Opinion: This is Rape Culture
BY SYDNEY SEXTON
For the first time since I have been at Westminster, I do not feel safe on campus. On Tuesday I was walking from the parking lot to my house, a mere 100 feet, and I was scared. As I locked my car, I checked my surroundings multiple times. I made sure I had my key out and ready so I would not have to fumble around for it in my purse later. I put my phone away so I would not be distracted – some say that makes you an easier target. My mind started racing through all of the possibilities of what I would do if I were attacked right there in the parking lot, staring at the window to my room. It was late, around 12:30 a.m., so would anyone hear me if I screamed? My mind took it one step further: What if I were sexually assaulted right here, right now?
Would I have the courage to go immediately to the hospital and get a rape kit done? This seems to be the only evidence that even holds some ground in a rape case, if I took it to trial at all. Would I tell my friends what happened to me? My family? How would my mom react when I told her that her youngest daughter was taken advantage of at school – where she expects that I am safe? If my attacker were a fellow classmate, how would people react to me telling my story? Would they believe me? Would his friends harass me and claim I made the rape up? Would Westminster’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Board ask me what I was wearing during my trial? Because my sweats, North Face jacket and my moccasins were not asking to be raped, and neither was I. Would it change the story if I had been wearing a skimpy dress, heels and bright red lipstick? It shouldn’t – either way I am not asking to be raped. Would the board also ask me if I had been drinking? I had not, but victim-blaming questions like this are common in sexual assault cases, both on and off college campuses.
How would I react if I was told my attacker was not found to be in violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy? Would I keep fighting and telling my story until things change? Would I take the case to law enforcement and hope that the justice system would not fail me? And, worst of all, how would I react if and when I saw my attacker on campus, acting as if he did no wrong, leaving me to suffer alone, perhaps in silence? And how would this change my own self-perception? Would I be able to look at myself in the mirror the same ever again?
Now, keep in mind, I was only 100 feet away from my house. But all of these thoughts were running through my head until I heard the door lock behind me. And I know I am not alone. This is how rape culture works – instead of sending the message “don’t rape,” society tells us “don’t get raped” and gives advice on how to avoid becoming a victim. Until we reverse this pattern, I — and many others — will continue to feel fearful and be unfairly held responsible for our own safety.
Here is the thing: I do not need this awful experience to happen to me in order to speak out. And neither do you. We can do something now. Impact the culture now. We need to be the first ones to make a change on our campus and, hopefully, start a movement that grows and changes the rape culture everywhere. No one should have to be afraid of being attacked and no victim of sexual assault, harassment or misconduct should have to suffer alone. We can take the first steps to change the culture and we SHOULD change the culture. Five reported rapes are too many, and I do not want to think about how many more may have gone unreported.
Let us make some small changes now. To start, we need to hire a full-time dean of Student Life — one who has been trained extensively on how to properly handle sexual misconduct and makes it his or her mission to strengthen bystander intervention on our campus. We also need more knowledge as students as to what is considered sexual misconduct. This will hold everyone that much more accountable. We need to make it mandatory that everyone learns about sexual misconduct every semester; yes, I said it, mandatory. These are just two changes that have the ability to start changing the rape culture on our campus. Maybe they are not the right or the best solutions, but they are a beginning. And we need to make some changes now.
Sydney Sexton is a junior studying accounting and international business. She is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, Honors Commission, French Club and Student Foundation.