Victim-blaming problem

Opinion by Chris Herries
Sept. 25, 2012, 12:14 p.m.

What kind of intellectual would I be if periods of reflection didn’t alter my views? A poor one, no doubt.

Yesterday I read a Daily article about the recent string of sexual assaults on campus, written by Ileana Najarro. In the article, SARA Office Dean Angela Exson is quoted as saying, “We [the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Office] encourage students to do whatever makes them feel more safe and empowered in public spaces and behind closed doors, but we prefer not to give advice on self-defense.” This is done to avoid victim-blaming, which is the very unjust, very destructive practice of asserting that a survivor of sexual assault is at fault. For example, it’s often heard that, “she/he shouldn’t have been wearing that,” or “she/he should’ve fought back.” This attitude is wrong, unhelpful and malicious.

However, I first thought that if an advantage can be given, why not give it? If running in groups, watching your drinks and looking out for each other at parties was safer, then the SARA office and the Women’s Community Center (WCC) should certainly be promoting them. After all, equipping someone with safer habits is an important task. However, as I thought more about the issue I had to change my stance and, for the purpose of creating a dialogue, I’ll share why.

We have to consider what niches are filled on campus surrounding sexual assault. Friends, family, discussions during NSO and various outreach programs already offer students tips about relationships, partying, alcohol, consent, etc. I spoke to many of my friends, both male and female. They told me that most of these measures are common knowledge and that most people pick them up in the first few weeks of school. The SARA office and the WCC occupy a much different, and much more important niche. They represent organizations that seek to influence the public conscious about issues such as sexual assault, and are in the business of stigmatizing practices like victim-blaming. By purporting that some action is a preventative measure these organizations would be implying that sexual assault is preventable by the survivor. If they were to teach safety measures, then they’re essentially saying that two parties are at fault in assault cases, when it’s obvious that the perpetrator is solely responsible. Therefore, if they want to adhere to their ideological values, it would be irresponsible to offer safety tips.

However, I’d like to know what you think, namely, do these offices have a responsibility to support perceived safety measures? Do these safety measures qualify as preventative, and what are the consequences of that type of rhetoric?

Contact Chris Herries at [email protected].

Chris Herries is a sophomore majoring in Latin. His interests include rugby, crossfit, weiqi, and public service. Please shoot him an email if you have an issues with his articles.

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