After a year-long process to report her own assault and convict her attacker, Kristi Kremers is working to help sexual assault victims report their experiences.
Kremers, a graduate student and former Graduate and Professional Student Assembly president, is now putting together a focus group for survivors at the University of Minnesota.
She received a grant from the Women’s Center for the “Be Counted, Be Heard: The Experiences of Sexual Assault Victims at the University of Minnesota” project. She hopes the first group will meet in early December.
The goal of the group is to not only encourage victims to report their assaults, but also to raise awareness in the University community about the prevalence of sexual assault.
“When you know the person you’re talking to has been through the same path before, it’s easier to trust them,” Kremers said.
Kremers’ own experience occurred in July 2010. She was walking to her apartment on the St. Paul campus when she was approached by a man from behind who grabbed her buttocks. Kremers screamed and was able to scare away the attacker.
Though Kremers said she believed her attacker intended to rape her, he could only be charged with a misdemeanor for assault since he touched her over clothing.
Minnesota law regarding fifth-degree criminal sexual contact “does not include the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the buttocks.”
Kremers said this is because years ago, spanking was acceptable.
After the incident, she ran into multiple barriers trying to report it. Drawing from her background in student government, Kremers decided to look into the Clery Act, which requires all schools that participate in the federal financial aid program to disclose information about campus crimes, including sexual assault.
Under the Clery Act, “campus security authorities” including student health centers, women’s centers, deans, coaches, faculty advisers and housing directors are required to report incidences of sexual assault.
With the help of an ad-hoc campus safety committee between GAPSA and the Minnesota Student Association, Kremers expanded the definition of sexual assault in the Clery Act to more broadly include any unwanted sexual contact and changed the University’s annual Clery Report to include cases of simple assault.
“If people aren’t reporting, then these perpetrators are out there on the loose and victimizing other people,” she said.
Kremers also wants to fight the “culture of silence” surrounding sexual violence and sexual assault at the University.
“It’s the most underreported crime in the U.S.,” said Katie Eichele Interim Director for the Aurora Center. “It can be very intimidating for survivors to come forward.”
Even if reports increase, it doesn’t necessarily mean incidents increase, Eichele said. It can mean that more victims are coming forward.
Kremers said most victims just want to forget. It takes time before they feel comfortable talking about it, as the Pennsylvania State University sex abuse scandal shows.
“Unfortunately the Penn State situation demonstrates how easy it is to sweep sexual violence under the rug,” she said. “Hopefully we can prevent this with more scrutiny and procedures that people are actually going to pay attention to.”
Kremers’ court case was extended more than a year. After seven different court hearings, her case was finally settled this month. The suspect eventually pled guilty, so there was no need to go to trial.
Kremers said she was shocked at how far the process was drawn out. But after speaking with a bailiff, she learned that extended court hearings are not abnormal.
“It’s a strategy by the defense in hopes the victim gives up, and they do unfortunately,” she said. “To make it through that far takes a lot of time and energy.”