Sexual Assault Dialogue Has Not Been Dismissed

In case you haven’t been an avid reader of The Daily Collegian this week, allow me to catch you up on the current situation at our student newspaper.

Last week, the Collegian’s Editor-in-Chief Brittany Horn wrote this column about how small steps can help you to avoid being the victim of sexual assault crimes, which some criticized as victim blaming. Collegian reader Grace Muller responded with this letter to the editor refuting the column, explaining that “taking small steps to avoid sexual assault makes the assumption that safety is ours with only a few simple changes in our weekend routine. That is not the case.” From that disagreement, Horn wrote this follow-up column, implying that Muller’s letter shows that “we’re too busy jumping to our feet to point fingers and decide who’s saying the wrong thing rather than furthering the conversation.”

The first important point to make here is that just the opposite occurred. Muller never dismissed the sexual assault dialogue as a whole. She simply disagreed with Horn’s point of view. In fact, by framing an argument against the original column, Muller is actually initiating a dialogue. Muller doesn’t sweep the topic under the rug but expands on it to create a conversation. People should disagree with one another and should use the points of their disagreement to think about situations from other angles. That’s how we progress as a society.

The Collegian is right in demanding that we talk about this subject. We can’t dismiss it. We have to discuss it, be aware of it, and make arguments about how to handle it. We have to listen to victims and their stories, and we have to tell them firmly that the crimes that happen aren’t their fault. We have to talk about the gruesomeness of it all, even if it might make us feel uncomfortable — especially if it makes us feel uncomfortable. That’s how we learn, how we understand the horror of it, and how we’re encouraged to make progress on fixing the issue.

The second point is that the Collegian column is rife with inconsistencies, specifically, the disjunction between Horn’s “solution” of having male friends walk drunk girls home when, statistically, she claims that those same male friends comprise the very demographic that is most likely to sexually assault a victim.

As Muller asserts, “rapists aren’t things that go bump in the night, a shadowy and unwelcome presence on campus. They’re some of our buddies, brothers, boyfriends, and classmates.” Horn acknowledges the same concept in her own column when she cites that two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. However, Horn contradicts herself when she writes that the people these girls need to be saved from — as well as the reason girls should “stop being tough” and let their guy friends walk them back to their place — are the strangers who might snatch them up in the darkness on their tipsy walk home. She jumps back and forth between whether you should fear that stranger in the dark or that person you know.

Admittedly, this is a hard subject to write about, but you can’t focus only on one side. Yes, two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Yes, that may be even scarier than the one-third of victims who are attacked by total strangers. But that one-third is still there. It’s hard to give advice to women about how to avoid being sexual assaulted because it’s out of their control, for the most part. Rapists cause rape. Assaulters are the ones who assault. It could be someone you know, and it could be someone you don’t know. The way to go about changing this terrifying fact is to start at the source and teaching people from a young age what constitutes consent, why you should respect other people’s bodies and their choices, and why sex should never be a weapon.

The third and worst point here is Horn’s alarming tendency to indulge in veiled victim blaming. She tries to offer remedies to the things she sees as “symptoms” of a typical sexual assault victim — such as walking home alone, female independence or “toughness,” inebriation, and clothing choice — without tackling the more serious aspects at hand. Despite claiming to do so, she doesn’t ask the hard questions, like what the driving factors of rape are (lack of education, female object reductionism, and innate desire for power and control, to name a few) and what we can do to prevent it from happening from the side of the rapists themselves. Those are the kinds of questions that need to be evaluated when it comes to sexual assault; not whether or not the victim should have been walking home by herself.

I think Horn’s efforts were genuine. But harmless as she may have intended her comments to be, the column suggests that women should accept a cultural atmosphere of constant fear and anxiety when in the presence of men, alcohol, darkness, or any combination of the three. Muller was right in engaging in a dialogue about this issue with the Collegian because as Muller explained, safety isn’t ours with only a few simple changes to our weekend routine. Horn suggests easy fixes to a situation that’s much, much bigger than that.

“Statistics show that there is no real sexual assault prevention,” Horn writes in her column.

I don’t know what statistics she’s looking at (and the reader never did find out), but I can tell you there IS real sexual assault prevention. But it’s not those small steps, it’s on a larger scale. It’s society implementing programs that educate people from a young age about what consent is, what sexual harassment is. It’s men challenging their preconceptions, prejudices, and understanding of legality versus illegality when it comes to consent in various situations.

It’s not simply letting a guy walk you home at night.

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About the Author

Alicia Thomas

Alicia is a senior with majors in Print Journalism and Spanish and a minor in International Studies. Chances are that she's somewhere talking about her semester abroad or ranting about sexual assault prevention right now. She can be reached via Twitter (@aliciarthomas) or email ([email protected]).

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