This faculty voice was written by Brendan R. Watson, Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism.
I was a child in the 1980s when we didn’t talk about it. As a result, we didn’t know much at all about it. We didn’t know how to protect our loved ones, friends and co-workers, and we didn’t see the pain many around us were experiencing.
Today it is still largely a silent epidemic. Most survivors never tell anyone.
I hadn’t told a soul about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child until the #MeToo movement and the Larry Nassar scandal made it unbearable to hold onto that tormented secret.
This is not an issue that affects other people. One in 10 U.S. adults has experienced sexual abuse as children. Hopefully, you personally did not, but your family members, friends and co-workers have, even if they’re silent. And during this period of national reckoning concerning sexual violence in our society, old wounds are being made fresh, they’re hurting.
As adults, children who have experienced sexual violence are more likely to experience suicidal ideation, PTSD, depression and anxiety. The psychological responses also cause physiological health problems, including cardiovascular disease.
Like many people, I was not ready to talk about this issue. But recent events haven’t left us much option. To heal, we must all begin to talk about sexual violence in a trauma-sensitive manner, regardless of how emotionally difficult it is. We must support survivors and work towards prevention. Otherwise, sexual violence, particularly against children, will remain a silent epidemic.
Centrally, Michigan State University understandably has been focused internally on its institutional failures and on the “survivor sisters.” These women courageously shed much-needed light on sexual violence and its impacts, and the university must do what it can to help them heal. Personally, they gave me much strength and confidence.
But the community’s responsibility goes far beyond campus and this particular group of survivors.
Organizations that provide support and prevention services in mid-Michigan, such as Small Talk Children's Assessment Center and End Violent Encounters (EVE), have long been under-resourced. And in the wake of the Nassar scandal, they have experienced a surge of survivors requesting counseling, among other support services.
Access to counselors specifically trained in helping childhood and adult survivors of sexual violence is essential. It means the difference between healthy coping versus years of psychological and other health problems. Small Talk and EVE provide trauma-aware counseling, which is difficult to find elsewhere in the community, free of charge.
Especially where the university’s administration is focused inwardly, Small Talk and EVE need the community’s support to continue to provide these services, particularly during this difficult time.
I personally needed something positive to focus on during what has been the most difficult period of my life. So I started a group called #spartansact. I invite you to join this grassroots, positive, capacity-building campaign to provide trauma-aware services to survivors of, and to prevent, sexual violence in our community.
The first project was to create a fundraising t-shirt, which is available for purchase through Sunday, March 18. Proceeds support Small Talk and Eve.
The t-shirt is a vintage-style, university seal t-shirt. The campus is called “East Lansing University,” recognizing that there will continue to be a campus there, but it must be a very different campus, one that is more inclusive, one that listens to and supports survivors and one that protects members of its community.
The shirt also celebrates survivors’ voices: The Latin motto translates to “Courage. Truth. Justice,” and the building at the center of the seal is the historic Ingham County courthouse, a recognition of those women who testified in Ingham and Eaton Counties, giving a voice to and shedding much-needed light on sexual violence and its impacts.
This t-shirt fundraiser is just one small, initial step. In the long run, #spartansact’s focus will be to serve as a connector between individual community members and groups wanting to have a positive impact on the issue of sexual violence with existing organizations doing this important work. The goal is to find multiple ways to end the silence around sexual violence and to build upon the community’s capacity to tackle sexual violence head-on.
Students at Parkland High School in Florida used their campus’ tragedy to start a dialogue about gun violence. We also have an opportunity to turn our tragedy into something positive. Collectively, we can end the silence around sexual violence so we can begin to start working towards more awareness, better support for survivors, and prevention of this epidemic in our society.
It’s time we all find our voice.