On March 3, 2021, a group of three students launched @metoo_sau, an Instagram account dedicated to sharing the stories of Southern’s students who have experienced sexual assault and misconduct on and off campus. The account, which has 146 followers as of March 30, also provides various resources for victims.
The Southern Accent reached out to administrators of the @metoo_sau page through Instagram direct messages. And, though they provided information, the account owners wanted to remain anonymous to keep their account a “safe place for everyone to share their story.”
According to the page administrators, they felt there was a need for a community on campus for those with stories of sexual assault, which inspired them to create the account. Since the launching of the Instagram page, the account has posted alleged stories of sexual harassment, grooming, coercion and other stories of sexual misconduct.
“We want this account to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse on college campuses,” @metoo_sau administrators said. “We want to create a safe place for survivors to share their stories. We also recognize that, with awareness, comes education to prevent further sexual abuse.”
Vice President for Student Development Dennis Negrón said he is not surprised that the account exists, as he recognizes the prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct in society.
“Sexual violence is a reality,” he said. “And it permeates all aspects of life, and, unfortunately, permeates even religious life.
“… I know that simply because I am involved in Title IX on campus,” he added. “So, the fact that there is a #MeToo SAU account doesn’t surprise me.”
One of the goals on Southern’s campus is to create a culture where those who see or hear something that appears to be sexual assault or misconduct will report it, according to Negrón. He said Southern offers various resources to victims of sexual assault, such as counselors who are specifically trained in that area and confidential groups for students to join.
Over the years, Campus Safety has offered self-defense classes through a Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) program. However, that class has been on hold since the beginning of COVID-19. RAD leaders are trying to find ways to continue the program safely on campus, according to Fire and Safety Specialist Josh Fraker.
Negrón said resources for sexual assault victims will be more openly advertised and readily available at the new Bietz Center for Student Life, as the resources currently don’t lend themselves well in terms of promotion.
“When students come into the new area, promotional materials are going to be front and center,” Negrón said. “Right now, we have this really small brochure holder, and it’s easily missed. But it’s not going to be missed when we move into the new building — sexual assault prevention is going to have a much bigger presence.”
So far, stories shared at @metoo_sau occurred, allegedly, both off and on campus, with some students reporting incidents that they said occurred before they came to Southern.
According to Know Your IX, a project founded in 2013 by an organization called Advocates for Youth that encourages students to speak against sexual assault in their schools, 19% of women and 5% of men will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. Of that percentage, only 12% of cases are reported to authorities. In 2019, Southern reported one case of rape and nine cases of stalking. There were no reported cases of dating violence, domestic violence, fondling, incest or statutory rape. To date, no numbers have been released for the year 2020.
@metoo_sau page administrators promise confidentiality by using Lipsi, an anonymous messaging app, to collect the stories. Due to the nature of the app, administrators cannot see who submitted the message. In addition, @metoo_sau also discourages followers from reposting survivors’ experiences unless he or she specifically asks for their story to be shared.
“We have asked our followers to avoid reposting survivor stories,” @metoo_sau administrators said. “However, we have also stated on our account that sharing a story does run the risk of it being shared elsewhere. Though, we do ask for the stories to stay on our page.”
According to page administrators, if they feel the author of a submitted story is in danger, they will ask the author to reach out. While they do not believe that it is their place to report for someone else, as they feel that “doing so could endanger them further,” the app also includes a feature that allows them to report anything that could be classified as criminal activity.
Negrón said he hopes students who report incidents of sexual violence on the Instagram account would be encouraged to come forward in order to receive help.
“The fact is, I’m reading the posts, too,” he said. “Granted, I don’t know who wrote the post. But if I see something, I’ll be alerted. And hopefully, I can get one of my investigators to do some research.”
In addition to Southern, administrators of @sau_metoo also provide resources to sexual abuse survivors. On their linktree link, they have the contact information for the National Sexual Assault Hotline, National Domestic Violence Hotline, Southern’s Title IX form and a link to schedule an appointment with Associate Chaplain Anna Bennett.
“We believe that sharing these resources is extremely important because we want this page to be a well-rounded resource for survivors to come and receive help if desired,” page administrators said. “We also want to be clear that we want this page to work with the campus resources and not against it. That being said, we understand that some people do not feel comfortable sharing with the resources on campus, so that is why we have the hotline resources as well.”
Essentially, administrators of the #MeToo SAU platform said they seek to inform students that their stories matter and that they are not alone in their experiences. “We are a group of three students that just want to create a place for other individuals to safely share their stories…” @metoo_sau page administrators said. “Students must be aware that sexual harassment and assault are not uncommon occurrences. Many people may believe that their experience is not traumatic enough to talk about. We want students to know that there is never a story that is too small.”