To the Editor:
Over the past few months the Williams community has received a good deal of information regarding sexual violence on campus. The latest of these was an article in the March 2nd Record entitled “Sexual assault poses threat to campus life.” It was an informative, well-written article discussing the available resources for victims, the administration’s follow-up procedure, and the likely presence of unreported sexual assault.
Overall, the article presented an accurate portrayal of the support network at Williams. However, I was upset by the implication that sexual assault is dependent upon alcohol abuse. In particular, I was deeply troubled by Donna Denelli-Hess’ final statement that “as long as there is as much alcohol use on this campus as there is now, sexual assault is going to occur because people don’t make good decisions. The whole level of vulnerability really scares me.” Here, Denelli-Hess shifts the blame from the attacker onto the victim and onto alcohol. This is not fair to the victim. This overemphasis on alcohol takes sympathy away from the victim and downplays the true nature of the situation: the violation of a person’s private space by an unwelcome aggressor.
I was also disturbed by Erin Morrissette ’00’s comment, “As a J.A. I have seen people getting so drunk they can’t really control their actions. They don’t see [sexual assault] as a consequence.” By deeming sexual assault as a “consequence” of drinking, Morrissette perpetuates the myth that the victim has full control over what happens during sexual assault.
The reason I am writing this is not to criticize Denelli-Hess; there is no doubt in my mind that she is a competent and caring member of the support team. However, considering her prominent position as a sexual assault counselor, I feel a desire to clarify the subtleties of her statement. I want to make clear to other victims that even though alcohol may have played a minor or major role in their particular situation, they are not to blame in any way for the assault. While being careful about alcohol is a positive preliminary action, sexual assault can occur regardless of how many precautions you take.
My friends and I have always been careful with our alcohol consumption. One of us is always designated to watch out for the others; we never separate at parties; we don’t allow each other to leave parties with mere acquaintances. According to the rules, we did everything right, and still, I was assaulted. It happened in the safest of places: our bathroom. That night, I went to some parties with my friends, and we drank some. We walked back together, and we said goodnight at our doors; we were all still somewhat drunk, but we were in familiar territory and felt safe. While I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, a man whom I had met briefly the weekend before walked in. He, unlike me, was sober. He turned the lights out.
I was hospitalized and confined to my bed for several days. I couldn’t tell anyone except for my closest friends about what had happened because I felt that, since I had been drunk, that I was partially responsible for what had occurred. I saw my attacker around campus and with each encounter I became more confused about what had happened. I tried to convince myself that it had been an accident. After all, he had lots of friends who were girls.
Eventually I realized that I was not the one with the problem, and that it was he who was to blame for the attack; the sheer nature of the physical injuries were proof that the encounter had been no accident. I went to Security and filed an official case against him. He was expelled.
I am grateful for the support I received from Security and the Dean’s Office. They thoroughly investigated the matter and determined the punishment for the student.
I want other victims to know that, regardless of the involvement of alcohol, it is not an excuse for any sort of sexual misconduct. By placing all the emphasis on the role of alcohol in sexual assault, the assaulter’s role in the situation is diminished. It should never be doubted that the aggressor is entirely responsible. Once the blame is correctly removed from the victim, I hope the victim will be compelled to speak up about his or her experiences. By doing so, someone else can be saved from the same encounter.