Campus group breaches silence on sexual assault

By Courtney Klemm

When Kate Conway, senior in LAS, was training at the Rape Crisis Services in Champaign-Urbana, she was immediately moved by the information she was learning and decided she wanted to bring rape awareness to the campus community. Her ideas came together to form the organization, Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment, whose sole mission is to spread information and awareness of rape and sexual assault throughout campus.

“It was shocking when I started to learn about (sexual assault),” Conway said. “It is very prevalent and very underreported. It is something that does occur and needs attention.”

Conway said Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment was first started at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and one of the founder’s sisters tried to begin a chapter here several years ago. However, the University chapter dissolved due to lack of involvement and leadership. After speaking with the founding member, Conway was motivated to begin the chapter again.

Conway and Christine Fleming, who trained with Conway at the Rape Crisis Services, were named co-presidents and are in the process of contacting potential members and planning activities for the group.

“After training, I became so devoted and so motivated in this issue,” said Fleming, senior in LAS. “We wanted to give U of I a chance to learn what we’ve learned. I never realized what a silent crime (sexual assault) is.”

According to the Rape Crisis Services Web site, one out of every six American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, and more than 80 percent of victims knew their assailants. Also, one out of four college students have been raped or will be by the time of graduation, Fleming said.

One of the first actions Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment plans to take is a silent demonstration, which will occur Monday, Oct. 24 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the Quad. There will be large, poster silhouettes of women with stories attached to the front of them, each portraying a different woman’s situation of sexual assault.

“We want people to be able to see what situations are actually rape and not just blamed on something else, like the fact the girl was drinking or the clothes she was wearing,” Fleming said.

Conway said she hoped students walking on the Quad would stop and take the time to read these stories so they will become aware of some issues surrounding sexual assault.

Some other projects the organization plans to take on include printing informational packets and passing out fliers that contain sexual assault facts to students around campus throughout the year. They also hope to compile information for resident advisers in University dorms.

“Usually resident advisers don’t get enough resources or training about what to do if students come to them who have been sexually assaulted or have a friend who was,” Fleming said.

Equipped with these goals and aspirations as they start out, the members of Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment said their main goal right now is to get the word out about their organization and recruit younger members so they can continue to make an impact on the University in the years to come.

“I really support what this group stands for,” said Jenny Fell, member of the organization and senior in LAS. “One of the things we hope to accomplish is establishing this group as one that’s going to be around for a while. We want to get people interested and active and change the way some things are. I’d like to see it stick around for a while.”