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Dissenting Voices holds national vigil to support survivors of sexual assault

On the evening of Thursday, Nov. 9, Dissenting Voices held a national vigil in support of survivors of sexual assault. The vigil was part  of a current national movement on campuses throughout the United States in response to the Trump administration’s rescinding of Obama-era Title IX guidance, and to continue awareness of the recurring problem of sexual assault on campus. The S&B’s Kate Irwin sat down with Dissenting Voices co-leaders Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne ’20 and Ty Pratt ’20 to discuss the intention of the vigil and what Dissenting Voices has planned for Grinnell this semester. 

The S&B: How did Grinnell’s Dissenting Voices decide to join in on the national movement against sexual assault?

Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne: I came upon a couple different organizations that we were subscribed to saying that they were going to have this in the wake of Betsy DeVos rescinding the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letters. So building off that momentum is kind of what spurred [Dissenting Voices holding a vigil]. We wanted to localize this national movement and bring that here to campus so that we can amplify the momentum behind the call.

Is this the first time Dissenting Voices has held a vigil for survivors of sexual assault?

EF: Maybe specifically a vigil is new. But definitely demonstrations — [DV has] a long history of that. Check out our website!

What are the plans for the vigil?

Ty Pratt: The vigil is kind of our first meeting in addition to this, so we’re going to introduce people to Dissenting Voices as it is our first meeting of the year. And just [tell people] what we do.

EF: We’re going to be doing some art and some sign making, chilling with the members. We’re going to leave it open-ended [and ask people if they] want to learn more about the policy change on the national level, or hear more about the history and legacy of sexual assault at Grinnell. And for the people who come to the meeting, we can be a resource and direct them to further resources if they have more questions.

In September Betsy DeVos decided to rescind the “preponderance of evidence” standard for reporting sexual assault. How do you think the Trump administration’s decision to raise the standard to “clear and convincing evidence” affects how sexual assault is reported? How does this impede the ability of students to report sexual assault and to ensure that sexual assaults are thoroughly and appropriately deal with?

TP: People are going to be less likely to want to report, because they might feel like, “oh the evidence that I have isn’t up to the standard that the government wants anymore.” Also I think too it might just be the fact that maybe a survivor didn’t get a rape kit done because they were scared, and by the time they realized they wanted to come forward, all the physical evidence is gone. So they might feel like there’s no point. And even if they try and go through a process they’re [told they] can’t do anything.

EF: I guess the new guidance allows schools to use that new standard of “clear and convincing evidence” for sexual assault … even though schools use a “preponderance of evidence” for all other violations, essentially creating a different class for sexual assault. It kind of issues the government a license to discriminate against survivors, which is a pretty serious problem.

Part of the reasoning behind this decision was that advocates for accused students, most often men, believed that the judicial process became biased in favor of other victims. Do you think there is any credibility to this rationale?

EF: I’m going to say no. I think the [old] system very clearly shows that a lot of the times the accused walks free and is actually a pretty harmful system for the survivors to go through. And it rarely leads to any serious consequences. Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 preparators will go free. So, if anything, the system doesn’t do enough to back survivors and ensure that rapists are kept from becoming serial rapists. And the fact that the Trump administration is lessening this is quite worrisome.

What does Dissenting Voices hope to gain from being part of this national movement?

TP: Ultimately, awareness of the fact that this stuff is going on. I feel like a lot of people on campus and on campuses around the country don’t know that these are happening. The huge, big picture goal is for this not to be the case anymore. But immediately, awareness and letting people know if something happens to you, even if the government isn’t on your side, we’re here for you. 

EF: This is meant to be a healing space for survivors, so letting them know that despite the federal policies, they’re not alone and we’re going to be working tirelessly to hold our school accountable to keep doing even better than we have been, to keep pushing for that progress.

Does Dissenting Voices have any plans for the future of ways to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault or ideas on how to work to lower and end sexual assault on campus?

EF: In terms of raising awareness we plan to do more actions this semester. … In terms of policies, we’re focusing on three goals this semester: expelling rapists, making sure that we can hire a permanent, fulltime Title IX coordinator and establishing a fully staffed women’s center here on campus, which is something that our peer institutions all have and we do not.

What are immediate steps that can be taken to help end sexual assault on our college’s campus?

TP: I feel like a lot of it is active bystanderism, not in the sense that people can do something all the time, but if rapists know they’re being watched, they’re less likely to do something.

What is Dissenting Voices’ mission statement?

EF: We are a grassroots coalition of students who are committed to ending sexual violence at Grinnell College through collaborative policy changes and peer education. We’re the school’s only gender-based violence prevention group, and we are here to end rape on campus.

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