No one ever asks for it. Rape is not a gift. It is never invited by virtue of dress, actions, words, relationships, gender, sexuality, beliefs or behavior. Rape is torture. Sexual assault is a form of mental, emotional and physical trauma that can never be healed. Unlike Ebola, or the myriad other epidemics that invade our lives every two or so years, there is no cure for sexual assault. There is no medication, miracle shot or antibiotic that can erase a survivor’s pain. The only comfort that these brave people get is the knowledge that they can prevent rape from happening to others.
Sadly, some institutions are loath to provide even this modicum of solace. Instead of being allowed to share their stories, being permitted to prosecute their attackers without fear of retribution and being able to discuss their experience without social consequences, victims of sexual assault are relegated to the shadows. They are sent to unpublicized meetings for survivors, told that not acknowledging their attack is the best way to move on and deemed compulsive liars, determined to destroy their assaulter’s reputation. Is this fair? Is this right? To these questions, the answer is clearly a resounding no.
The Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” proves this point. I was struck by two emotions while reading this article. The first was fear. Jackie’s story reminded me that people are being victimized every two minutes. Think that through for a minute. In the country in which we attend college, the country where we work, the country in which we raise our children, the country which many of us call home, the country that is all that many of us have known, a life is destroyed every two minutes. Jackie’s horrific story of violence, abuse, potential suicide, emotional destruction and isolation is repeated in the same amount of time it takes for someone to complete a level of Candy Crush.
In my mind, this is horrific. To think that in the next two minutes, someone’s loved one is going to have their sense of safety permanently ripped away from them is abominable, and that brings me to my second emotion: disgust. As I read through these UVA students’ stories, I was nauseated by the lack of support that they had received since their sexual assault. Whether it was from their apathetic friends who advised against seeking justice because of potential social repercussions, faculty members who advised against victims sharing their stories because of probable emotional trauma or other staff members who encouraged silence over prosecution, these survivors were assaulted once more by the heinous actions of those who favored their own social image over the survivors’ right to justice and a safe academic environment.
Jackie had to walk past her rapists for three years. Three years. Jackie had to walk around her campus knowing that those who defiled her, those who treated her as less than a human being, those who nearly prompted her to commit suicide were living free of retribution, and more importantly, free to assault again. Jackie’s story, and those of her UVA peers, reminded me once more that we live in a rape culture. We live in a society that teaches women how to not get raped instead of instructing men on why they shouldn’t rape. We live in a country that blames victims instead of assaulters. We live in a culture of dehumanizing violence that is rarely acknowledged by those who have the power and resources to change it.
However, while we have many problems to solve, this does not mean that they are unsolvable. Together we can change our culture. We can work to create a society in which people of all genders are viewed as human beings, not objects of sexual pleasure. Through student movements, charitable organizations, sexual assault policies, comprehensive sexual assault education, the disavowal of rape jokes, safe homes for survivors, community task forces and awareness, we can eradicate rape from our cultural landscape.
To some, this might sound optimistic, the day dream of an idealistic college freshman. To them I would ask what is so idealistic about asking for a world free from sexual violence? I refuse to believe that this pernicious behavior is a human character trait, and I am disinclined to allow such thinking to prevent me, and all those who support this cause, from doing our best to achieve this goal. I want to live in a world in which no one is ever told that they were asking for it. I want to never fear for my friends’ safety when they walk back to their dorm at night. And most of all I want to dismantle rape culture so that no one on any level of the gender spectrum has to live in fear of having their sense of safety, their trust in others and their sense of personhood being stolen from them. So, to conclude, I say thank you, Jackie. Thank you for sharing your story with the world, thank you for reminding society of this problem and thank you for your bravery.
Contact writer Hayley Durudogan at firstname.lastname@example.org