Grad student fights against sexual assault

A University grad student is starting a focus group for survivors of sexual assault.

by Jenna Wilcox

After a year-long process to report her own assault and convict her attacker, Kristi Kremers is working to help sexual assault victims report their experiences.

Kremers, a graduate student and former Graduate and Professional Student Assembly president, is now putting together a focus group for survivors at the University of Minnesota.

She received a grant from the WomenâÄôs Center for the âÄúBe Counted, Be Heard: The Experiences of Sexual Assault Victims at the University of MinnesotaâÄù project. She hopes the first group will meet in early December.

The goal of the group is to not only encourage victims to report their assaults, but also to raise awareness in the University community about the prevalence of sexual assault.

âÄúWhen you know the person youâÄôre talking to has been through the same path before, itâÄôs easier to trust them,âÄù Kremers said.

KremersâÄô own experience occurred in July 2010. She was walking to her apartment on the St. Paul campus when she was approached by a man from behind who grabbed her buttocks. Kremers screamed and was able to scare away the attacker.

Though Kremers said she believed her attacker intended to rape her, he could only be charged with a misdemeanor for assault since he touched her over clothing.

Minnesota law regarding fifth-degree criminal sexual contact âÄúdoes not include the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the buttocks.âÄù

Kremers said this is because years ago, spanking was acceptable.

After the incident, she ran into multiple barriers trying to report it. Drawing from her background in student government, Kremers decided to look into the Clery Act, which requires all schools that participate in the federal financial aid program to disclose information about campus crimes, including sexual assault.

Under the Clery Act, âÄúcampus security authoritiesâÄù including student health centers, womenâÄôs centers, deans, coaches, faculty advisers and housing directors are required to report incidences of sexual assault.

With the help of an ad-hoc campus safety committee between GAPSA and the Minnesota Student Association, Kremers expanded the definition of sexual assault in the Clery Act to more broadly include any unwanted sexual contact and changed the UniversityâÄôs annual Clery Report to include cases of simple assault.

âÄúIf people arenâÄôt reporting, then these perpetrators are out there on the loose and victimizing other people,âÄù she said.

Kremers also wants to fight the âÄúculture of silenceâÄù surrounding sexual violence and sexual assault at the University.

âÄúItâÄôs the most underreported crime in the U.S.,âÄù said Katie Eichele Interim Director for the Aurora Center. âÄúIt can be very intimidating for survivors to come forward.âÄù

Even if reports increase, it doesnâÄôt necessarily mean incidents increase, Eichele said. It can mean that more victims are coming forward.

Kremers said most victims just want to forget. It takes time before they feel comfortable talking about it, as the Pennsylvania State University sex abuse scandal shows.

âÄúUnfortunately the Penn State situation demonstrates how easy it is to sweep sexual violence under the rug,âÄù she said. âÄúHopefully we can prevent this with more scrutiny and procedures that people are actually going to pay attention to.âÄù

KremersâÄô court case was extended more than a year. After seven different court hearings, her case was finally settled this month. The suspect eventually pled guilty, so there was no need to go to trial.

Kremers said she was shocked at how far the process was drawn out. But after speaking with a bailiff, she learned that extended court hearings are not abnormal.

âÄúItâÄôs a strategy by the defense in hopes the victim gives up, and they do unfortunately,âÄù she said. âÄúTo make it through that far takes a lot of time and energy.âÄù