This article was written by yours truly, but originally published in the Westminster College Student Newspaper. The Holcad: Volume CXXXIX on Friday, November 13th, 2015. You can read more of the paper at Holcad.org
Trigger Warning: This post contains information that may be sensitive to some readers.
You’re catching up with your friends when you get a call that your roommate has been mugged. Nobody asks where they were walking.
You’re watching the news with your family and hear about a mass shooting. Nobody asks what the victims were wearing.
You’re preparing to pay for your dinner when you realize your wallet has been stolen from your back pocket. Nobody asks how much you had to drink tonight.
You’re driving down the street and the radio plays breaking news about American tourists being kidnapped in another country. Nobody in the car mentions the hostages past sexual history.
All purposeful and violent crimes, yes? But how ludicrous and inappropriate would it be if anyone were to actually react in those following hypothetical ways.
So why are any of the aforementioned responses okay when we talk about things like domestic violence or sexual assault?
This article will come out on Friday, the 13th, at the end of the National Week of Action for the It’s On Us initiative, a White House led campaign that began in 2014 when President Obama and Vice President Biden began asking people across the nation to make a personal commitment to be a part of the solution to end sexual assault on college campuses.
Beyond the physical issue, though, it starts with the way our society thinks. On September 19th, 2014 the campaign was launched from the East Room of the White House where Vice President Biden stated, “It’s on all of us to change the culture.”
How uncomfortable does it make us to hear people talk about things like rape? Sexual assault? Domestic violence? Abuse? Now imagine how uncomfortable it is to experience them. We live in a world that has made these issues taboo and for what good? What benefit does this do for the silent sufferers in need of someone to understand but too afraid to deal with something that society tells them should bring them shame.
We live in a world where people feel as though they have to hide their secrets in the dusty recesses of their mind because it might make other people uneasy. “Because how can we know what really happened?” “Because you were drinking, after all, and you’re not 21.” “Because it’s better not to talk about it.”
We live in a world where songs like Blurred Lines can top the Billboard charts and Chris Brown can still sell records.
And what about athletics? Take for example the Steubenville Rape Trial that exploded on social media in 2012. Located in Jefferson County, Ohio, Steubenville wasn’t set to make international news, until two of their star athletes were convicted of raping an underage girl at a party. Both were convicted. Both still returned to the football field in spite of that.
But how would we expect the school district to demand any better behavior from their players based on some recent bad behavior of the National Football League. Ray Rice. Greg Hardy. Should I continue? According to a Sports Illustrated article from September 2014, there were 15 NFL players arrested for violence against women in the past two years.
Worse yet, a popular Halloween couples costume last year? Ray Rice and a battered Janay Rice. There are even images online of families who dressed their young sons in Rice jerseys and gave him a Barbie doll to drag around.
On top of that, take any online news article that covered any of these stories. The comments end in mockery. Let’s take apart some of the comments on the news articles that covered this story and related stories: “Maybe people should learn to sign contracts when they decide to have sex.” “If you don’t have a tolerance for alcohol, then don’t drink. The girl should have taken responsibility for herself.” “Keep lying” (in reference to the victim).
Now, this is not an attempt to call out the entire music industry or world of sports or any other group of people (except maybe the people that comment ignorance on online articles). I know there are excellent advocates in all of these fields but we need more of them. We need more people allied against these crimes and we need more people willing to see past the taboo.
“It’s on all of us to change the culture that asks the wrong questions. And our culture still asks the wrong questions. It is never the right question for a woman to ask, ‘what did I do?’ Never. Get this straight. Never. Never is it appropriate for a woman to ask, ‘what did I do?’ The question is, ‘why was that done to me and will someone do something about it?’” said Biden in the 2014 It’s On Us campaign launch.
Victim blaming is defined as when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them. We see this all the time in the media or in conversations. But it’s harder to recognize in yourself or in your friends.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault or domestic abuse it is not your fault. I promise. It’s on all of us to change society but it’s also on all of us to make sure you get the support you need…to make sure that you never lay in bed at night thinking of all the things you could have done differently. It is not your fault.
To cut back to my original theme:
You’re trying to explain why it’s so hard to walk across campus alone at night. Nobody wants to listen.
Let’s change that. The official National Week of Action may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can slide back onto the sidelines. Be an active player and if you see something that isn’t right, stand up. Support your friends in need and if you are that friend, let yourself be supported. We believe you.
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