Panel raises violence awareness

The event was part of the U.S. Department of Justice tour.

Tara Bannow

Sonnie Flomo grew up learning to respect her elders. So when the pastor who rented a room in her momâÄôs house began kissing her, rubbing her and having her move up and down on his lap, she didnâÄôt try to run or scream. When the then-16-year-old gathered the courage to tell her mom, she didnâÄôt believe her. Flomo, now a 24-year-old family and social science junior at the University of Minnesota, said sheâÄôs completely different from the person she was supposed to be. âÄúItâÄôs changed me,âÄù she said. âÄúI donâÄôt think thatâÄôs something you can ever recover from.âÄù Sitting in the audience at a panel discussion to raise awareness of violence against women Wednesday at Coffman Union, Flomo was shaking. The University was one of 11 schools included in the U.S. Department of JusticeâÄôs tour to recognize programs that serve survivors of sexual assault as well as the 15th anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which issues grants for programs that prevent violence against women, among other initiatives. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, who spoke at the event, said she read about the University student who was taken into a van near campus and sexually assaulted by three men two weeks ago. âÄúIt reminded me that every one of us is personally affected every time a crime of this kind occurs,âÄù she said, âÄúand that kind of incident really underscores the crucial need for places like the Aurora Center.âÄù The Aurora Center is one of only three schools that receives DOJ grants each year for the past 10 years, and has received more than $1 million so far. A recent Boynton Health Service survey found that 23.5 percent of female students on the Twin Cites campus have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. Much of the discussion centered on the need to educate people at an earlier age about proper and improper behaviors. âÄúViolence against women starts as violence against girls,âÄù said Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the U.S. Department of Education. One recent case Jennings read included a 14-year-old boy breaking a 12-year-old girlsâÄô nose after she broke up with him. Another case involved three teenage boys who raped a female classmate. Education regarding violence issues needs to begin much earlier than when people enroll in college, and should happen in K-12 education. âÄúThere are some people who say âÄòBoys will be boysâÄô and we flatly reject that argument,âÄù he said. âÄúFirst of all, it does a disservice to boys. Secondly, it does a disservice to history. History has taught us, if anything, in the United States, we have a power to change things.âÄù Only 12 percent to 15 percent of sexual assault cases are actually reported, said Donna Dunn, director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. âÄúThatâÄôs dangerously low,âÄù she said. âÄúThe danger is in that we donâÄôt identify offenders, we donâÄôt intervene in offending behavior and survivors donâÄôt have access to the kinds of services that will really help them recover and heal.âÄù The low reporting rate could have to do with the fact that 50 percent of rapes are committed by offenders that the victim knows, Robinson said. âÄúIn a campus environment, it may be hard to avoid the perpetrator,âÄù she said. Although talking about what happened helps, Flomo said she doesnâÄôt tell many people because sheâÄôs afraid people will blame her. âÄúI feel like they would judge me,âÄù she said. âÄúTheyâÄôre probably going to say âÄòYou asked for it.âÄôâÄù