Over the last semester, our campus has become far too accustomed to what is without a doubt becoming a growing, and disturbing, trend. Looking back, I can think of very few Mondays where I didn’t pick up a copy of The Daily Collegian to see at least one report of sexual assault both on campus and downtown.
According to University Police, there have been 11 reports of sexual assault on campus in 2012, up from six in 2011. By this standard, we have a growing problem. However, the key is in the verbiage. This year, there have been 11 sexual assaults reported. Yes, we may have had fewer reports in years past, but of those six assaults in 2011, how many occurred that we were not aware of?
Despite the apparent rising prevalence of sexual assault at Penn State, myself and thousands of students like me continue about our daily lives–we walk home late at night, we gravitate towards the shorter way even if isn’t the most well lit. We do things that the police and others around us advise us against because changing our behavior in anticipation of some unknown predator acknowledges that we may not be safe on our campus and in the town we’ve learned to call home.
In the past year, 11 individuals have made the incredibly brave decision to come forward about crimes committed against them on our campus. By breaking their silence, they’re opening themselves to what silence can’t provide: justice, support, and healing.
While these rising statistics are concerning, I’m more afraid of a culture of silence, a culture where incidents of sexual violence are unknown because those being victimized choose not to speak. We can never truly know if sexual violence is being eradicated, especially since most never report. However, we can change our culture and perception of those affected by sexual violence. Our society needs to stop looking at these people as victims, but rather as advocates. Simply by speaking up to authorities, they are speaking out against the silence that too many have been subjected to.
Rather than fear the content of Timely Warnings displayed in residence halls and crime reports in papers, we need to remember that without them, we are completely blind to the problem that is unfolding around us. Without their bravery, we are stuck in a blissful ignorance, and how can we even begin to tackle a problem if we can’t confirm it’s existence?
So speak up. If you know someone that has been a victim of sexual violence, encourage them to seek the help of the legal, medical, and other resources available too aid all of us. Make advocates out of victims.
Without them, silence invokes complacency.