Finding our Voice

My heart skipped a beat when I heard we had over 1,000 people registered for our 25th BE LOUD Breakfast. Granted, 1,000 is not that much different from 950, or 875, but it symbolized for me a breakthrough in this event.

Wow… 1,000 people gathered together to be loud about sexual assault. When Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess asked us to stand together if we know someone who has been affected by sexual assault, we stood together showing our unity, our understanding, and our support for those who have been victimized. We stood to challenge the assumption that sexual assault has to exist. And this is more than just symbolism. It's people saying "this is about me, this is about a loved one, and this has to change.”

I had the same reaction when I learned that President Obama created a task force of senior administration officials to coordinate federal enforcement efforts addressing the issue of campus rape. Colleges and universities have been required for years to have policies and protocols to protect students, provide support to those who have been assaulted, hold offenders accountable, and work toward a new culture that does not support rape. Sadly, these policies have been only intermittently enforced. As recent as this past weekend news stories highlighted how major institutions including Harvard and Amherst college are falling short in protecting students rights after enduring sexual assaults, even so far as discouraging them from making formal complaints. The tradition for many schools has been to sweep sexual violence under the rug. So I am heartened to see the President calling for breath and depth on his task force. Their job will be to evaluate prevention efforts, confirm that these institutions are complying with existing legal obligations, raise awareness of schools’ records regarding assaults and officials’ responses, and to ensure that federal agencies get involved when officials do not confront problems on their campuses.

Interestingly, President Obama announced this new task force shortly after giving the Pentagon a year to show a decrease in the number of sexual assaults in the military – another issue that’s front and center in the news right now. Certainly one can see both as symbolic acts only. However, putting a spotlight on a greatly under-reported national problem, combined with funding and political pressure will, I hope, lead to some real action that is long overdue.

Over the last few months I've been talking about how rape and sexual assault are not "silo issues.” They don’t exist in a vacuum; rather, they’re connected to domestic violence, human trafficking, bullying, even homelessness. Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are systemic problems and we see the repercussions in every facet of our society. It’s critical for our President and national leaders to take a stand, but real cultural shifts can’t happen without us as individuals, as people, saying, "this needs to change for me, my family, my loved ones.”

So let me end this blog where I began, at this year’s BE LOUD Breakfast. There were many moments that stand out. But the ones that have stayed with me are the men, who in hearing Tim Burgess' deeply personal revelation of his own experience with physical and sexual abuse, said "Tim told my story and now I too can be loud.

  In order to act, we first have to find our voice.


Cougs helping Cougs

Thanks Kevin! This is a great article on what WSU is doing to support students who have experienced Sexual Assault. This program should be a model for other universities!


To follow-up on Mary Ellen's post about the President's Task Force on campus rape and sexual assaults. I wanted to share a recent article on WSU's efforts through the Cougs Helping Cougs campaign. Here is an article about the program:

Sexual Assault Focus of Health Campaign 3/24/14
Carolina Garces-Zapico, Health & Wellness Services intern

A campaign encouraging the Washington State University community to listen to, believe and support students who experience sexual assault began March 24.

The Cougs Helping Cougs campaign emphasizes the importance of knowing the basics of support and referral in response to a sexual assault disclosure.

“We know that people are most likely to talk with a friend about an assault before anyone else, and how friends and community members respond can make a significant difference to someone coping with sexual assault,” said Nikki Finnestead, violence prevention coordinator at WSU Health and Wellness Services.

In January, President Barack Obama created a federal task force to address sexual assault on college campuses. National data indicate that approximately one-fourth of women who attend college will be assaulted.

“Most people are deeply disturbed by this statistic because it isn’t just a number,” said Paula Adams, health promotion coordinator at Health and Wellness Services. “These are people we know, our friends, ourselves, our community members. And most of us want to help but maybe aren’t sure how.”

“We’re asking every student and every community member to take a minute or two to be prepared when a friend shares that another person coerced, forced or pressured them to engage in sexual activity,” said Finnestead.

“If you find yourself in this situation, be prepared to listen without judgment,” she said. “Avoid asking questions that imply the victim is at fault or responsible for the assault. Know that, although you may not completely understand what happened, the person you’re talking with is seeking support. How you respond matters.”

The campaign is presented by the Green Dot program at Health and Wellness Services and the Green Dot student organization.

Adams is director of a U.S. Department of Justice grant project to reduce power-based personal violence on campus.
For more information about the campaign, Green Dot and the Health and Wellness Services violence prevention program, visit For more information about confidential resources for WSU students coping with sexual assault, visit

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