on healthy masculinity




Source link


_________________________