#IBelieveYou fundraiser to help fund sexual violence support group

McKenna Scherer, editor in chief

A Winona State University first-year student has played a major part in this week’s virtual #IBelieveYou Fundraiser, a collaboration between Winona State students part of the Dean’s Advisory Board (DAB) of the College of Business and the Advocacy Center of Winona.
The Advocacy Center of Winona aims to respond to, support and empower victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence in the community, providing services like emergency shelter and relocation services, legal advocacy and support groups, among other services.
However, the Advocacy Center does not currently have a support group geared towards sexual violence. The #IBelieveYou Fundraiser is hoping to change that.
Mikaela Mohr, a first-year marketing student, has worked with the Advocacy Center for years prior to her enrollment at Winona State, originally being trained as an advocate to be able to sit in on court trials. After completing the 40-hour online training, Mohr said she loved advocating in combination with event planning, which inspired her to create the fundraising event.The fundraiser was originally planned for the spring of 2020, but with COVID-19, it had to be cancelled. While Mohr said she was upset at the time, she is glad the event is still able to happen virtually in 2021.
The virtual fundraiser began on Monday at 4 p.m. and will end on Friday at noon.
Monday’s kick-off of the fundraiser also included a Q&A panel and a brief presentation by Amy Scholz of Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center to speak about signs of sexual violence, prevention tactics and resources for those experiencing sexual violence.
The panel included the Director of the Advocacy Center, members of local law enforcement and Winona State’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), among others.
The virtual fundraiser will feature more than 25 local businesses and organizations, including Island City Brewing Company, Blooming Grounds downtown, the Winona Police Department, Toppers and the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce, each donating their services and/or a basket of items valued at at least $50. Each basket winner will be contacted shortly after the fundraiser’s end.
In 2020 alone, the Advocacy Center served 615 individuals with 102 of them being sexual assault victims and 58 of those being children, according to Mohr.
“Sexual violence is a huge thing and I mean, it’s huge everywhere, it’s a very big problem globally, but it’s definitely a problem [in] Winona and I state that by experience,” Mohr said. “This event needs to happen. We need to fund the support group because there has not been one in the last decade.”
The fundraiser’s name, the ‘#IBelieveYou Fundraiser’, arose due to Mohr’s personal experience with sexual violence.
“When people hear about the event, they think, oh, [it’s] just a silent auction, but there’s a lot more than that. There’s a whole underlying purpose,” Mohr said.
Mohr said her own sexual violence case, which occurred when she was a minor, was a three-and-a-half to four-year long court trial because it consistently got pushed off, ending with the defendant receiving three years of unsupervised probation, according to Mohr.
When the case was reported by Winona Daily News, Mohr was unnamed, but she still saw social media reactions to the article, ultimately leading her to break her anonymity and respond.
“As soon as people were commenting on that Facebook post [of Winona Daily News’ article on the case], it got pretty harsh,” Mohr said. “People started commenting, ‘Oh, what 14-year-olds do for attention’, totally victim shaming. I know that that’s a very prominent reason that people won’t come forward.”
Mohr then sat down with people who were supporting her at the time, including a therapist, to write a response claiming responsibility for being the victim mentioned in the case.
“[I] said, ‘Hey, this is who I am, this is what happened, just because of the ruling, doesn’t change what happened,” Mohr said. “People started commenting ‘#IBelieveYou’ and that became, it wasn’t a huge multi-million chain, but it got enough recognition that it stood out to me.”
Sexual violence is an active and present danger among Winona State’s community as well, as the community was reminded of this past Friday.
Last Friday, days before the start of the #IBelieveYou fundraiser, Winona State Security sent an email announcement reporting an attempted sexual assault on Mark Street, one block from Winona State’s main campus.
The “lone suspect” was arrested shortly after the attempt and held in the Winona County Jail, according to Winona State Security.
When Mohr received the email alert, she said her “heart dropped.”
“I saw it and my heart dropped. It’s a very prominent thing that happens on and off campus, of all ages, of all genders and all pronouns, all races, everything,” Mohr said.
Mohr also said she hopes the fundraiser will become an annual event and include even more departments and Winona State involvement.
The fundraiser will be open until Friday at noon to bid on any of the donated item baskets, or for monetary donations, at https://www.32auctions.com/ibelieveyou.
As of 8 p.m. Monday night, the fundraiser had raised $611 of its $2,000 goal.