As a survivor of sexual violence, University of Wisconsin-Stout senior MaKayla Pederson would like to know that her trauma may help others.
Research by Pederson and Aarica Humke, seniors in human development and family studies, shows that survivors of sexual violence wish loved ones would be more supportive, but many times friends and family don’t know the best way to show that support.
Pederson and Humke will present their project, “Effective Responses to Sexual Violence,” during Research in the Rotunda from 10:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at the state Capitol in Madison. Their study will be one of seven by UW-Stout students at the event, which highlights undergraduate research throughout the UW System.
“Social support helps with healing whether it be from family, friends or online,” Pederson said.
However, the level and type of support must be determined by the survivor, Humke noted. “A lot of people don’t know what to say or how to react,” Humke said. “Even if they are supportive, their version may not be what that person needs.”
Pederson and Humke, who graduated Saturday, May 4, surveyed 11 survivors through social media, many of whom waited years to disclose the sexual violence. In addition to more support, the survivors wished loved ones would have encouraged them to get professional help, such as counseling or through an online support group.
Survivors also want loved ones to not see them differently once the violence has been disclosed. “Survivors still want to be seen as a whole person despite what they went through — the sexual violence is something substantial that happened to them, but it does not substantiate who they are as a human being,” Pederson said. “You have to validate their experience, assure them it was not their fault and that you will be there for them with whatever they need.”
Humke noted that research shows survivors report more resiliency and growing from the adversity. However, sometimes loved ones try to avoid talking about the violence or try to minimize the impact of it, which is not what survivors want. “Survivors often never fully ‘get over’ the trauma they endured, especially if they lack quality social support, but they are capable of displaying resilience by finding ways to cope and adapt to life following a traumatic experience such as sexual violence,” Humke noted.
Pederson said her past sexual violence trauma influenced her wanting to do research about other survivors. “I have found a lot of empowerment and healing through talking about my experience,” Pederson said. “Instead of letting it be just something that happened to me or a negatively impacting experience, I decided to turn it into something I could use to make a difference in helping others going through a similar experience. My goal would be for no one to have to go through what I went through, but if they do, then I hope my research and professional work can make their healing process better.”
Twenty to 25 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men are victims of forced sex while in college, and one in five women and one in 71 men are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. On average there are 321,500 victims, age 12 and older, of rape and sexual assault in the U.S., according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Yet sexual violence is often not reported, with about 63 percent of rapes going unreported, NSVRC reported.
With these kinds of statistics, Pederson and Humke believe there needs to be more education and research on helping survivors. They hope that sharing their research in the Capitol will influence perceptions in society and inspire legislators to become advocates for survivors, including supporting more education and resources on how to respond to sexual violence.
Humke and Pederson believe their research is very timely with April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month. They created the poster with teal highlights, the color for awareness about sexual violence nationwide, and will wear teal at the Capitol.
They urge anyone who is a survivor of sexual violence to seek assistance through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or through Menomonie’s Bridge to Hope which provides shelter, support information and referrals to those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. The Bridge can be contacted at 1-800-924-9918 or by texting 715-505-3640.
Kimmery Newsom, human development and family studies assistant professor, said Pederson and Humke did an excellent job. “The research that they have done is unique in that it brings to light an aspect of the aftermath of sexual violence that is seldom talked about; how to respond when someone discloses they have been sexually victimized,” said Newsom, the project adviser.
After graduation, Humke, of Greenwood, will intern this summer with Literacy Chippewa Valley to teach a parent education program at the Dunn County Jail. Her goal is to join the Peace Corps and teach English in North Macedonia.
Pederson, of Chatfield, Minn. will intern at Make-A-Wish Foundation in New Mexico as a liaison between families and those helping to make a dream come true for children. Her goal is to work in advocacy for traumatized children and their families.
Five more UW-Stout projects
Other UW-Stout projects at Research in the Rotunda include:
- Katlin Eyre, “Impacts of Life Skills Curriculum on Students’ Well-being,” junior, applied social science, Lodi
- Michaela Guerrini, “Impacts and Factors of Women in STEM Education at UW-Stout,” junior, technology education, Menomonie
- Maddie McConville, “The School to Prison Pipeline: Creations, Effects and Diminishment,” junior, applied social science, Augusta
- Devon Manuele, “Examining Low Output Hydroelectric Generator Efficiency for Mechanical Improvement,” junior, applied science, North Prairie
- Rachel Smith, “What Drug Court Treatments and Services Matter the Most,” senior, applied social science, Menomonie
- Ryan Leckel, "Replacement of Lead Water Lines," applied social science, junior, Shell Lake
UW System President Ray Cross noted in the Research in the Rotunda program how proud he is of the students. “The research projects … embody the personal and intellectual growth the students who created them have experienced,” he said.
“They are a tangible representation of our ongoing commitment to build the talent pipeline and to expand knowledge and ideas that are instrumental to the state’s success. This research is a reminder that the UW System, our students, our institutions and our faculty and staff are the engines that drive Wisconsin’s economy and deliver a significant return on investment. Experts estimate that the UW System has a $24 plus billion impact on Wisconsin’s economy every year,” he said.
The UW-Stout bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies has been reviewed by the National Council of Family Relations and is an approved program offering coursework required by the Certified Family Life Educator designation.