Not in Our Halls: On Campus Sexual Assault and Other Violence

January 24, 2017

Rain drop, drop top. When will this stop?

Per usual, I’ve got a lot of thoughts on recent events – particularly those that are political in nature. I put off sharing my thoughts, once again, in fear of more hate mail and backlash to my opinions. Nonetheless, I blog because I possess ownership over a space in which I control what is said and displayed. I don’t plaster my lengthy essays on my Facebook wall because I know not everyone is interested. Still, I invite everyone to read what I’m sharing on my corner of the internet and to engage in dialogue surrounding any topic at hand – obviously, I don’t have all the answers.

A week ago today, I flipped on the lights of my office to see that the bulbs in my desk lamp had blown. I’m one of those dark office-sitters – I don’t like overhead light, and when there’s not abundant natural light pouring into my 5th floor abode, my office is most definitely a cave. I sat down to sift through dozens, who knows maybe hundreds, of emails I had been slowly working my way through since returning to campus after the New Year. About 9:30 AM, the familiar ding of my email notification came over my speakers and I saw the subject line “UK Crime Bulletin: Sexual Assault.” Here we go again.

I immediately and impulsively took a screen capture of the email, posted it to Facebook, and tagged the University’s main account to beckon, “When will this stop?” When asked what I expected the University to do about such an occurrence in a subsequent comment on my post, I responded with the following statement:

“Quite a bit of the campus dialogue about sexual assault including safety strategies disseminated still denies the fact that a majority of assaults are committed by a perpetrator known to the victim. It’s not simply an issue with UK – but that’s where we need to start altering the dialogue and sense of transparency about the frequency of sexual assaults, to whom and where they are happening, methods of reporting, and follow through with legal action or other repercussion for such behavior. Sending a timely notice mandated by law about such occurrence hardly addresses the culture of sexual violence that is diminished on college campuses. I’ve seen a small albeit important increase in security measures and concern since beginning my career at UK, but student residents in campus housing are often presented unclear pictures of their actual “safety”.”

It’s, like, really neat when the internet has your back. In fact, 25 of my friends/acquaintances/Facebook strangers came to back me by liking that comment alone. It feels good to know that someone else shares the same beliefs as you and gives you confidence to keep fighting what you feel is the good fight. I wanted my response to be succinct and to the point for the sake of social media – but I’m not done with this topic. Let’s play a game:

When you read the above excerpt of the police statement emailed campus wide, who do you think of? Let’s ignore the demographics in the last sentence because, frankly, I never even get to that point in these emails because I’m so preoccupied with the occurrence itself. Do you think of someone who looks like you? I do. I see someone very much like myself in the victim’s place – white, reasonably petite, the average student. Who do you picture as the perpetrator in this scenario? Do they look like you? Are of they of a different race, different class, speak a different language, dress differently? Unfortunately, my mind darted to the polar opposite image of the average guy I have historically found myself physically attracted to.

Kicking myself for such an interpretation and for the instant realization that I hold biases, my inclination to imagine the offender as someone unlike myself reveals social conditioning. Such conditioning leads me to assume a criminal or perpetrator of violence does not look like someone by whom I am frequently surrounded or who I have been taught to trust in social circles. I didn’t picture my boyfriend, I didn’t picture my father, I didn’t picture my favorite professor, I didn’t even picture an ex – yet nearly all these men fit the demographics listed. In my life, these men (yes, men – because those are the only individuals I was raised to believe can commit partner violence) look and act a lot like me, and I trust them. For that reason, they could never partake in such a violating action such as sexual assault. Right?

The victim/survivor in this scenario knew her assailant. She trusted him enough to check him into her residence hall – by providing his driver’s license to the desk clerk – and invited him into her home away from home. When individuals take advantage of the trust afforded them, we witness a disheartening cultural phenomenon. While the actions were the perpetrator’s alone, we live and work in a culture (a campus culture, at that) that still participates in victim blaming/shaming, dismisses punishment, and offers defense strategies against this seemingly inevitable experience.

Actions that Change Culture

Rewind to my freshman year on UK’s campus. My residence hall created a campaign against discrimination called Not in Our Halls. In quite poor taste, the campaign’s first installment featured this brazen phrase on the lobby bulletin board: “LGBTQ Students: Not in Our Halls.” Despite the unfortunate wording, this initiative was the first of many small steps towards inclusivity I recognized on campus. As previously stated, I feel like the university has made substantial progress in the last 5 years. I feel a greater sense of transparency and a better distribution of funds to support inclusive activities and organizations. Still, campus security protocol, our system of notifications, and the sense of safety we try to instill in prospective students from the get-to feels insufficient. How safe are we in our campus classrooms, offices, and housing options? Sure – “It can happen anywhere.” Because statistics on campus sexual assault often reflect less than true pictures of violence when so few individuals report, let’s look at mass school and workplace shootings. Since I began college in August 2012, 21 of 23 shootings happened in the US. This statistic is representative of a culture desensitized to and that repeatedly excuses violence of all forms.

When I completed the UK Citizen Police Academy, I learned about all of the methods of notification utilized by campus PD to protect and raise awareness of danger on campus. I also learned about the Jeanne Clery Act and the Act mandating campus crime statistics reporting that prompt police forces to send such emails to UK students, faculty, and staff. The email is followed with a list of “safety precautions” that overwhelmingly suggests danger is eminent and that the best offense is a strong defense:

If you see something, say something. For emergencies, call 911.

Be an active bystander.  If you think someone is at risk for sexual assault, consider it an emergency and get involved.

Consent for sexual contact is not implied.

Carry a cell phone to be able to call for help in emergencies.

Download and use the LiveSafe Application

Take the UKPD taught T.A.R.R class

Request a FREE SAFECATS student safety escort or coordinate after-hours on-demand bus service during the fall and spring semesters by calling (859) 257-SAFE(7233).

Make statements with authority – “BACK-OFF! STOP! NO-WAY!” You deserve to be respected.

Addressing consent and bystander involvement are the only points that suggest a change in culture and thought are necessary. College campuses, UK included, have much work to do to not only create safe communities and living spaces for their residents and learners, but also to mold graduating classes that do not condone or perpetrate interpersonal violence.

What strategies initiate shifts in culture, in thought, and in action?

 

Want to read more about my thoughts on campus safety? Check out my book, Lessons We Paid For, available for purchase via The Book Patch and at Joseph Beth Booksellers.

 

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