CRIME

For one Ole Miss student, campus efforts against violence prevention measures were not enough

claudia
Claudia Caplinger

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
cfcaplin@go.olemiss.edu

As University of Mississippi police continue to investigate a recent report of sexual assault on the UM campus, a new organization is working to create awareness about the subject at Ole Miss.

One in five women ages 16-24 is assaulted during her college experience, according to statistics from the University of Mississippi’s Violence Prevention page. After the assault occurs, less than five percent will actually report it to the police.

Two years ago, University of Mississippi senior Elizabeth Romary decided to change these statistics. Romary attended the screening of “The Hunting Ground” sponsored by the Honors College Student Union.

“The Hunting Ground” is a documentary about an incident of sexual assault on a college campus, in which the college administration fails to deal with it correctly. It inspired Romary to create the group Rebels Against Sexual Assault.

“There was a panel with the director of violence prevention, the Title IX coordinator at the time, and a UPD officer,” she said. “I asked if a student group focused around the issue of sexual assault existed and was told that one did not.”

Romary and other students decided to start RASA. The mission of the organization is to provide the University of Mississippi community with peer education, resources, and prevention methods for sexual assault and dating violence.

The organization has been on campus since August 2015. “We provide a supportive network to survivors who want someone to talk to, and we raise awareness about the issues on campus by collaborating with other organizations for peer education presentations and campus events.”

The University Police Department is currently investigating a sexual assault reported Sept. 17 when a female student told police she was held against her will and assaulted on the University of Mississippi campus.

According to an updated UPD news release sent to Oxford Stories Monday afternoon, a student reported that at approximately 12:30 a.m., she entered a vehicle that she believed was a taxi in the area of Poole Drive and Chucky Mullins Drive.

The woman told police she was held against her will and assaulted inside the vehicle before being released at approximately 3 a.m. in the area of Rebel Drive and Northgate Drive. The woman’s items were found on the north side of Jackson Avenue near Sorority Row.

The vehicle is described as a van or large SUV, and the attacker was described as a bald man in his mid-30s to mid-40s. Those with information about the case are urged to call the UPD at 662-915-4911 or email upd@olemiss.edu.

The UPD offered the following safety tips about attending events.

  • Attend the event with a friend.
  • Do not accept an open drink from anyone.
  • Let a friend know what your plans are.
  • Call someone when you are leaving so they know when to expect you to arrive.
  • If you are alone, utilize Rebel Patrol (662-915-4911) to escort you.
  • Resources and support are available for those who experience violence. Visit umsafe.olemiss.edu.

Eight incidents of sexual assault/rape were reported to law enforcement in 2014 on the University of Mississippi’s Oxford campus, according to the 2015 FBI Uniform Crime Report.

Romary believes there is a need for RASA considering events of assault on campuses, such as the People vs. Turner case at Stanford University.

The People vs. Turner case is a nationally recognized case in which Brock Allen Turner was convicted of three counts felony sexual assault.  While the prosecutors recommended six years, Turner was only sentenced six months confinement followed by three years probation.

“As a survivor of sexual assault, this is a very important issue to me, and I felt that awareness needed to be brought to this campus,” Romary said.

Thinking she would be not be taken seriously, Romary refrained from reporting her assault.

“I was sexually assaulted my freshman year,” she said. “I didn’t report (it), and I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t think I had anyone to turn to. I thought I would be looked over.”

Now that she is comfortable sharing her story with others due to the overflow of support she received, she wants others to feel the same comfort.

When asked about the procedure for reporting sexual assault, Romary said she “believes in the procedure we have.” “Students can report it to the UPD, Title IX or the violence prevention office, then the case moves forward from there,” she said. “But I also believe that if a person doesn’t want to report it, they should not have to. It’s their decision.”

Romary believes that since RASA came to campus, more people are becoming comfortable coming forward because they know they have the support of RASA.

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Romary works as a receptionist in the Croft institute.

Involved in over six organizations, Romary keeps a busy schedule.  She is involved in the Honors College, Croft Institute and Phi Mu. In addition, Romary is the It’s On Us director of RASA, chairwoman of the student life committee on ASB senate, and she serves on the It’s On Us national student advisory committee. It’s On Us is a national organization with a similar mission statement as RASA.

“I am one of three representatives for the Southern region,” she said. “I reach out to student leaders of other colleges and universities and help them plan events and pledge drives for the campaign.”

Through It’s On Us, Romary connects with 28 other students from around the country to talk about how they can help students like herself with preventive efforts. Romary performs the day to day functions as the It’s On Us director for RASA.

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Adam Schoenbachler, a friend and fellow Croft Institute member, describes Romary as “dedicated.”

“Elizabeth works hard for what she believes in,” he said. “She’s passionate and often offers interesting insight on the ways of the world.”

Jennifer Tongret, one of Romary’s sorority sisters said, she is a “vivacious, natural leader.”

“From the beginning, she helped start the conversation about lowering sexual assault here,” she said. “To have seen her progress from a campus-wide movement, like RASA, to the nationwide movement, It’s On Us, has been so rewarding as her friend. Her spirit towards this is so genuine that it’s hard not to be pulled towards that energy and inspired by what she’s doing.”

Romary will be graduating in the spring. She said she does not have any concrete plans yet, but would like to continue working with sexual assault programs.

“I am looking to find a way to continue my work with the It’s On Us campaign,” Romary said.

When asked about her plans after college, Romary said she hopes to travel the world and teach English for a year, then pursue film school.

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