Spot the difference

| Senior Forum Editor

A friend of mine showed me an article a while ago that he’d come across. “Disgusting,” he said. “This is why we need to address rape culture.” I glanced at the headline, which pretty much speaks for itself: “School Principal Discouraged Teen Girl from Reporting Sexual Assault Because It Would Ruin Attacker’s Basketball Career.” Skimming the article, I had deja vu. I felt like I’d read the story before; all of the details seemed cut-and-pasted from dozens of other stories I’ve read about sexual assault cases and rape culture. I felt both disgusted and guilty— disgusted that I’d read similar stories so many times before, guilty because they were all beginning to blur together in my mind. When constantly bombarded with stories about sexual assault, they become perversely “normal” instead of surprising—just another part of our society.

It’s a sad moment when you realize just how prevalent rape and sexual assault are in America (I won’t even delve into prevalence in other countries). Several friends also commented that they’d thought they’d read this particular story before, only to realize it was just very similar to another case they’d come across before. The narrative of sports stardom taking precedence over the well-being of a young woman is also not new. This case of the girl assaulted by the star basketball player bears striking resemblance to the Steubenville rape case, which is still pretty fresh in everyone’s minds. One of the more disturbing aspects of these two cases is that they involved cover-ups from people in authority: principals, high school football fans, normal people in normal communities—normal people who don’t think of themselves as bad people, who aren’t themselves rapists. These are extreme cases, to be sure, but they are not the shocking anomalies that they should be.

Here at Wash. U., sexual assault is still a problem. I’m not even talking about the more obvious instances of sexual assault that we’re taught to recognize. I’m not sure how many women (and men, for that matter) were groped or otherwise inappropriately touched at W.I.L.D. Bodies (and their component parts, including a–es, breasts, thighs and even hair) aren’t up for grabs, no matter what. Actually, describing individuals in terms of their body parts is pretty dehumanizing. But then again, so is grabbing a stranger in a crowd. A lot of the grinding and general public displays of affection are consensual. But I know from personal experience that under the double veils of drunkenness and crowdedness, non-consensual groping is far too easy. I’ve gotten used to it. The solution isn’t to take away the alcohol, ban dancing or wear sackcloth/ash ensembles. This isn’t Footloose. The solution is to change the culture of sexual invasion, whether it be groping on a dance floor or rape. Then, and only then, will these cases dwindle and cease to be all too normal.