Survivors need support, not accusations
Recent articles and op-eds in Student Life have lead to a wave of conversations that have needed to occur for far too long. Sexual assault is a hard topic: It is ugly, it is scary but avoiding talking about will not and has not made it go away. I am relieved that Washington University is finally being forced to look into this issue. However, there have been plenty of conversations on the topic that have proven exactly what is wrong with too many people’s mindsets and shows why the culture that has been perpetuating sexual assault for so long has not died.
Far too often when discussing sexual assault, people have told me they needed to see “the proof.” They say they need to be convinced the assault actually took place and the victim is not simply making things up for attention or to tarnish someone’s reputation. It is hard enough for survivors to come forward and tell their stories; accusing them of lying or asking them to “prove it” is just another way of telling survivors to stay quiet. It keeps necessary change from occurring and it is protecting predators who may turn into repeat offenders and continue hurting more people. Sexual assault is not an easy thing to “prove”—the scene of the crime is the body of a living human being. It usually comes down to the word of the victim versus that of the predator. When the survivor’s words are not enough for you, what is left?
Even when the crime has been proven without a doubt, the survivor still faces more obstacles. Suddenly, it is now their fault. They shouldn’t have drank so much. They shouldn’t have dressed like that. They should have fought harder. They should have screamed louder. In my own experience of harassment, when turning to people I care about, people I love for comfort, I have been met with blame. The first question I receive is “what were you wearing?” followed by “that’s what you get when you wear skirts” and “what do you expect when you go to a party?” Multiple times, I have had men say that girls are dumb for going to frats and they should know they will be harassed and/or assaulted if they choose to frequent the parties. No one is “asking for it” by having a drink, by entering a party, by wearing certain clothes. The only way to “ask for it” is to actually give consent.
I challenge you all to think of the bigger impact of your words when having these conversations with friends. It is not any of your business as to what the survivor was doing, drinking or wearing. All that matters is they are suffering and more people will keep on suffering if the culture in which we live does not seriously change. Speak about sexual assault, look for change, just remember: Survivors need your support, not your accusations.