“It Scares Me:” Men Speak Up to Reduce Sexual Violence

Students at the University of Vermont lent their time to a walk and run benefiting the LKW Fund, which works to reduce sexual violence in the state

This weekend, Burlington, Vermont remembered Laura Kate Winterbottom, who was kidnapped, raped and murdered nine years ago. The annual Laura's March raised money and awareness to reduce sexual violence in the Burlington area.

Laura Winterbottom's sister, Leigh Winterbottom, told New England Cable News about 250 people took part, raising about $20,000, with donations still coming in.

Money raised for the Laura Kate Winterbottom Memorial Fund will benefit three groups: H.O.P.E. Works, which provides prevention programs and support services to survivors of sexual violence, the Pride Center of Vermont, which advocates for safe relationships for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Vermonters, and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program (SANE) at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Organizers said sororities from the University of Vermont, including Alpha Chi Omega, Delta Delta Delta, and Kappa Delta, have shown strong support for Laura's March. Fraternity members from UVM's Alpha Gamma Rho and Pi Kappa Alpha also took part this year.

The UVM campus chapter of the national group One in Four joined in Laura's March, as well. The group educates fraternities, ROTC members, and others on a peer-to-peer basis about sexual assault and other forms of unwanted sexual advances.

"It scares me, and it scares a lot of people who I know," said UVM junior Alex Morgart, a member of One in Four, describing sexual assaults. "A lot of people don't want to talk about this."

Morgart said the group holds seminars and shows videos that help a male audience understand how someone experiences an unwanted sexual advance. The efforts also encourage young men to speak up and not just be a bystander if they witness something that doesn't feel right at a party.

Morgart said he was motivated to get involved when female friends expressed concern about their safety and revealed they had guys be more sexually aggressive toward them than what they had consented to.

"Be aware of situations, never be confrontational, and be willing to listen," Morgart said, describing some of the essential messages of the male education program from One in Four. "When you have an all-male audience, you don't have to worry about them feeling judged by other people in the room."

One in Four says its name refers to the number of women reporting they survived a rape or an attempted rape.

"If we're going to impact change, we need to talk about it," said Jeanne Kaczka-Valliere, the development director of H.O.P.E. Works. "For so many years, we've been taking to young women about how to keep yourself safe from sexual assault and sexual violence, and we're seeing a real shift now-- where we're saying this is a community issue; it's going to take the whole community to get involved to change something, and that includes men and young men."

"I think it's absolutely critical," Kim Vansell with the U.S. Justice Department-funded National Center for Campus Public Safety said of the impact men can have on impacting their peers' behavior. "It makes sense that if the majority of perpetrators are men, that men need to be a part of the solution."

Vansell pointed out campuses are generally very safe places, and noted that a majority of men do not commit sexually-charged crimes. She acknowledged that alcohol consumption is a component in many unwanted sexual advances, which tend to affect more women than men. Vansell also pointed out forcible rape by a stranger is rare. Sexual contact with an acquaintance is more common. Unwanted touching, aggressive dancing, or high-pressure cornering of someone would be other examples of situations young people may encounter, she indicated.

Morgart knows there's no quick fix to the issue, but said he is glad to lend his voice to those saying something has to change.

"It's getting through to people," he said. "While Burlington isn't one of the cities that the highest problem, it's a college campus: and these are the places where it's extremely prevalent and this is where we need to stop it."

One in Four also has a program for women, according to its website. Other New England colleges with One in Four chapters include Western New England University and Connecticut College, the group’s website says.

For more information on the Laura Kate Winterbottom Memorial Fund, including how to donate, visit the fund's website.

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