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Detroit News: Sex assault prevention summit takes on college culture

Detroit News

Ann Arbor, MI, September 30, 2016 | Kim Kozlowski

Ann Arbor — She was walking home from her part-time job she had in college when a man appeared, pointed a gun at her and told her she’d better do what he told her.

Natasha Alexenko, then a 20-year-old student in New York, thought she was getting robbed, or that the man was running from police. Instead, he guided her back to her apartment building, where he raped and sodomized her.

“It was in that moment, I thought I was going to die,” said Alexenko, a New York resident who has since founded Natasha’s Justice Project, which works to end the national rape kit backlog. “We need to encourage more people to talk about issues around sexual assault. We are not talking about it enough. Perpetrators are counting on their victims remaining silent, and that’s how they continue to get away with it.”

Alexenko was among many speakers featured during the second summit aimed at making Michigan a leader in sexual assault prevention on college campuses.

The day-long event, known as “Inform. Empower. Prevent. Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault,” seeks to change the culture on college campuses through education, awarness and involving more people, such as students and other leaders. Held at the University of Michigan, the summit attracted advocates, lawmakers, athletes and students to address a problem on colleges campuses that until recently was stigmatized and not discussed openly.

For too long, too many people have not wanted to talk about sexual assault on college campuses but that must change, said Michigan first lady Sue Snyder, the brainchild behind the summits held this year and last year.

“Our college and university campuses are our students’ homes away from home,” said Snyder, acknowledging the issue is especially personal to her because her daughter, Kelsey, lives on the University of Michigan’s campus. “Students are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, family and friends This topic affects all of us.”

And sexual assault does not discriminate, added Ron Bellamy, head football coach at West Bloomfield High School.

“You have to let kids know: It can happen to anyone at any time,” Bellamy said.

Changing the culture around sexual assault isn’t easy but slowly things are happening in Michigan, said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, D-Detroit, pointing to laws emerging in Michigan and the first Detroit Sexual Assult Kit summit.

“We’re not going to see changes, especially on college campuses, until men really understand no means no,” Dingell said, adding that it’s important that sports figures and other men are getting involved. “The culture is changing. People are saying it’s unacceptable and you are seeing that begin to translate.”

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