Ashamed and disgusted.
That was how I felt when I read President Falk’s e-mail last week addressing sexual assault at the College. In this little place that we affectionately call the purple bubble, nearly one woman in five reports that she is sexually assaulted in some way over the course of a year. Four percent of the men on campus also report “sexual touching without their consent.” Those numbers are only for those people who report assaults; it’s scary to imagine how high that percentage would be if everyone who experienced some type of sexual assault reported it. Moreover, the number of assaults here is, by Falk’s own admission, higher than at the College’s peer institutions. How much higher, he did not say. The purple bubble has yet again been popped; the notion that the College is an idyllic safe haven has again proved to be an illusion, a lie we tell ourselves so that we can sleep better in our unlocked rooms during the week and blow off steam over the weekend.
You know what the really scary part is, though? Nearly every member of the community is in some way at fault. This claim may seem bold – there are, after all, an awfully large number of people who don’t participate in the events where assault takes place, there are numerous others who would never so much as think of committing sexual assault and there are many groups dedicated to addressing the problems we face. But most of us go to parties where alcohol is used to facilitate sexual interaction; most of us are uneducated about these issues; and most of us do little to fight these trends. We have to acknowledge the simple fact that we are all a part of a culture that enables sexual assault.
Worse, for me personally, is the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are men. For me, it has perpetually been difficult to engage in conversations regarding sexual assault on campus. I feel guilt that many members of my gender are hurting others, that I haven’t done enough to stop it and that I am clearly, in some way, complicit in this culture.
Moreover, I know that I am not the only man that struggles with these conversations. For some, there is a sense that most men are not rapists, and that it is therefore not a problem for those who are not. For others, there is a fear that they will be accused of something they did not do – and that this happens more often than not. And, if we are being honest, some men are afraid that, just maybe, they once committed sexual assault without realizing it, or even if they didn’t, that they are capable of it.
Ultimately, many men feel blamed and targeted when discussions of rape and sexual assault arise. The result is that many are hesitant to talk about it, and to find ways to combat the culture of assault.
To me, it is this feeling of blame that prevents genuine strides from being made in our purple bubble. We as a community are already taking the obvious steps to fight our culture of assault. We have the Rape and Sexual Assault Network, which hosts Take Back the Night, provides support for victims and undertakes educational efforts. We have Sexual Assault Survivor Services, which provides professional help from the Health Center for survivors. We have task forces that unite students and the administration and we have people invested in making rape and sexual assault on campus an issue we tackle rather than ignore. But I believe that for many men, the feeling of blame permeates these conversations; and when one feels targeted, he will not take part in the conversation – he will simply walk away. The result is that the efforts fail to affect many of the people that most need to be reached for the culture to change.
It is time that men stopped running away from these problems. It is time, as it were, that we all “man up.” We need to acknowledge that we, collectively, allow rape and sexual assault to happen. We need to take responsibility for whatever part we play in our campus’s culture of sexual assault. And we, collectively, need to do everything we can to stop it.
How? I do not know all the answers. I do know that we need to educate ourselves about what constitutes sexual assault and what does not. If one definitively understands what sexual assault is, then there is no excuse for one’s behavior, and one is less likely to take actions that violate others. I know we need to intervene when we see another man sexually assaulting someone in any way. You don’t need bystander training to know when one person is treating another person inappropriately. I know we need to stop using alcohol as a means to the end of having sex. I know we need to be willing to confront our own fears. I know we need to listen when people speak about these issues. I know we need to remember 19 percent and 4 percent.
If we do all these things and more, this culture can and will change. If we don’t, then I know that I, at least, will continue to walk around, ashamed and disgusted, every day
Matthew Piltch ’12 is a political science and English major frm Bryn Mawr, Penn. He lives in Poker Flats.