Michigan first lady hosts summit on campus sexual assault

From left: rape survivor Lauren Debski, Michigan first lady Sue Snyder, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder listen as rape survivor Emma Hanrahan speaks to the media at the "Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault” prevention summit at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Michigan on Monday, June 8, 2015.


LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Michigan universities, colleges and community groups will have a chance to develop programs for preventing campus sexual assault with $500,000 in grants from the state, the Michigan State Police director announced Monday.

The announcement came during the state’s first campus sexual assault prevention summit in Lansing, hosted by Michigan’s first lady Sue Snyder. The summit gathered some 450 college and university representatives, law enforcement officials, students and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss how sexual assault can be prevented on the state’s campuses.

At times, you might have thought Lauren Debski couldn’t finish her speech.  Debski’s voice shook several times as she went detail by detail what happened the night she was raped while away at college.  “He did not listen as he proceeded to rape me,” Debski explained. She spoke about how doctors examined her body after she went to the hospital and how a psychiatrist later diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This eventually lead to me being hospitalized for two and a half weeks where I went through intensive trauma therapy,” Debski says that’s how she became a rape survivor.  She now shares her story hoping to prevent another.

“I always told a lot of people, I wish I had a hand book going through this attack. I didn’t and I would like to be a hand book for other people,” said Debski.

Her powerful story is one reason Michigan’s First Lady Sue Snyder is on a mission. And now with her youngest daughter in college, it’s personal.  The first lady wants to empower college leaders in stopping campus rape and hold them accountable.

“I think it’s been swept under the rug far too often and I just feel today is the day that we’re really going to take that first step forward and we’re going to make Michigan a leader in solving this.”

Target 8 has been tracking sexual violence at colleges after the U.S. Department of Education started investigating three universities in Michigan, including GVSU, for how they handled sexual misconduct cases. Not only have women complained to the feds, a Detroit attorney told Target 8 her client was wrongly accused of rape at the University of Michigan.

The Michigan State Police will give out the $500,000 in grants for new programs focused on education and prevention, Michigan State Police Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue said.

“This is the first time the state of Michigan has dedicated general funds that will actually work to prevent sexual assault in Michigan,” Etue said to loud applause.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the grants will allow groups to be creative, thoughtful and forward-looking with how they structure new programs. Asked how the state would measure progress on the issue, Snyder noted that traditional metrics might not work in this case, since the number of reported sexual assaults could increase as people are encouraged to come forward.

Sue Snyder said she plans to visit colleges and universities after the school year starts to find out what they’ve learned from the summit.

“So many different colleges and universities have different practices,” she said. “We all have to come together and talk about our best practices, what’s working, what’s not working.”

In her opening remarks, Snyder said that, as a mother, the well-being of young adults and students “has always been a priority” for her. The Snyders’ youngest child recently completed her first year at the University of Michigan, and the issue has taken on personal meaning as a result.

She added that the “overwhelming” positive response to the summit “proves our commitment as a state to tackling this sensitive but important issue” and said she hopes the effort can help “make Michigan a leader in the fight against sexual assault on our college and university campuses.”

“It is everyone’s responsibility to step up and play a role in the prevention of these crimes,” she said.

The summit was co-hosted by Republican Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and Democratic Sen. Rebekah Warren along with Republican Rep. Laura Cox and Democratic Rep. Marilyn Lane.

The U.S. Education Department said last year it was investigating dozens of universities and schools, including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Grand Valley University, for the way they handle sexual assault allegations.

___

Online:

Summit website

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