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A Letter To My Students: Stop Rape Now By Doing These Ten Things

November 10, 2010, 3:23 pm

Over the past six months, we at Zenith University have been talking about rape and sexual assault.  We talk in the dormitories and program houses; we talk in faculty offices; we talk in special hearings run by the deans; we talk in a committee convened to examine sexual assault on campus; we talk on the Anonymous Confession Board; we talk in the pages of the Zenith newspaper

So enough talk, Zenith students.  It is time to act.  Direct some of the compassion that you so frequently exhibit towards people off our campus towards each other.  It is time for you to stop rape at Zenith right now. 

I have never used this blog to talk directly to Zenith students.  But because I know you read it, and because there has recently been a public announcement about sexual assault on campus, I want to  speak to you directly about how you can stop rape and sexual assault on campus without any intervention by the university at all.  Here are ten positive steps you, the students, can do to stop rape and sexual assault on campus, without any member of the Zenith administration doing anything.  These steps can be taken by men or women, by victims or friends of victims, and they can be taken today.

A person who has been raped should go immediately to the hospital and have a rape kit done.  The person who has raped you has left physical traces on your body and your first impulse will be to scrub them away, but this is critical evidence that must be preserved.  Do not go to the university health services; go directly to the hospital by whatever the quickest means is.  Do not allow anyone to talk you out of this.  If you have been forced to give someone oral sex, do not wash out your mouth.  Do not dispose of your clothes or underpants, and have someone meet you at the hospital with new clothes to put on because what you are wearing may need to be logged into evidence.  You also need to have prophylactic medication to stop or avert the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases; interrupt possible conception; be examined for any physical damage the rapist may have caused; and have any injuries documented and photographed. 

This is the one, crucial step necessary to prosecute rape as the crime that it is:  go to the hospital and have a rape kit done and your injuries documented.  You or your friend can file this rape kit under an anonymous number, and no assailant has to be named until such a time as the victim is ready to talk to the police and work with them to decide whether to file charges.  

Never ask someone who says s/he has been raped: “Are you sure?”  If a person says s/he has been raped, assume that s/he has been, and know that you can acknowledge that sexual violence has occurred without deciding whether the accused person is capable of such a crime.  You are not required to decide guilt or innocence:  you are simply required to help a person in distress get to the hospital.  Know that when you question an affirmative statement that sexual violence has occurred, you are detaching from that person and weighing the option not to be involved.

Do not allow shame over the event, or actions you may or may not have taken leading up to the event, to keep you from going to the hospital or to the police.   You are likely to feel disoriented and unwilling — or unable — to talk to people about what has happened to you and there is no need to do that until you have the support you need.  When bad things happen, our greatest tendency is to blame ourselves first, but that is in part because we live in a society that conveys shame about a great many things, especially sex.  Questions like:  “Why did I drink so much?” “Why did I allow myself to be fooled by this person?” “Why did I trust someone I didn’t know?” “What will people think of me?” and “Why didn’t I fight harder?” are not only self-defeating questions, they are irrelevant.  The person who committed this crime against you has probably done it before, and will probably do it again to someone else (see this research, contributed by a reader, the findings of which argue that the vast majority of campus rapes are committed by serial rapists who are never caught; the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated on first-year students.)  Keeping your rape a secret increases a rapist’s confidence that this horrible act can be perpetrated without penalty.

Do not allow anyone to tell you that you will feel worse if you report this to the police or file charges.  It isn’t true, or at least, consider that advice unproven.  In fact, research shows that people who take legal action against rapists do better psychologically down the line than people who do not report them to the police, even when they do not get the outcome they want.  Furthermore, a rapist who is successfully expelled from the Zenith campus in a confidential proceeding has suffered a setback, but has also been given a get out of jail free card to go rape someone else on another campus.

Never joke about rape or sexual assault, mock people who have been raped, or say in jest that rape would be an appropriate introduction to sexual intercourse.  At the risk of being mocked yourself, tell people who say these things that they are not funny. In fact, help to build a student culture where people do not  think people’s sexuality is a joke, where people’s self-esteem is not built on who they have sex with or whether they have sex at all.  Emphasize in your conversations about sex that with the pleasure of sexuality comes the responsibility to treat others with honor and respect.  Do not take these responsibilities lightly.  Do not erroneously conclude that the vast majority of rape accusations come from hook-ups that one person regrets, break-up sex that one partner is using as a weapon, or a misunderstanding about consent.  While it is true that accusations of sexual assault can be false, it is a far more salient fact that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults on campus are never reported at all.

If you believe that a crime has been committed, you have a moral obligation to report it and urge the victim to take steps to report it too.  Rape is a crime.  It isn’t a misunderstanding, or the unavoidable outcome of having been too drunk to restrain yourself.  In some states, to not report a felony makes you a co-conspirator.  Connecticut is not one of them.  But talking about rape on the Anonymous Confession Board is not the same thing as stopping rape.  In fact, it is much worse, because accusations against entire groups of people — primarily teams, fraternities, and the women who socialize with them  — create a sense of mutual stigma and resentment because people who should be part of the solution close ranks around a friend or friends rather than taking responsible action against the person or persons responsible for the rape.

Do not ever tease or mock men about their masculinity; do not ever use homophobic, racist or sexist slurs; and do not engage in or tolerate behavior or speech which humiliates an
d harms others
by degrading their personal dignity.  Rape is the ultimate act of degradation, but like bullying, it is often a product of a coarsened culture that tolerates and promotes profound disrespect for others.  Tolerance for rape and bullying displays your own selfish relief that it is not you who is the object of humiliation. Behavior which creates intimacy among a group through stigmatizing or harming others is immoral, wrong and, in the case of rape or hazing, criminal.  It creates a crude and unwelcoming student culture, and it impedes the real intimacy of love and/or friendship that occurs when people can trust others to treat them with love and respect.

Men need to talk to other men about why men rape; women need to talk to women about why they insist on making rape a private matter; and both men and women need to talk among themselves and with each other about why they tolerate rape.  Topics for such discussions might include:  why do we insist on valorizing hook-up culture without discussing an ethic of responsible sexuality?  Under what conditions do male bodies become weapons? If I am involved in a politics of decarceration, does that exclude acting to prevent a rapist from raping another woman?  If a rapist is not punished for that crime, what prevents that person from raping again or prevents others from believing they can get away with rape?  If I have seen someone being coerced into a situation where a sexual assault happened, what prevented me from intervening?  How would I intervene in the future? What is the special role of men, and men’s organizations, in preventing rape? How can team captains, fraternity presidents and other campus leaders use their popularity and influence to end rape on campus?

If you can’t stop people being raped at your parties, stop having parties.  On the other hand, imagine taking the following steps at your parties.  Do not let people in who cannot present an ID.  Have a sufficient number of people at your party who are willing to remain sober and to move around the room and/or the house, making sure that people are safe.  People who are intoxicated on booze or drugs past the point of good judgment should not be permitted to enter; they should not be served alcohol or drugs; and if they become intoxicated at the party, they should be escorted home by Public Safety or someone they can identify as a trusted friend.  No one should be having sex at a party.  If you insist on treating your party like a sex club, you must do what sex clubs do:  have sober, knowledgeable monitors specifically available to ensure that the sex is safe and fully consensual.

Forward this post to your friends, post it at your house, have a meeting on your hall about it, call your team or your club together and discuss it.  These are important issues for public safety and complex features of community building, and should be discussed frequently.  One Take Back the Night March every year, with cathartic crying circles where people comfort each other, does not constitute a year’s worth of anti-rape activism.  A skit at orientation provides none of the practical information people need to know about rape.  A website that instructs someone what to do in the event of a sexual assault does not stop rape, nor is reading a website an effective way of taking in information or making decisions in the aftermath of a rape.

Report any rape or sexual assault you have not yet reported, no matter when it happened.  While it may be past the time that it can be prosecuted, the Zenith administration needs a far more accurate sense than it has about how many rapes there are on campus, and the places they are occurring. 

The Zenith administration can police rape, punish rape and provide resources to support you in the aftermath of a rape; only students working together can stop rape from occurring in the first place.  My hope is that institutional resources on campus aimed at combating rape will be strengthened dramatically in the coming months, and that feminist faculty will be a part of that discussion.  But the Zenith administration and the faculty are not raping you.  You are raping each other, and failing to deal with the conditions that make rape possible in your community.

And you can change that.  Now.

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