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Advocate for sexual violence prevention visits Minnesota West

WORTHINGTON -- It was an unusual crowd for Lindsay Gullingsrud.

"This is the first time I've presented where I had more men than women," noted Gullingsrud, the sexual violence prevention coordinator for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

A large group of law enforcement students and other students and instructors attended her presentation Wednesday at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

Gullingsrud reviewed the basics: one in four women and one in six men are victims of sexual assault; Native American women, Alaskan native women and those with disabilities are more likely to be assaulted.

A person is assaulted every two minutes in the United States and every 83 minutes in Minnesota.

Activities the coalition considers sexual assault vary from the obvious -- rape, child sexual abuse and incest -- to other forms: sexual harassment, commercial sexual exploitation (prostitution), female genital mutilation, pornography and sexting -- sending sexually explicit images or text via text message.

"Some are legal, some are not," she said. "Images can reinforce sexual harm to people even though they are legal."

Between processing offenders and services for victims, sexual assault cost the state $8 billion in 2005, she said.

Gullingsrud cited a study of college students by researcher David Lisak. She showed a re-enactment of an interview with one of his subjects, a man who described how he and his friends systematically intoxicated and isolated women.

The subject refers to women as "targets" and "prey" who are "staked out," and admits reacting with anger and force when one woman resisted.

"I remember thinking 'Wow, that's kind of the language we use when we prepare for hunting season,'" Gullingsrud said, explaining the language serves to dehumanize the victim.

She said while using the buddy system and not leaving drinks unattended can be helpful for the individual, "this doesn't prevent assault, because they're just going to find someone else."

Instead, she said everyone must work together to change the social norms that make violence acceptable and power something that must be taken instead of shared.

"We don't live in a society where we can talk about sex, we see it everywhere. ... but if we can't talk about intimacy, we're definitely not going to talk about when those acts are violent," she added.

She said prevention needs to occur at the individual and group level as well as from a policy and legislative standpoint.

"Can't those perpetrators be put in jail? Can't rape be charged the same as murder? I think it should be; they should be put in jail for life," said Julio Casillas, a student at Minnesota West, after the presentation. He said he was shocked by how heartless the interview subject was.

"And how he put his arm on her neck so she couldn't move," added student Josh Martinez.

The men said they had sometimes seen their peers behaving similarly, attempting to ply women with alcohol.

"Sometimes I think people do it on purpose. You can kind of tell, and you think 'What's that guy up to?'" explained Martinez.

Laura Shefte, an advocate at the Southwest Crisis Center, which arranged Gullingsrud's visit, was pleased with the turnout of about 70 people, especially the male presence.

"This was really huge for us," she said. "It's changing that normal line of thinking that it's a female issue. It's everyone's issue."