Attorney appointed to panel on Campus Sexual Assault

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Michigan First Lady Sue Snyder recently appointed attorney Sarah Prout Rennie, the executive director of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence in Okemos, to the Campus Sexual Assault Workgroup.

The mission of the panel is developing resources for survivors of sexual and domestic assault on college campuses to be available to Michigan-based college and university campuses and their community partners. The Workgroup also will develop a survivor handbook, which will be released at the third annual “Inform. Empower. Prevent.” summit on Monday, Sept. 25 at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

 “As a state, we need to do everything we can to make sure survivors receive the support and resources they need in order to start the long journey toward healing,” Snyder said in a statement. “This is another step forward as we continue our work to make Michigan a model state in addressing sexual assault on college and university campuses.”

This Workgroup is a natural fit for Rennie, who for two years has served as executive director of the MCEDSV, which was founded in 1979. For the last two years, it has been funded by the Victims of Crime Act (passed in 1984), to provide technical assistance, training, and legislative advocacy on Title IX issues and campus sexual assault across Michigan.

Title IX, passed in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments, is the federal civil rights law forbidding discrimination based on sex or gender in programs receiving federal funding. This regulation applies to students, employees of the institution, third parties or visitors. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization ACT/Campus SaVE Act – published October 20, 2014 – added a new section to Title IX compliance titled “Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act” (Campus SaVE Act), which amends the Clery Act (and the Higher Education Act of 1965) Sec 304. It added new sexual misconduct categories: sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Furthermore, it separates ethnicity/national origin and includes sexual orientation.

“Many other additional universities and colleges used (Snyder’s) campus grants to contract with us to help them design prevention and bystander programs. All in all, the (MCEDSV) is working with (more than) 20 universities and colleges across Michigan, many of them in the Upper Peninsula or in rural communities that would not normally receive such assistance. As a result of this work, I was asked to be part of the Campus Sexual Assault Workgroup,” said Rennie, who lives in Berkley with her husband and three children.

Rennie called the Workgroup a “game-changer” in the state of Michigan.

“Before (Snyder’s) commitment to ending sexual assault in Michigan, together with the grants that began three years ago, there was no mechanism for smaller colleges to leverage resources and receive technical assistance on campus sexual assault matters. The grants that have been awarded changed the landscape of Michigan, making us a leader in the country by creating a statewide effort to end campus sexual assault. The workgroup that has convened is the culmination of this effort and will produce a best practices product to be used statewide. To my knowledge, no other state has engaged in this type of innovative effort,” said Rennie.

According to Rennie, one in four women and one in nine men will be sexually assaulted on a college campus during their freshman year. In recent years, former Vice President Joe Biden and several members of the U.S. Senate are credited with helping raise awareness of campus sexual assault. Concurrently, there have been grassroots movements of campus sexual assault survivors, which have been highlighted in the 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground.”

“Decreasing sexual violence is a two-pronged approach,” Rennie said. “Perpetrators of sexual violence must be held accountable and campuses must work to end a college culture that condones sexual violence. To accomplish the second prong, colleges and universities must commit to changing campus norms, education, and create a long-term strategy that is campus-wide.”

A Port Huron native, Rennie graduated from EMU in 1995 with her undergraduate degree in English literature. In 1998, she graduated with his juris doctor in law from the University of Toledo College of Law. She began her career volunteering for what is now the Michigan Advocacy Program.

“While there, I worked for some amazing and dedicated attorneys; their intervention in their clients’ cases had an immediate and deep impact not only in providing access to justice for the client in poverty, but often made the clients’ overall quality of life better. I was awed by the power of a law degree to make a difference and inspired by the quality and professionalism of the lawyering I observed. It made me want to be just like those attorneys,” explained Rennie.

For 12 years, Rennie was the litigation director for Lakeshore Legal Aid, which covers 16 counties and is headquartered in Detroit. She became the executive director for the MCEDSV in April 2015.

“I began my career in legal services and my experience showed me that not only did poverty make accessing the legal system difficult, victims in trauma and in poverty were particularly vulnerable to perpetrators abusing the legal system. I was excited to be able to level the playing field as an attorney. I am now able to take that boots-on-the-ground advocacy to inform the statewide advocacy work that is the mission of the (MCEDSV),” explained Rennie.

She believes she is making a difference for victims of sexual and domestic assault through her work at the MCEDSV and will continue to do so through the Workgroup.

“I have spent 20 years working directly with survivors and have seen a huge shift in attitudes towards victims of sexual assault,” said Rennie. “Even the fact that we are discussing the importance of campus sexual assault demonstrates the difference we are making.”

She continued: “I’d like to thank (Snyder) for her leadership and highlight the important work that advocates do to end sexual assault every day. In the end, this is about the young men and women whose lives are forever changed by sexual violence. Survivors of sexual violence can heal, but to do so, their pain has to be acknowledged and their perpetrator held accountable… I am honored to serve on the Workgroup. Snyder’s efforts have made Michigan a leader in ending sexual assault. The members of the Workgroup represent the best Michigan has to offer and it is very humbling to be part of this effort.”


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