Kent officer’s remarks at Panhellenic Council meeting raise questions about victim blaming

Victim+Blaming

Victim Blaming

Miranda Marinello

In late October, a Panhellenic Council meeting took a turn from a pedestrian review of council position responsibilities to an evening laced with discomfort after controversial remarks from Lt. Michael Lewis on the risks that come with Halloween weekend.

Uncomfortable silence overtook a meeting, which was moments before focused on upcoming board elections.

“With Halloween coming up, you ladies represent potential victims and I’m gonna speak to that in a number of different ways,” Lewis said. “Halloween is the biggest party night of the year by far. Kent State students are not always our biggest problem — but you are the attraction.”

Julia Telford, a junior communications major who was in attendance, did not expect the subject matter to turn so dark.

“I was expecting him to … give just like a safety precaution,” Telford said. “Like, ‘If this happens you should do this’ or ‘If you feel uncomfortable, here’s a contact number,’ instead of literally … slut-shaming everybody there.”

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, more than half of all sexual assaults on college campuses occur in the first four months of the school year.

“One of the projects I’ve been working on is that there are certain times of year that are more risky,” said RaeAnn Anderson, a research associate of psychology at Kent State and postdoctoral fellow in trauma and violence research.

She said since Halloween is during the time when risks are higher, it is everyone’s responsibility to be more proactive.

“That means we all as a community need to be thinking about what do we want to do,” Anderson said.

Lewis said Halloween is when groups of men, which he dubbed “wolf packs,” will come through downtown, causing trouble and starting fights at local parties.

“They’ll be accosting females,” Lewis said. “(Women) represent potential targets and potential victims. I want you to stay safe on Halloween by, number one, staying sober.”

In a comment replying to a Facebook post by Emily Cavanaugh, a speech language pathology graduate student, criticizing Lewis’ remarks, he said through Kent Police Department’s page his usual 25-minute presentation was cut to just five minutes.

“I have met with the council several times in the past, and have always been welcomed and seemingly well-received,” Lewis said in the post. “If anything in my condensed message was received in a manner in which it was not intended, I certainly want to remedy that situation.”

Lewis said he would be willing to meet with Cavanaugh, as well as any other students who felt offended by his comments.

“I stated several times last night that the safety of the students is our priority,” Lewis said.

While Anderson did not question Lewis’ motive in what he said, she did question his method.

“What’s most striking to me about what officer Lewis had to say, as a scientist who studies this — this is something I see a lot — people say lots of things and even many of them may be factual or based on facts, but they are presented in a way that is not helpful,” Anderson said. “And it’s within a narrative that is not helpful and often not true. So much of what he had to say presents campus rape as this problem that comes from somewhere else, not from campus, and that women as potential victims are responsible for stopping it.”

RAINN reports that 70 percent of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.

“I feel like as a cop he should have like given resources and said, ‘If you’re going to go out on Halloween, you need to stick with your friends, just watch out for each other. Don’t drink open drinks that someone gives you,’ like, basic information,” Telford said, adding she would never feel comfortable reporting an assault to the Kent Police.

“Basically like he told us we deserve it — whatever happens,” Telford said.

“You represent potential targets and potential victims,” Lewis said. “I want you to stay safe on Halloween by staying sober. I know that that’s a joke to a lot of you: ‘Yeah right, I’m not gonna drink on Halloween.’”

Lewis recommended going out and staying with groups as a way to stay safe.

“As you become separated from your group of friends you become a much easier target for those wolf packs,” Lewis said. “They can easily attack or drug a female who has strayed away from her friends and becomes an easy victim. I would discourage you from even attending the parties that go on (during Kent Halloween).”

Anderson said telling college students what to do has been found to be ineffective.

“So rather than telling people not to do things … let’s tell people how to do things in a way that they can be more thoughtful about,” Anderson said. “What are the risks they’re comfortable taking and what are the risks they’re not comfortable taking?”

Anderson also questioned the idea of “wolf packs” of men coming to Kent every year.

“There may be some truth to that, but that’s certainly not the overwhelming majority of cases,” Anderson said. “The overwhelming majority of cases are students attacking other students, and yes, women are potential victims — so are young men, actually. A lot more college men experience sexual assault than we often acknowledge.”

About one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape, according to RAINN.

Anderson recommended Kent State’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services and various student groups endorsed by the Women’s Center for those looking for comprehensive education and information on sexual assault.

“(SRVSS), in my experience, are very up to date on the literature, as far as research because there is a lot of new information coming out about this topic,” Anderson said. “We’re learning more and more each day, and it’s fast-paced change in some ways.”

Miranda Marinello is the Greek life reporter. Contact her at [email protected]