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Fight: Missoula combats sexual assault

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Freshman year, Abbey Ardiana found herself in an uncomfortable situation when a guy pressured her to go farther than she wanted to. Ardiana met him on campus in the fall. They’d gone on a few dates, but weren’t committed to anything serious.

Ardiana was house sitting one weekend and invited some friends over for dinner. After everyone left, Ardiana said she was at the house by herself, and the guy showed up. It was 2 in the morning. He was drunk.

Ardiana walked him back to his dorm, and accepted his invitation to watch TV. She said he started to kiss her, and tried to do more, but she stopped him.

She immediately got out of his bed, grabbed her jacket and left. The guy glared at her the whole time, but Ardiana didn’t care.

“I was like, how dare you think I was in the wrong,” she said.

Ardiana is a third degree taekwondo black belt. Through her training, she’s developed a strong sense of self-worth, and believes confidence can make difference in a girl’s safety.

“Even if a girl is scared to death, if she walks into a room tall and confident, it’s like, don’t fuck with me.”


Gracie Ryan / Montana Kaimin

Taekwondo black belt Abbey Ardiana spars with her brother, Dylan at practice. When Abbey was young, her parents signed her up for ballet, but quit to do Taekwondo with her brother.


Over the past few years, the University of Montana and Missoula have worked to address sexual assault from a range of angles. Students organized self defense classes, and UM mandated bystander intervention training for all students living in the residence halls. But the Missoula community has fought to address issues surrounding sexual assault before the media spotlight hit in 2012, and old programs have inspired new resources.


 

 Gracie Ryan / Montana Kaimin

SARC Advocacy Coordinator Leah Fitch leads a Bystander Intervention Training in Miller Hall in February. The training is mandatory for all students living in the residence halls.


 

As the community gains awareness and prevention programs grow, the question remains: are UM and the city of Missoula doing enough to prevent sexual assault?    

Sexual assault in Missoula was highlighted in the media starting in January 2012 when two of the star players on the Griz football team, Jordan Johnson and Beau Donaldson, were accused of rape. In May 2012, the Department of Justice and Department of Education responded to the mishandling of reports of sexual violence by launching an investigation into UM and Missoula County. The DOJ looked into the 80 cases of sexual assault that were reported in Missoula over three years.

UM has 2,677 fewer students than they did in Fall 2011, the semester before sexual assault allegations shook the Missoula community. Peggy Kuhr, vice president for integrated communications at UM, said the decline is mostly due to financial reasons, but that publicity likely had an effect as well.

The conversation amplified again after investigative journalist and author Jon Krakauer announced his April 21 release date for his newest book: “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.”

The book looks at the issue of rape on college campuses through the stories of multiple UM women who have experienced sexual assault, according to Krakauer's website.


Self-Defense on Campus

Over the past few years, students have organized self-defense classes in response to the issue, with varying levels of success.

Last semester, a group of residence assistants organized a “Safety and Self-Defense” workshop. They hung posters around the halls with a picture of a woman kicking next to the words, “How not to be a target! Basic self-defense skills.” Director of Residence Life Sandy Schoonover was restricted from releasing the names of the RAs for comment.

As a woman and student living in the residence halls, social work major Beth Glueckert found the signs offensive.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to take self-defense classes. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to worry about walking down the street,” Glueckert said. "But just saying that, ‘As a woman, I'm a target,’ and putting a woman on that poster, I just have a problem with it."


 Gracie Ryan / Montana Kaimin

When Ardiana was in fifth grade, the boys in her class called her 'steroid woman' because of how often she trained.


 

Her experience at the training wasn’t much better. Glueckert, five feet tall, felt that her height made a lot of techniques difficult, especially when paired with the instructor, a former UM Police Department officer. One required Glueckert to lay on her back, arms over head, while the officer pinned down her biceps with his knees. He told her to try to push him off using her arms, but she wasn’t strong enough. He told her to try to kick the back of his head with her foot, but she couldn’t reach. Glueckert said there were about 15 people at the class, a few of who were also short and struggled with the moves.

In November, Glueckert attended another self-defense class that focused on the benefits of bystander intervention and taught practical self-defense skills. Glueckert felt more comfortable at the second class — there were no RAs, and the instructor was a student — not an officer. The self-defense portion focused on standing attacks that people of any size could do, like locking a leg around an attacker to trip them.

Community health major Rachael Schmoker organized the event and prefaced the class with a 30-minute discussion about bystander intervention.

Although Schmoker believes learning self-defense can be empowering, she worries about the implication that people are more likely to be attacked by a stranger hiding in the bushes than they are by someone they know. According to a study by the Department of Justice, 82 percent of sexual assaults happen with an acquaintance. Many of these acquaintance-based rapes involve alcohol, Schmoker said, and many people don’t realize alcohol is the number one date rape drug. Alcohol can make it hard for people to defend themselves against an attack, she said, and they’re even less likely to do so if the attacker is a friend.

Schmoker thinks bystander intervention is a more effective method than self-defense because it encourages not only awareness and discussion, but community participation — which she says is key to fixing a cultural issue. 


Female Martial Artist Teaches Defense

Missoula Taekwondo Center co-founder Amanda Rosbarsky started a self- defense campaign called Worth the Fight in fall 2012. Rosbarsky said most self defense classes are taught by men, which can be a deal breaker for victims of sexual assault.


Gracie Ryan / Montana Kaimin

Abbey Ardiana is a third degree black belt and competes for the Missoula Taekwondo Center's national events team.


 

The classes start with what Rosbarsky considers the most crucial, baseline self-defense technique: a mindset of self-worth. It’s the message at the heart of the program that a woman should have the confidence and respect to account for her own safety.

Rosbarsky teaches the class that the best tool a person has is their voice. She also teaches basic risk reduction techniques, like not wearing a ponytail when walking alone at night, because it can be used as a handle, and carrying a Sharpie pen on a keychain to mark up an attacker's face.  

“I think that in an idealistic world, we should just teach people not to perpetrate,” Rosbarsky said.”But in the real world, there is violence that is happening and you can’t control someone else — the only person truly in your control is yourself.”

Rosbarsky hopes to see the program taught in all Missoula middle schools and high schools. She says she also realizes it's an uncomfortable topic for people to address.

Ardiana helps lead Worth the Fight seminars and wants to be an example for the girls. She said the lessons she teaches helped her have the confidence to say no to the guy who pressured her freshman year.

“If any of them had ever seen that situation and seen me not stand up for myself, that would be setting the wrong example,” Ardiana said. “It’s one thing to be here and to be like, ‘You guys should stand up for yourselves,’ but for me not to practice what I preach, it’s just not OK to me.”


UM Mandates Bystander Intervention

This semester, UM’s Student Assault Resource Center implemented a DOJ-mandated bystander intervention program for all students living in the residence halls. The classes start with a discussion about what a bystander is and effective ways to intervene. They watch a New Zealand film called “Who Are You?” which shows the events leading up to a sexual assault. After the movie, the students identify bystanders in the film and discuss what they could have done to step in.

SARC Advocacy Coordinator Leah Fitch, who leads the classes, thinks it’s crucial freshmen have this conversation as soon as they arrive at UM.

“We need to make sure that freshman know, as soon as they get on campus, that this is just not acceptable, and that’s the norm,” Fitch said.

Freshmen are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault during the first six weeks of college, SARC Administrative Assistant Tawnya Cazier said. This window of time, called the red zone, is partially due to the accessibility of alcohol, Cazier said, as well as a lack of understanding of both consent and assault.

“Someone might think, 'oh, well, she’s drunk, but she can still kind of walk, so she can fight me off or say no,'” Cazier says. “I think the only way to address that is to start talking about it earlier. What does consent mean and what does it look like?”


Gracie Ryan / Montana Kaimin

Kappa Sigma fraternity members take a survey before bystander intervention training Sunday night. The fraternity members discussed what it means to be a pro social bystander.


 

Bystander intervention training also has its challenges. For starters, Fitch thinks the hour-long class is too short to talk in-depth about the issue. But freshman Will Johnson felt like the class dragged on, and he lost interest by the end.

Although the training was mandatory, some students never heard about it. Maizie Smith lives in Knowles Hall and said she and her friends didn’t know the class existed.

Fitch thinks feedback was promising from the 550 students who did attend. Before the class, 62 percent of students felt confident they could safely intervene. After the class, that number jumped to 86 percent.

Fitch said the feedback indicated some students felt they were accused of being rapists. Even with its problems, she believes education and positive social action are a more effective prevention method than ones that focus on the individual, like self-defense classes.

“Our stance is that, people have been doing self-defense for years and years and that is not reducing the rate of sexual assault,” Fitch said. “It also shifts the focus from the perpetrators to saying, ‘OK, you need to make sure you protect yourself,’ and almost saying, ‘If you don’t protect yourself then it’s your fault.’”

Fitch hopes bystander intervention training will happen more frequently, and will involve a wider community. Last fall, SARC trained Sigma Chi, the Harry Potter Alliance and ROTC. This spring, SARC is training four other fraternities and one sorority and ultimately hope to reach as many student groups as possible. Fitch also thinks it’s crucial to start talking about issues like consent and healthy relationships before college.


Old Programs Inspire New Programs

Some Missoula community members have been addressing these issues before the media attention in 2012.

In 2007, an afterschool program that encourages physical activity and leadership skills for young girls was introduced to the YWCA and has recently inspired a similar program for boys.

Programs like Girls Using Their Strength gives women a safe place to discuss issues surrounding sexual assault starting at a young age, UM graduate Samantha Moore said. There are seven goals of the program including cultivating positive body images, increasing self-esteem and creating positive change.


Gracie Ryan / Montana Kaimin

"Even if a girl is scared to death, if she walks into a room tall and confident, it's like, 'Don't fuck with me,'" Ardiana says.


 

Moore has been involved with GUTS for almost two years. One of the activities Moore does with her fourth through sixth graders is to have all of the girls write things they like about themselves on their bodies.

Moore thinks these programs and discussions shouldn’t focus only on girls. She believes it isn’t enough to empower women and that boys need to be involved in the conversation.

Last fall, National Coalition Building Institute started a brother program to GUTS, called Boys Respecting All Diversity for fourth and fifth grade boys at Hawthorne Elementary School. Americorps Vista Ben Mincks said a few teachers felt there was a lack of resources and programs for the male students.

Mincks said since most rapes and violent crimes are committed by men, support programs are important for young boys. B-RAD focuses on diversity, gender and leadership.

In October, the group compared boys' and girls' Halloween costumes. They compared a fully-dressed boy Nemo to a scantily clad girl Nemo. Mincks said it’s been interesting to watch the boys think about these issues at a time when he said there’s a lot of rivalry between genders. He said it’s important to give boys an outlet to express themselves without being labeled weak or emotional.

“We’re aiming to broaden the scope of what it means to be a man,” Mincks said. “We want them to understand how important it is to respect and appreciate women and all genders and that it can be more rewarding when working across gender lines.”

Mincks said NCBI is looking into funding opportunities to expand B-RAD to middle schools and high schools and plans to start at C.S. Porter Middle School in fall 2015.


Looking Ahead

As UM and Missoula experiment with different prevention methods, the community continues to educate and raise awareness about sexual assault. Clinical psychologist Christine Fiore specializes in issues surrounding sexual assault, and thinks it’s crucial that the University considers student feedback and welcomes different methods.

“It’s a community and a cultural issue for us to work together to resolve the inequalities that exist,” Fiore said. “We need to continue to be open and honest about other ideas, alternative approaches — anything we can do that will reduce the likelihood that this issue will persist.”

Next month, one UM student will host an interactive bystander intervention play, which gives audience members the opportunity to practice stepping in. Peggy Kuhr said the University will continue to update online tutorials, as well as look at other campuses for ideas.


 

Gracie Ryan / Montana Kaimin

Kappa Sigma fraternity member Chad Engstrom discusses how a person might intervene to prevent a sexual assault.


 

“I think there is a real magnifying glass on this issue and I think a lot of people feel it’s time. I think what people don’t realize is there are dozens of people on campus who are really working hard,” Kuhr said. “There are people who will say, ‘Won’t you be glad when you have this behind you?’ But I look at this as an issue that will always be in front of us and is something we can learn from.”

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grace.ryan@umontana.edu