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I hope you will be heartened, as I was, by this video, which was released on Monday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). It powerfully explains why this attempt by Harvard to foster inclusion actually threatens students' freedom of association while doing nothing to further its proclaimed goal of preventing sexual assault.
Be assured that we are determined to defend our right to organize as a single-gender organization and to promote the value of fraternity membership. We are committed to working collaboratively with not only our sister National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) groups, but also with like-minded professors, campus administrators, and lawmakers.
We need your help in this vital effort! If you have connections to US congressional representatives or senators, Harvard faculty or administrators, or Harvard's governing boards, we ask that you forward their names and any contact information to Laurie McGregor Connor, Theta's director of government relations. We will keep you informed about future developments and how you might assist as we progress.
My name is Erin Poppe, and I'm an alumna of the Delta Eta chapter at Kansas State University.
Our university newspaper recently published an article I wrote about my rape that occurred freshman year seven years ago, as part of a series on sexual violence awareness. (Editor's note: April is Sexual Assault Prevention Awareness Month.)
I decided to share my story with you because what happened to me is not uncommon. No, I didn't get attacked on the way to my car at night and no, I wasn't walking down a dark alley alone. But just because my rape doesn't fit the mainstream idea of sexual assault doesn't make it any less real. And just because talking about sexual assault can be uncomfortable doesn't mean we shouldn't. In fact, that's all the more reason we should.
This article has blown up here on campus, and the response has been so overwhelmingly positive. I believe this is because it contributes to the often-unspoken conversation about what nonviolent/impaired consent rape looks like - which is a conversation I believe to be especially important for both our college members and alumnae, regardless of where they're from.
I have to say that I'm so grateful for support I've received from my Theta sisters during this vulnerable time. So thank you, Theta, for putting these women in my life.
This example is used to better illustrate the concept of primary prevention, which is used most often in public health to eradicate an unhealthy behavior (e.g., smoking). Pulling individuals out of the river (i.e., only focusing education on telling women to "stay safe") is not a long-term solution to end interpersonal violence. Our strategy has to include primary prevention tactics, which include challenging the myths that, even unintentionally, support sexual violence.
I know it is challenging to have conversations around sexual violence. It can be especially challenging for women (or women's groups) to think about how they can work in a meaningful way to end sexual assault when we are not the perpetrators. It can be difficult to develop educational programming that goes beyond risk reduction and supporting survivors. Directing efforts through a primary prevention lens that focuses on our engagement in rape-supportive culture empowers us all to take a role in ending sexual violence.
Here are some tangible steps you can take to overcome myths that support and reinforce rape-supportive culture:
- When your friends or organization is planning an event with a theme that is discriminatory toward women or a culture, or simply put, is negative toward women, come up with an alternate (yet fun!) idea that is appropriate. You can address this issue head on, but also come up with a more creative theme that builds others up instead of putting others down.
- When you hear someone make a comment such as "Well, she was really drunk," or "She hooks up with people all the time," challenge those comments. You can say something like, "Being drunk does not give someone permission to touch you without your consent," or "She/he can choose to hook up consensually however often s/he wants, but consent must always be present during sexual activity."
- Place posters and information about sexual assault around your living area. Include information about campus and community resources available to students, where to go for help or how to report an incident, and upcoming events for students to get involved in prevention efforts. Sharing information and resources helps raise awareness and also connects students with resources.
It can be challenging and alarming to hear a term like "rape-supportive culture." The term seems to imply that a culture would openly encourage rape and sexual violence. Instead, the term describes how myths about rape and sexual violence become the way we collectively think about rape as a society. Those of us in the society are complicit in continuing to unintentionally reinforce those myths (Although there are likely some people doing so intentionally). Until I began researching this topic a number of years ago, I realized I had been (unintentionally) reinforcing several myths about sexual violence.
Here are some examples of myths that support and reinforce rape-supportive culture.
- Assuming that false reports of sexual violence occur more frequently than other crimes. In fact, false reports make up two to eight percent of rape reports,. This is consistent with, and in some cases lower than, other crimes.
- Victim-blaming. For example, asking survivors, "What were you wearing?" "Were you flirting?" or "Were you drinking?" implying that the victim was responsible in some way.
- Focusing on what the victim should or should not have done to prevent the assault, instead of focusing the responsibility on the person that chose to commit a crime of interpersonal violence.
- Telling friends to not walk home alone, when in reality more than 80 percent of assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.
- Believing interpersonal violence is a women's issue, when it affects all genders: men, women, and transgender individuals. Only the perpetrator of sexual assault can stop the crime, which is another reason to end the myth of this as a women's issue.
In what ways are we perpetuating some of these myths? Are we co-sponsoring events with themes that objectify or sexualize a particular group of people, like women? Is our educational programming focusing only on what a victim should/should not do to prevent an assault?
Part 2, which will be posted next week, will explore strategies for overcoming these myths.
Sexual violence is a crime that strips victims of their dignity and control. Estimates across North America suggest that 80% (that's four out of five) assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Trust and personal safety will likely never be concepts that are the same ever again for a survivor. Recently, a survivor described her experience of recovering from rape as "a life sentence."
Survivor support is typically impacted by the many myths surrounding rape and sexual violence (we will talk more about that next week). It is important to know there is not a "right" or "wrong" way for a survivor to respond to assault. If a friend discloses that she has been assaulted, research tells us to respond without blaming the victim. Generally speaking, victim blaming occurs when anyone makes comments implying the victim is responsible for the crime(s) committed against them. Examples of such responses regarding sexual violence could include, "What were you wearing?" "Were you drinking?" or "It was probably a misunderstanding."
So, what can and should you do? At the start of this blog, phrases were mentioned that are good examples of things you might say if a survivor discloses an assault. While there are many resources describing responses and ways to be supportive, it is important to remember two things:
- Listen and believe. If a friend is telling you about an experience, it is important to suspend judgement. Listen to that story without interruption, and offer supportive comments (see above), such as "I believe you" and "I'm sorry this happened to you."
- Provide options and not advice. Hearing your friend has been hurt in such a violent way is disturbing and scary. Most of us are not professional counselors, and we don't need to be in order to provide support. Keep in mind it is important for survivors to have the autonomy to make their own decisions. As a friend, you can present available options and offer support if and when (if) your friend choses to access those options.
Providing a supportive reaction is not easy, but it can make a huge difference for the survivor. To learn more about what you could say and options to provide, visit these resources:
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network - US)
- Canadian Resource Center for Victims of Crimes
- How to support a friend (article)
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center (US)
Given the nature of this crime, we recognize that survivors of sexual violence can be triggered by awareness campaigns. We want survivors (and friends supporting survivors) to know that many resources exist if you need to talk to someone. Visiting your campus counseling center can not only connect you to a campus counselor but also other campus resources that are available to you, including support groups and hotlines. Theta also offers a free hotline number (Talk One-2-One) that will connect you to a licensed counselor. Visit our Sisters Supporting Sisters page for more resources. There is no time table when recovering from sexual violence, and support is available.
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