Taylor Foxx

(Rock Hill, S.C.) –- Students on college campuses, including at Winthrop University, have begun discussing the topic of sexual assault as a result of the #MeToo movement.

The conversation has been sparked by allegations of sexual misconduct brought against many celebrities, including Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, and most recently Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

These developments have many Winthrop students asking questions, such as is their campus is safe? What effect do recent events have on survivors who want to come forward? And what services are available for survivors on campus?

Sierra Massey, a Winthrop student and member of a support group on campus for survivors, said she feels the university could do more to keep students safe on campus.

“I feel like there is a lot that needs to be worked on and that they say that we don’t have the budget for,” said Massey. “I think we need more cameras in more places, because anything can happen pretty much anywhere. It doesn’t make sense not to have cameras.”

However, Winthrop has taken action to improve safety after crimes have occurred on campus. For example, after an attempted robbery in 2016, which took place in the same area as a sexual assault case in 2014, Winthrop added more safety boxes and lights in the potentially dangerous area.

There are also resources available at the Office of Victims Assistance, which offers support for students who have fallen victim to crimes, such as sexual assault or domestic violence. The office offers advocacy, counseling and support groups for students who need help.

Desiree Black, a Winthrop student, said after she came forward as a survivor, the Office of Victims Assistance connected her with support group sessions, which helped her through a difficult situation.

“That was a pretty intense and scary process, but with the help of from the (Office of Victims Assistance) I felt safe and confident,” said Black. “It’s scary and it’s a scary process, but you have to have a lot of trust.”

Dr. Jennifer Disney, professor and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, said she fears recent accusations made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against Kavanaugh and the ultimate outcome of his confirmation, may cause victims to feel like they shouldn’t come forward about their experiences.

“I do think that a lot of survivors unfortunately may feel like: ‘Well, you can tell your story, but what would have happened if Dr. Ford would have just stayed silent? It’s the same outcome anyway. So, was it worth it,’” said Disney.

“That’s what I can hear and imagine survivors thinking. Was it worth it? And all I can say in response is, ‘I believe the truth is always worth it.’”

Disney said Winthrop hosts a number of events on sexual assault and works to create a safe environment for victims to come forward about their experiences.

Joan Harris, coordinator of the Office of Victims Assistance, said she wants students to know they understand how hard it can be to come forward.

“We believe you. We hear you. We are here to help you,” said Harris.