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ISSUE 117 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/5/2003

Sit-in supports victims

By Jaruwan Punyoyai
Contributing Writer

Friday, December 5, 2003

In light of recent allegations of sexual assault at St. Olaf, one organization is working to ensure that the victims know they are not alone. Sexual Assault Resource Network(SARN) has been helping victims of sexual assault at St. Olaf for the past decade. Whether offering personal services to individuals affected by sexual assault, or organizing campus-wide events to support victims, SARN is an active member in the aftermath of sexual assaults on campus.

Keeping in stride with their dedication to help the victims of sexual assault, the members of SARN organized a sit-in following the recent allegations. The sit-in, conceived by SARN member Annie Westmoreland '04, took place behind Buntrock Commons and was heralded as a success by SARN co-chairwomen Mary Schmidt '04 and Eleni Pinnow '04. Schmidt and Pinnow have speculated that SARN will stage similar sit-ins following future incidences of sexual assault.

For Schmidt and Pinnow, the work began long ago when they first joined SARN as first-years. They reminisced on the arduous training and demanding dedication that is required of advocates.

"The training was intense. We met for four hours every night for a month," Schmidt said. The four hours were spent in conversation and instruction led by the Women’s Safe Center of Rice County. While the experience was exhausting, both agreed that they would do it again.

Pinnow and Schmidt now lead the 17-member organization. As part of a federally-mandated organization, they carry a confidentiality clause. Because of this, they urge victims to talk to them before reporting to school officials.

"We are well-trained and can inform the victim about the legality concerning their issue," Pinnow said.

As for the current sexual assaults, Pinnow and Schmidt described them as "very, very sad." However, they are enthusiastic about the steps that have been taken to investigate the allegations.

Both chairwomen speak very highly of Dean of Students Greg Kneser and his attitude concerning the investigations. Because the assault was reported to the Dean of Students office, police are not involved. Instead, the investigation is being carried out by a member of the dean’s office. In this case, members of SARN have praised the dean’s office, citing their efficiency, honesty and willingness to work together with SARN advocates.

Both Schmidt and Pinnow agree that at times, the relationship between SARN and the dean’s office was not always so smooth. The former sexual assault policy had an option called mediation. Under this option, it was possible for the guilty offender to escape suspension; it was a cause of unrest with SARN.

The new policy, however, has instilled a new attitude of partnership between the dean’s office and the SARN advocates. Under the revised policy, any report to the dean’s office concerning sexual assault is investigated to the end.

For students, Schmidt and Pinnow recommend simply talking to someone if one is sexually assaulted. If someone experiences sexual assault, listen to them, encourage them to report the incident and remind them that it’s not their fault.

As for SARN, they will continue to stage sit-ins to support victims of sexual assault. Their only hope is that it can help alleviate the pain.

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