Student Feature || Students of the Year: The Survivors/Bystanders
Written By | Samantha Wogensen
Students United has provided a platform for these voices to be heard. However, this blog article was written by Samantha Wogensen and includes independent quotes from students at the Winona State University.
Trigger Warning: descriptions of rape and sexual assault, discussion of stalking and dating violence, victim-blaming, injuries, and gendered slurs.
The Leaders Improving Our World
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and during this time, a Winona State University student by the name of Molly Sarbacker received her decision letter about her perpetrator on campus. The decision maker came to the conclusion that this male student was to be kicked off West Campus for so long as Molly works or lives there and he must take the sexual violence prevention online module training. For her and many others, justice was not served. Molly is an active leader at WSU, who is a Resident Assistant and works with the RE Initiative as a peer educator and advocate. She says, “I’m no stranger to sexual assault, I was sexually assaulted as a freshman in high school by the brother of a close friend. Last year on April 22nd, I was raped by the cousin of my friend. I was assaulted again in February and this time I finally reported it. I did not receive the result I was hoping for.”
At Winona State University, 1 in 5 women will experience some form of gender-based violence (GBV) while attending school. GBV is an umbrella term that encompasses dating/domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and stalking. WSU lines up with the national statistics in regard to this type of violence. So, what do we do to help survivors? A close friend of Molly’s, Jake Leskovar, helped her empower herself by doing a survivor photo shoot. They wrote powerful phrases on her body that helped her reclaim her narrative for herself. One day, they walked into one of the dorm halls and took pictures of her taking back the space. She posted a picture online and partnered again with Jake and a co-worker, Samantha Wogensen, and reached out to the rest of Winona campus to help others tell their story through photos.
If someone had experienced GBV in Winona, they went back to that space and took pictures in front of the buildings, otherwise they regained control through taking pictures in the studio. This is called photo-voice, a therapeutic intervention technique coined by Abigail J. Rolbiecki, PhD, at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. The hope was that by exposing one’s self to triggers if would help to desensitize them to the emotional reaction associated with that horrific experience.
15 people total took part in the campaign, their stories are as follows:
Jessica Harvey-Rigby is a Sophomore at WSU who is involved with Student Senate, she won an award last year for being a “Rising Star.” But, what many people don’t know, is that she has experienced dating violence. It was a very scary experience, because her abusive partner was extremely controlling. She is thankful for the people in her life who supported her throughout the cycle of violence, because she would not be alive without them.
Tayler Streeter is a Junior transfer student who loves electronic dance music. She’s the kind of person who is willing to be friends with anyone, so when an online friendship turned to stalking it was disheartening for her. A guy she blocked on several social media sites showed up at her favorite music venue and would not stop following her around. Thankfully, she had friends around who protected her and got her out of the situation. She says, “Knowing that I had a support system in that space helped me reclaim it in full.”
Madi Vachuska is a huge role model for so many, she’s a leader with Chi Alpha, a religious organization on campus, and will be interning with them full-time next year. For her, being strong enough to share her story of when she was raped in her own house was important, because of the work she does. She doesn’t want to be hypocritical. When it happened, her roommates blamed her and she moved out. “She was asking for it,” they said. She never imagined going back to that house, so proving to herself that she could helped her regain control. A lesson that she taught us, is that, “This Shame Was Never Mine.”
Summer Downs is a Sophomore student who is a part of the several time National Champion’s Black Katts Rugby team at Winona State. During welcome week of Freshman year, she went out with her new friends from the Warrior Expedition only to be left in a locked room at a house party alone. People she didn’t know ended up carrying her back to the dorms and she was taken to the hospital. Eventually the school found out who her rapist was and suspended him for only one semester. After speaking with her, she didn’t know she could appeal this decision. She definitely didn’t get the resources she deserved. Her friends, family, and team have been the best support system and her coach wants her to speak with everyone to let them know they are not alone. Summer says, “This April, challenge the statistics. Be an active bystander. Stand up against sexual violence. Believe the survivors.”
Emma Gore is a Senior at WSU studying psychology and is an executive member of Active Minds, the mental health awareness group. She experienced dating violence with a partner, but sharing her story wasn’t only for her. It was for her friend, that speaking out has been too much for the fear of victim blaming and for the others in her life who have experienced any sort of harassment. She wants us to be mindful that often times domestic/sexual violence goes along with mental health issues, like PTSD.
Krystal Aviles is a Freshman this year at Winona who also works at Legacies LLC with children who have disabilities. For her, she aspires to be a good support system for kids, because of the sexually abusive childhood she experienced. At 6 years old, a family member sexually assaulted her and she wasn’t believed. When people found out later, she was bullied and called slut or whore. She wants “others to understand that they are not alone, and it happens to anybody regardless of race, socioeconomic background, gender, or age.”
Kaity & Kaelly
Kaity Moreland and Kaelly Guse are the two best friends anyone would want to have, they always have an interesting story to tell or a joke that will make you fall out of your seat laughing. They both experienced sexual violence at a park inside a car, Kaity says, “Not a lot of people can say they’re friendship grew from sharing their stories and I’m not only blessed to have met Kaelly, but to have such a support system beneath. No one understands like her.”
Taylor Eck is a Freshman this year who was assaulted by a friend in Haake Hall. She didn’t report right away until a friend slid an envelope under her dorm room door with information on how to. From watching the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement, she felt like she could open up just like big named stars had been. After reporting, there was some back lash from friends, because they still hung out with him even knowing what he did. Not only has she raised awareness through media and this campaign, but Taylor has recently started a nonprofit called, “Burning the Stigma” to speak about issues like this. She states, “Reclaiming my body was absolutely amazing. I can’t even describe it. I was so nervous at first, but seeing the final results… I couldn’t fathom it. I started crying when I saw them! I feel as though I have complete control over my body again, and I feel a new sense of confidence too.”
Nicole Eiken is a straight A student, beautiful inside and out. When she was assaulted by a friend in high school, people around her weren’t focused on the support she needed. This project was fun and empowering for her to talk about it in a way she could control, “to finally, in my own way, show people that it is okay to speak out and stand up for yourself. I wanted to feel strong again” Sometimes she’s brought back to how she felt in that moment and shuts down, like when rape is brought up in class with no warning. She’s had to step out and take a moment to cry, that’s why trigger warnings are important. She realized through this she doesn’t have to feel ashamed, because there’s people around her who will support and stand by her side.
Alexis Olson is a Senior with a Women and Gender Sexuality Studies minor and she’s been sharing her story for the last year with pantsuit nation. She was raped by a friend in high school and the typical slut shaming and victim blaming that came with was a common narrative she heard. She continues to be a strong voice and advocates for survivors. Police didn’t believe her and her boyfriend second guessed her constantly about whether or not she cheated on him. She has felt “betrayed by my own country knowing that millions of people voted for someone with over a dozen sexual violence allegations. Donald Trump has brought more homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and rape culture to the forefront of this country than I thought possible.” Sexual violence affects everyone and a social change starts by speaking out, she believes.
Zaria Smith is a RE Initiative Peer Educator/Advocate, but a survivor too. She’s also a leader in her sorority Sigma Sigma Sigma and sits on the Panhellenic board as well as is a Student Senator. She aims to create a safe campus and community for all. “GBV can happen to anyone at any time. The term intersectionality is how we describe the relationship between our multiple identities. The way people of color experience GBV is different.” The most important thing, she thinks, as an advocate is to listen. Believe survivors and provide them with the right resources.
Bailey Hanson is currently student teaching at Kingsland High School before she walks to that graduation stage. When she was out at the bar with some friends, she was thrown against the wall behind Market and raped in the bed of a truck. She was taken to several different hospitals before a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner could see her. After the experience she was bed ridden, because of a growth on her tailbone that stemmed from the violent experience. The police found that there was not enough evidence, so the case was dropped. She feels lucky that she has been able to move past what happened, because she knows a lot of people can’t. She says, “I wanted to help set myself free, this experience was something that needed to happen.”
Samantha Wogensen is a senior at WSU studying Psychology and works for Students United and the RE Initiative. She lobbies on behalf of sexual misconduct legislation, holds a 24/7 GBV crisis line, and trains members of the community in active bystander intervention. Her world was flipped upside down when she was sexually assaulted for the first time. She states, “I didn’t know what to do, who to go to, how to get through it, and I had seen the way media and the law reacted to reports, so I was silent.” By being an advocate for others, she can fight back against these injustices. Now, whenever a guy grabs her or a friend, she’s confident enough to push them away, tell them no, or delegate someone else to help. Most recently Affirmative Consent was passed through the Minnesota State system and she wants people to know that only yes means yes and that it is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and a single-time contract.
Jake Leskovar, the supportive photographer is a Freshman at WSU studying Advertising and Communications. He is PACT certified and planning on getting mental health first aid trained to better assist his residents next year as an RA. Jake is passionate about photography and has enjoyed being able to learn more about the art while providing an outlet of support for survivors on our campus. He is an avid advocate that has loved taking the opportunity to hear stories from fellow classmates while simultaneously empowering them.
It’s important to note that gender-based violence falls under many different experiences and affects people from various backgrounds differently. Sydney Radler, from the RE Initiative states, “Marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by GBV. I am particularly passionate about advocacy, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and as a survivor, because I know it deeply affects us on many levels.” 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape. Another student who just began working at the same organization, Eric Derby, states, “Trans individuals are greatly affected by GBV, much more so than the rest of the LGBT community.” 64% of transgender individuals have experienced sexual assault. They are concerned that the Trump administration has normalized the behavior, but they are proud that so many women are coming forward to create movements against sexual violence. Even though statistics have shown that GBV is often perpetrated against women by men, it is only a small percentage doing so again and again. Also, it’s crucial to note that men can experience sexual assault too. Four out of ten gay men have experienced sexual violence. Brishaun Kearns, who uses the pronouns they/them, spoke about how it’s hard to talk about these issues in communities of color or LGBTQIA+, because of the history of people who have those identities being painted as sexual predators. Bri says, “It has been said that black men are more likely to commit rapes and that gay men are more likely to commit sexual abuse against children, when those types of assaults happen, people within the community are fearful that reporting would perpetuate or validate those ideas, so they don’t report.” They left the interview with the thought, that there’s erasure of women of color, LGBT+ folks, and people with disabilities from sexual violence activist spaces. In order to truly recognize how it affects all communities, marginalized people’s voices need to be heard in this movement to end gender-based violence.
A special thanks to Joan, the woman who heard our stories in the Winona Target check-out line and decided to pay for the gifts for the survivors. She said, “from one survivor to another, thank you for the work you’re doing and life goes on.” Wherever you are, bless you for being our guardian angel.