Walking back to my car after work Sunday night is possibly the most stressful three and a half minutes of my week. I clench my fist around the keys in my pocket. I check under and inside my car before unlocking it and clambering in with everything I need to take home with me. I am hyper-aware of movement in my peripheral vision. It’s a statistical unlikelihood that there are rapists and murderers hiding in my Subaru for hours at subzero temperatures, but I can’t shake the fear that has deep roots in my mind.
Our university administration has been reprimanded by the federal government for it’s failure to properly respond to Title IX violations in our community—an ongoing issue the Sun Star has been dedicated to reporting on. We live in state with undeniably high rates of sexual assault. The fact that there are students on our campus who want to learn about what to do in these situations has not escaped my notice, nor my gratitude.
With Sexual Assault Awareness Month coming up in April, I’m sure those who frequent Wood Center have noticed the signs posted around campus. One of these signs involves the “It’s On Us” campaign, which asks participants to make a pledge not to be bystanders, but instead to assist in preventing sexual assault in their community. While I think it’s noble for students to elect to take on this responsibility, I wonder if our administration is relieved that there are students lining up to take on the duties they have a history of failing to uphold.
This idea of community intervention brings to mind a story my dad once told me about a party he attended when he was younger. A girl from the area was found by her brother in the back of a vehicle, unconscious and being assaulted. The style of intervention at the time was simple: the sibling dragged the man off his sister, had friends help hold him down with legs hanging over the edge of the back of their truck and jumped on the attacker’s knees, breaking them.
By contrast, in our own small community, I haven’t heard of such acts of vigilante justice. People report to the Title IX office, which has a complicated and federally criticized system for resolving these reports. Our community intervention is marked by people lining up, promising to recognize and interrupt situations where consent is questionable. The “It’s On Us” campaign calls for everyone to be responsible and requests another duty of pledge takers: supporting survivors who received neither recognition nor intervention.
I’m no stranger to the feelings of indignation and frustration when people tell me to be careful walking alone at night, to always check my back seat and watch how I’m dressed. I especially don’t think it’s alright that I never heard the same things said to my brothers or male friends while growing up, even though there’s statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center that indicate males can also be victims of sexual assault. To me, there is a clear double standard at play: women are told to be painfully aware of their surroundings at all times, while the safety of men is disregarded entirely.
However, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is fast approaching and I worry that people are beginning to equate awareness of these issues with immunity. Just being aware sexual assault happens does not make you impervious to it. Given the state statistics, the federal report on the failings of our administration and just my own experiences walking alone, I feel the strongest solution is a personal one.
I don’t believe I can count on my community, be they concerned pledges or vigilante bone breakers, to intervene when I’m in danger. I think, as individuals, we have to take our own precautions—even if it means acknowledging a double standard and checking the back of the car.