Last weekend, Stanford Womxn in Law hosted the annual Stanford Womxn’s March. According to the Facebook event, the march was organized “to pressure Stanford’s administration to undertake significant action and policy measures to end campus rape culture by requiring continued sexual harassment and assault education, having students be involved in the education and prevention process, hiring more Title IX investigators, and increasing funding for research and student support services around the issue.”
I was invited to speak at this event along with three other women to share my perspectives about campus rape culture and Stanford’s approaches to sexual assault prevention. To share my story alongside such insightful, wise, powerful peers — and to be surrounded by such a supportive and responsive community — was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.
This is the transcript of my speech:
I had seen “college” on television all throughout my life: drunk girls dancing on tabletops, fraternity members guzzling beer like water; I watched the terrible things that could arise from this combination, as disturbing instances of sexual violence were aestheticized through the hard cuts of low-budget films.
Entering my freshman year at Stanford, I could only calm down by telling myself that the whole idea of becoming one of the “1 in 5 women” who were assaulted was just something people said to keep youth from drinking too much, or messing around with strangers.
But deep down I knew this to be false, because I already was one of those women.
Two years prior to coming here, while studying abroad for the summer, I was drugged and then sexually assaulted in my own bedroom in my host family’s apartment. I stayed there for another two weeks before being able to return home.
I had to call my parents, the people who had taught me how to be safe, how to stay strong, and tell them about a night I could hardly remember. A morning in which I woke up not knowing where or who I was, where everything in the environment — an open condom wrapper on the bedside table, an ache between my legs — was completely foreign to me.
That summer, I was stripped of autonomy over my body, and my initial response was to create the mythologized reality that I hadn’t been.
But I now see that the true myth of my circumstances is that if I were to be hurt all over again on my own college campus, I would be protected by my school, by the law, by my country.
The fact of the matter is that this is not a guarantee.
The most important section of Title IX states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Over time, it has become increasingly clear that Title IX is a symbol lacking tangible results. That it is very easily manipulated and disassembled.
During the 2018-19 academic year alone, 279 cases of sexual assault were reported at Stanford. These were only the cases that were reported. These statistics are even more disturbing in the wake of the Brock Turner case in which a 19-year-old white male raped an unconscious woman, Chanel Miller, behind the dumpsters of an on-campus Stanford fraternity, and only had to serve three months in prison.
Scrolling through the Stanford website, we see that various hotlines and organizations were instituted to support us and educate the people that could cause us harm. The truth of the matter, however, is that all of Stanford’s links, phone numbers, events and initiatives look incredibly different from the lens of the victim.
There is a tendency to dehumanize victims. We become touted, faceless numbers. We become the headlines of news articles. We are no longer recognized as people.
Both securing more federal government funding to prevent sexual violence and implementing adequate models of programming within all universities will not resolve the issue of sexual violence. These measures are only a starting point. We must work toward fighting the source: rape culture.
I recall having a conversation with a peer when I first arrived at Stanford. He tried to argue that rape culture does not exist, because “it’s not like every man goes around wanting to rape women.”
Rape culture is not simply the direct action of rape. Rape culture starts with a joke about a short skirt “asking for trouble.” It starts when you witness someone laying a hand on another person, and notice that this person is uncomfortable, but you don’t say anything about it because you feel as though it’s not your place. It starts when these single instances become normalized to the extent that people start believing bare legs are “asking” for something, or people think they can reach out and lay a hand on another person, without any consequences.
Instead of investing in another row of palm trees or a new football stadium, universities should focus their efforts and resources on discovering and pursuing effective initiatives to combat sexual assault.
Beyond the lack of research is the question of fundamental values. History has demonstrated that institutional emblems and appearances of investment and concern actually mask a deep culture of indifference toward victims. Universities should actively care about the wellbeing of their students rather than pretend to, when their underlying goal may be gaining public approval and funding.
Stanford should not only choose to take action when a single case becomes a nationwide scandal and the school is suddenly forced into the spotlight. The administration should care. Even when no one else is looking.
We are all affected by the problem of sexual violence. Given the amount of people in this crowd, in this march, there is a good chance that at least a few of us have experienced or personally know people who have encountered sexual assault. There is a good chance that some individuals haven’t spoken up about it. There is a good chance that those who chose to do so were unable to find the help they needed.
Victims like myself should not have to work to actively expose the concept that we are protected from sexual violence by our own colleges as a myth in order for this concept to even be taken seriously as an idealized reality.
In “Know My Name,” Chanel Miller writes that “We don’t fight for our own happy endings. We fight to say you can’t. We fight for accountability. We fight to establish precedent. We fight because we pray we’ll be the last ones to feel this kind of pain.”
Chanel Miller’s name is not the only thing we need to know. We need to know her story. We need to know her pain and the amount of bravery it took to harness it and transform it into growth. We need to know that her situation isn’t unique but is rather reflected in the lives of those closest to us, that it is reflected in me, and you, and you, and you. We need to understand that sexual assault is a very disturbing and very real issue, and that we need to take action. Not next year, not tomorrow, but now.
Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.