University town hall puts sexual assault, rape culture at forefront

Students protest rape culture at University of Memphis. (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Students protest rape culture at University of Memphis. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Protests at University of Memphis inspired the creation of a town hall meeting to respond to cases of students being raped.

A heated meeting on the University of Memphis campus Wednesday night addressed sexual assault and sexual harassment. University president David Rudd said the town hall meeting is designed to create an open conversation about "ridding our campus of this abhorrent behavior."

At least two students have been attacked in off-campus incidents in the last week. They are just a small portion of women in America who have been sexually assaulted.

The meeting lasted about two hours. University officials said they take all reports seriously, and their policy when it comes to addressing an allegation is also serious.

"It's important for me because I have to live on this campus too, as well as my friends - we all have to live on this campus, so we need to be aware of what's going on," freshman Desiree Dyson said.

At Wednesday's town hall, University officials couldn't address individual cases due to privacy issues but made it clear they take every allegation and campus policy violation seriously.

"If a criminal act has occurred, I'm going to be the first person to step up and say that person needs to go to prison," U of M President David Rudd said.

But, they also admit they have to respect police investigations.

The hashtag #MeToo is trending on social media sites around the country. It is a social media push to pull the veil back on America's rape culture. In other words, to show people that the problem of sexual harassment and assault is more widespread than many people think.

Memphis students said movements that inspire people to speak up will help lead to change.

"This open conversation also provides a lot of protection for other people. That could be past victims who want to come out and talk or future victims," freshman Scott Baxter said.

"It's absolutely necessary. It's such a touchy subject that a lot of people are scared to talk about it, and I definitely think it's something that needs to be touched on," sophomore Matthews Summer said.

President Rudd said he hopes the university's town hall meeting helps shed light on the problem and helps students better understand the process of investigating sexual assault cases.

"It's time to say what happened to us. It's time to fight to be believed and to get these people who are vicious perpetrators dealt with," said Deborah Clubb, executive director of Memphis Area Women's Council.

It was a conversation on a touchy subject that many said was necessary.

"It's important. Rape needs to be talked about and so many victims have come forward in the last few days because they're more comfortable," sophomore Hannah Lawrence said.

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