Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Letter To My Students: Stop Rape Now By Doing These Ten Things

Over the past six months, we at Zenith University have been talking about rape and sexual assault.  We talk in the dormitories and program houses; we talk in faculty offices; we talk in special hearings run by the deans; we talk in a committee convened to examine sexual assault on campus; we talk on the Anonymous Confession Board; we talk in the pages of the Zenith newspaper

So enough talk, Zenith students.  It is time to act.  Direct some of the compassion that you so frequently exhibit towards people off our campus towards each other.  It is time for you to stop rape at Zenith right now. 

I have never used this blog to talk directly to Zenith students.  But because I know you read it, and because there has recently been a public announcement about sexual assault on campus, I want to  speak to you directly about how you can stop rape and sexual assault on campus without any intervention by the university at all.  Here are ten positive steps you, the students, can do to stop rape and sexual assault on campus, without any member of the Zenith administration doing anything.  These steps can be taken by men or women, by victims or friends of victims, and they can be taken today.

A person who has been raped should go immediately to the hospital and have a rape kit done.  The person who has raped you has left physical traces on your body and your first impulse will be to scrub them away, but this is critical evidence that must be preserved.  Do not go to the university health services; go directly to the hospital by whatever the quickest means is.  Do not allow anyone to talk you out of this.  If you have been forced to give someone oral sex, do not wash out your mouth.  Do not dispose of your clothes or underpants, and have someone meet you at the hospital with new clothes to put on because what you are wearing may need to be logged into evidence.  You also need to have prophylactic medication to stop or avert the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases; interrupt possible conception; be examined for any physical damage the rapist may have caused; and have any injuries documented and photographed. 

This is the one, crucial step necessary to prosecute rape as the crime that it is:  go to the hospital and have a rape kit done and your injuries documented.  You or your friend can file this rape kit under an anonymous number, and no assailant has to be named until such a time as the victim is ready to talk to the police and work with them to decide whether to file charges.  

Never ask someone who says s/he has been raped: "Are you sure?"  If a person says s/he has been raped, assume that s/he has been, and know that you can acknowledge that sexual violence has occurred without deciding whether the accused person is capable of such a crime.  You are not required to decide guilt or innocence:  you are simply required to help a person in distress get to the hospital.  Know that when you question an affirmative statement that sexual violence has occurred, you are detaching from that person and weighing the option not to be involved.

Do not allow shame over the event, or actions you may or may not have taken leading up to the event, to keep you from going to the hospital or to the police.   You are likely to feel disoriented and unwilling -- or unable -- to talk to people about what has happened to you and there is no need to do that until you have the support you need.  When bad things happen, our greatest tendency is to blame ourselves first, but that is in part because we live in a society that conveys shame about a great many things, especially sex.  Questions like:  "Why did I drink so much?" "Why did I allow myself to be fooled by this person?" "Why did I trust someone I didn't know?" "What will people think of me?" and "Why didn't I fight harder?" are not only self-defeating questions, they are irrelevant.  The person who committed this crime against you has probably done it before, and will probably do it again to someone else (see this research, contributed by a reader, the findings of which argue that the vast majority of campus rapes are committed by serial rapists who are never caught; the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated on first-year students.)  Keeping your rape a secret increases a rapist's confidence that this horrible act can be perpetrated without penalty.

Do not allow anyone to tell you that you will feel worse if you report this to the police or file charges.  It isn't true, or at least, consider that advice unproven.  In fact, research shows that people who take legal action against rapists do better psychologically down the line than people who do not report them to the police, even when they do not get the outcome they want.  Furthermore, a rapist who is successfully expelled from the Zenith campus in a confidential proceeding has suffered a setback, but has also been given a get out of jail free card to go rape someone else on another campus.

Never joke about rape or sexual assault, mock people who have been raped, or say in jest that rape would be an appropriate introduction to sexual intercourse.  At the risk of being mocked yourself, tell people who say these things that they are not funny. In fact, help to build a student culture where people do not  think people's sexuality is a joke, where people's self-esteem is not built on who they have sex with or whether they have sex at all.  Emphasize in your conversations about sex that with the pleasure of sexuality comes the responsibility to treat others with honor and respect.  Do not take these responsibilities lightly.  Do not erroneously conclude that the vast majority of rape accusations come from hook-ups that one person regrets, break-up sex that one partner is using as a weapon, or a misunderstanding about consent.  While it is true that accusations of sexual assault can be false, it is a far more salient fact that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults on campus are never reported at all.

If you believe that a crime has been committed, you have a moral obligation to report it and urge the victim to take steps to report it too.  Rape is a crime.  It isn't a misunderstanding, or the unavoidable outcome of having been too drunk to restrain yourself.  In some states, to not report a felony makes you a co-conspirator.  Connecticut is not one of them.  But talking about rape on the Anonymous Confession Board is not the same thing as stopping rape.  In fact, it is much worse, because accusations against entire groups of people -- primarily teams, fraternities, and the women who socialize with them  -- create a sense of mutual stigma and resentment because people who should be part of the solution close ranks around a friend or friends rather than taking responsible action against the person or persons responsible for the rape.

Do not ever tease or mock men about their masculinity; do not ever use homophobic, racist or sexist slurs; and do not engage in or tolerate behavior or speech which humiliates and harms others by degrading their personal dignity.  Rape is the ultimate act of degradation, but like bullying, it is often a product of a coarsened culture that tolerates and promotes profound disrespect for others.  Tolerance for rape and bullying displays your own selfish relief that it is not you who is the object of humiliation. Behavior which creates intimacy among a group through stigmatizing or harming others is immoral, wrong and, in the case of rape or hazing, criminal.  It creates a crude and unwelcoming student culture, and it impedes the real intimacy of love and/or friendship that occurs when people can trust others to treat them with love and respect.

Men need to talk to other men about why men rape; women need to talk to women about why they insist on making rape a private matter; and both men and women need to talk among themselves and with each other about why they tolerate rape.  Topics for such discussions might include:  why do we insist on valorizing hook-up culture without discussing an ethic of responsible sexuality?  Under what conditions do male bodies become weapons? If I am involved in a politics of decarceration, does that exclude acting to prevent a rapist from raping another woman?  If a rapist is not punished for that crime, what prevents that person from raping again or prevents others from believing they can get away with rape?  If I have seen someone being coerced into a situation where a sexual assault happened, what prevented me from intervening?  How would I intervene in the future? What is the special role of men, and men's organizations, in preventing rape? How can team captains, fraternity presidents and other campus leaders use their popularity and influence to end rape on campus?

If you can't stop people being raped at your parties, stop having parties.  On the other hand, imagine taking the following steps at your parties.  Do not let people in who cannot present an ID.  Have a sufficient number of people at your party who are willing to remain sober and to move around the room and/or the house, making sure that people are safe.  People who are intoxicated on booze or drugs past the point of good judgment should not be permitted to enter; they should not be served alcohol or drugs; and if they become intoxicated at the party, they should be escorted home by Public Safety or someone they can identify as a trusted friend.  No one should be having sex at a party.  If you insist on treating your party like a sex club, you must do what sex clubs do:  have sober, knowledgeable monitors specifically available to ensure that the sex is safe and fully consensual.

Forward this post to your friends, post it at your house, have a meeting on your hall about it, call your team or your club together and discuss it.  These are important issues for public safety and complex features of community building, and should be discussed frequently.  One Take Back the Night March every year, with cathartic crying circles where people comfort each other, does not constitute a year's worth of anti-rape activism.  A skit at orientation provides none of the practical information people need to know about rape.  A website that instructs someone what to do in the event of a sexual assault does not stop rape, nor is reading a website an effective way of taking in information or making decisions in the aftermath of a rape.

Report any rape or sexual assault you have not yet reported, no matter when it happened.  While it may be past the time that it can be prosecuted, the Zenith administration needs a far more accurate sense than it has about how many rapes there are on campus, and the places they are occurring. 

The Zenith administration can police rape, punish rape and provide resources to support you in the aftermath of a rape; only students working together can stop rape from occurring in the first place.  My hope is that institutional resources on campus aimed at combating rape will be strengthened dramatically in the coming months, and that feminist faculty will be a part of that discussion.  But the Zenith administration and the faculty are not raping you.  You are raping each other, and failing to deal with the conditions that make rape possible in your community.

And you can change that.  Now.


Anonymous said...

i really enjoyed this post. yale's feminist blog had an awesome article that compliments yours.

what i really want: someone on a lifetime after-school tv movie like 15 and pregnant to get an abortion and then they keep filming her and she never thinks about it and has a great life. more to your article: someone on a lifetime after-school tv movie goes to a party with her boyfriend, has a few drinks, he wants to have sex, she says no, and he proceeds to have sex with her. then without shame, she gets a rape kit, files a police report, and her family and friends have a conversation about what constitutes rape.


Anonymous said...

Great post.

It is so important that students take responsibility for the violence they do to each other and learn to create safe conditions within their own culture. Speaking out, the other main message in your post, is also so important. I was utterly abused by University Health at Yale (not in response to rape but in response to other sex-related issues) and I was made to feel as if I were a bad person with very direct, angry speech from doctors there. No help was offered whatsoever, no psychological counseling, only blaming and the kind of treatment that leaves one - left me - with self esteem issues for years.

I experienced child molestation, rape as a teenager (twice) and rape as an adult. The culture I grew up in made it impossible (for me) to talk about it to anyone, let alone have the courage to go to the police. Indeed, even recognizing that I had actually been raped took years to understand : Since my sexual experience began with molestation, abusive sexual conduct from men seemed, sadly, normal to me so the line between abuse and sex was very blurred.

Simple ideas must be said and repeated out loud:

Sex should not hurt you or anyone else.
Sex should not demean you or anyone else.
Not having sex doesn't make you uncool.
Having sex does not make you cool.
There is no shame in being hurt by another.

Thanks again for a wonderful post that may change some lives for the better.

flask said...

thank you.

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Excellent post.

Janice said...

Excellent post. I cringe when I hear someone walking by in the halls or at the mall saying "They were raped!" in regards to a sports team lost or the like. Rape is rape, it isn't getting a bad grade on an assignment or seeing a team go scoreless in your favourite game.

Anonymous said...

THank you. I don't remember orientation week at school taught me this. This is really helpful.

Laura said...

Wow. Thank you for posting this. If just one of your students reads it and takes notice, I believe it will do a lot of good. I have to say that my overwhelming feeling, reading this, is that I wish I'd been at Zenith when I was assaulted. My university didn't want to know, despite the fact that several incidents involving this man were reported. He received a 'warning' - both from the university and the police. He may well still be hanging around that campus.

Anonymous said...

thank you for posting this article. I am not a student of Zenith but I am a college student on the east coast and the culture of acceptance and shame around rape is the same here.

Bardiac said...

Very important, yes, thank you.

Somewhere, there's a thing on the internet about stopping rape that runs along the lines of here's how to stop rape: Don't rape someone. If someone's drunk at a party, don't rape them. If someone says no, don't rape them.

And so on.

Anonymous said...

Important post. I would only add, per the "men need to talk to other men..." bullet point, that men get raped, too. And women are perpetrators of sexual assault. I don't imagine you meant to imply otherwise but I wanted to add my encouragement to male victims of sexual assault to get the help and medical & legal support they need, too.

Abbey Volcano said...

I think this is a meaningful post, but I need to take issue with your telling people that have just been raped that they *must* and *need* to go directly to the hospital and to not wash themselves to preserve evidence and the such...

Firstly, I really don't think anyone should be telling people that have been raped what to do. Perhaps we should listen to their desires and be respectful of that.

Often, folks will *not* want to go to the hospital or police dept-- often they are wary of being re-victimized in (what are often) these isolating, medicalized and authoritarian environments.

Police response and other avenues through criminal "justice" is not always what folks need or want, and I think we need to be sensitive to that.

I don't mean to tear apart your well-intentioned post, but the way you are telling, almost ordering, folks what to do is really... not well thought out, to put it one way. Especially to have the 1st thing on the list be what one should do... according to... you, I guess.

At the same time, if folks desire to go to the hospital and to call the cops, then by all means, we should support them.

I think you get my drift.


Anonymous said...

Abbey, I think there are good reasons behind wording the first point that way. Advice meant to be gentler can end up just being confusing. TR made it clear that victims can always decide whether to press charges later, but going to the hospital is something that must be done right away. That's important for the victim's health as well as for preserving evidence. That the post is direct and authoritative could help people remember it when they're in need.

The seemingly pushy tone also gets across the message that victims absolutely have the right to go to the police and that they should, if only for their own sakes, go to the hospital. That needs to be perfectly clear in order to combat both the blatant victim-blaming in our culture and the softer, sneakier suggestion that victims should stay away from the police conveyed through things like putting the word 'justice' in scare quotes.

By the way, that caveat at the end of your comment is not useful. By talking about going to the hospital and the police as if these were odd choices some errant victims might make, you are effectively discouraging people from making those choices.

TR, thank you for writing this.


Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous 11:20 -- very qualified agree. One of the things to notice about this post is that, except for the sentence you point out, it avoids gendering either the position of the rapist or the object of the rape, which was deliberate on my part. That said, although it happens that women commit sex crimes against men, DOJ statistics show that the chances that a woman will be raped by a man skyrocket when she sets foot on a college campus (I don't know whether that is true of men assaulted by men because I'm not sure anyone has done the research.) They drop dramatically when she leaves. That's not true for men, and a violent intrusion into the body of a weaker man by a stronger woman is an exceptional crime.

Abbey: Disagree. What I wrote is a polemic. Polemics make strong arguments by their very nature. But, that said, not going to the hospital leaves a woman in danger of untreated venereal disease, HIV and possible pregnancy, not to mention injuries to the genitalia that, untreated, could affect her ability to experience intercourse without pain.

I am also arguing in this piece for community responsibility, and part of that is not privileging the victim's desire over the community's right not to have a predator in its midst. I also think that the assumption that the hospital and police will be cruel is one that is made without any knowledge that it will be so. It certainly was not my experience, and many women make that decision on the say-so of others, or out of their own fear. I don't call that agency.

Anonymous said...

As a student, I really appreciate a professor taking the time to write about these issues in a public forum.

That said, I think it is unwise to pressure a survivor of sexual assault to go to the hospital, file a police report, etc. Someone in distress needs more than anything to feel like they are in control of their own life and can choose from the options available to them.

If you have read the Office of Behavioral Health's guide for faculty on "recognizing and aiding persons in distress" you will see that from a mental health standpoint, OBHS advises faculty to firstly listen without judgment, and to avoid pressuring the student to report. I agree that it is important for a survivor to know that an immediate hospital visit is necessary for a police report, but I wanted to make sure this point was heard as well.

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous 10:14 -- I think advising a student to report a rape and pressuring them to do so are very different. I also think that there is no office on campus arguing this position, which is why I decided to do it. OBHS also does not point either faculty or students to the consequences of not reporting a rape: trauma that increases rather than decreases; a fear that one could be raped again by this same person; the strong possibility that other people will be raped by this person. Without disclosing those things, how can a victim of a crime make an informed and ethical decision, even on her own behalf? It is my personal belief that to honor all of a woman's unmediated feelings as if they were free choices is faux feminism

But you point to one of the problems with the situation at Zenith right now which is that too often students who have been assaulted end up being "counseled" by people who are entirely untrained. Faculty, and students, ought not to be front-line resources for dealing with crimes on campus, but they are. Training faculty, and acknowledging this invisible work (which, by the way, has shredded the last two weeks of my life) would be a step, but having ample resources and ongoing training for students by a professional would be a far better step to take.

Anonymous said...

Men talking to other men should be number 1,2, and 3. The victim is *not* the one with the most responsibility and should not be asked to act first.

Tenured Radical said...

True Sita. But she is the only person who can do the things that need to be done to report, file charges and prosecute a rape.

Abbey Volcano said...

TR-- "I also think that the assumption that the hospital and police will be cruel is one that is made without any knowledge that it will be so."
--In my experience with talking with people who have been assaulted, this is very much the case-- but I'm glad that you and others have had good experiences. So there is not a lack of knowledge, or none, as you are implying, in this regard.

Aishlin-- "sneakier suggestion that victims should stay away from the police conveyed through things like putting the word 'justice' in scare quotes."
-- I wasn't trying to be sneaky. I put Justice in quotes b/c the system is not set up for "justice"-- I didn't have an ulterior motive with that-- just a quick way to critique the system and it's pretty standard.

Also, you write: "By the way, that caveat at the end of your comment is not useful. By talking about going to the hospital and the police as if these were odd choices some errant victims might make, you are effectively discouraging people from making those choices."
--I tried to make it clear that I wasn't arguing for folks to go (or to not go) to the hospital or police, but that I think we should understand why folks may not want to go, especially considering the original post was, imho, pressuring folks *to* go. Also, I tried to make it clear that we should support whatever decision folks make, reporting the incident or not, going to the hospital or not-- I wasn't trying to make it sound like "odd" choices to go to the hospital/police-- that is something you inferred but I did not state in any way.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Folks at Zenith need to talk more about rape.

Here's my addition, as a Zenith alum:

Trust your instincts. If you see something that doesn't look right to you, step in. If someone looks too intoxicated to get home safe, offer water, a safe place to sit, and call them a ride. If someone seems uncomfortable with another person's sexual advances, intervene. Zenith is a small community - and it's the least anyone can do to step in when they see something wrong.

Anonymous said...

I think you're characterizing Rape too much as a product of lack of enforcement, either by authorities or victims unwilling to take steps to punish the rapist. I think this vastly oversimplifies that goes into the rapist's state of mind and the solution necessary or even possible to reduce sexual assault.

At the end of the day, 'crimes of passion' related to severe expressions of someone's out of control emotional state will not be reduced by legal enforcement. They simply won't. No enraged husband thinks about prison when he shoots his wife. Few rapists are thinking about consequences when they force themselves on another.

Tenured Radical said...

Well, but that is why the highest focus of this post is on rape prevention, and on what it might mean for women to care for themselves by going to the hospital and reporting the rape.

Digger said...

TR, I think this is a great post. If we want to live in a better world, we all have to step up to the plate, and stop waiting for other people to make it better.

Clover88 said...

Thanks for this post.

I have one critique and preface by saying I was a front-line rape crisis worker for 15 years. I know your post was a polemic, but I want to say that in order to regain control (which was taken by the rape) survivors need to determine for themselves whether or not to report and should be allowed to receive (necessary) medical care without reporting. In my state, this is not possible: treating a possible rape triggers a doctor's report to law enforcement.

But I like your focus on prevention and on speaking to those on campus around the rapist and survivor. I recommend Lisak's work; he advises that good men (and women) step in to assist/support vulnerable women from (serial) predatory men to help stop rape/rapists. See more at

Thanks again for a great post.

Tenured Radical said...

Clover88: thanks for your input. I think one question in my mind is -- if the campus presents special dangers (particularly to women), does it also create special opportunities for education and training? In other words, might there be opportunities to talk to students about the steps to take following a rape that would build their confidence and capacity to make decisions that would identify and act affirmatively against perpetrators in the aftermath of a rape?

Part of what concerns me about the advocacy that no position be taken on reporting is that it pre-supposes that the rape victim (who is feminized, if not actually a woman) is a blank slate who has little sense of agency to begin with. I don't think that is so -- but more importantly, it can be changed, and this strikes me as a critical feminist task, as does the creation of consciousness among students about how to take positive actions against rape and in favor of a friends health, safety and future judicial options *while* supporting a friend who has been harmed.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Does Zenith have an honor code, and does it obligate students aware of a rape to report it to appropriate university authorities?

Anonymous said...

People who think that not reporting a rape will in some way empower the victim because she made her own decision, are probably fooling themselves in my opinion. In the short term this may be true, but it ignores long-term consequences when people just set aside what happened to them as if it never happened.

I was attacked by someone I knew well when I was in college. I didn't report it for a whole bunch of reasons that seemed to make sense at the time, but in hindsight, really I just unknowingly accepted the same thought patterns that so many people do. And then I moved on with my life. It isn't something I typically think about or dwell on and it does not define me, but it comes back in strange ways that might not have been the case, had I dealt with it when it happened. Reporting would have required dealing with it.

Today I have a family and teenage kids. The fashion among teen boys seems to be to use terms that relate to sexualized violence like rape, in an appallingly casual manner. The culture that encourages boys to do this is brutal and (hey - TR - pssst!) worthy of its own blog post. Each time I hear my son and his friends talk like this I object. My son can't understand. He thinks I'm just a prude. I probably won't ever tell him because it would totally change his image of me as his mom. He doesn't need to deal with this and of course I want to protect him from some of life's harsher realities before he is ready for them (and when is anybody ready to hear about their mom's experience with sexual violence). But I recognize that choosing not to report all those years ago had consequences that continue to reverberate through time, in ways big and small. I'd probably still be sensitive to the issue if I had reported it, of course, but I suspect it would have been less so.

TR, thanks for bringing up this topic in such an open manner. It breaks my heart that every semester I can count on at least one student (usually several) telling me during office hours that something like this has recently happened to them and they don't know what to do. Faculty should not be on the front lines, but in the absence of others whom the students trust, we often are.

Joshua said...

The one thing that's missing from this list is: be absolutely sure that you have consent before engaging in sexual activity. In other words, "Stop. Raping. People."

As much as I like this article, it focuses almost entirely on what people can do to prevent others from raping, and what can be done after a rape has occurred. Those are, of course, important steps. But by skipping over, "have consent; don't rape," it implicitly treats rape as inevitable, which it isn't.

Anonymous said...

In addition to talking about steps to take after being raped, shouldn't you list steps to take to avoid being raped? I can think of many, right off the top of my head. In an ideal world, one could do whatever one wished without fear, but this world ain't ideal -- even at Zenith, apparently. An ounce of prevention . . .

Joshua said...

@Anonymous: The problem with listing steps to avoid being raped is that it tends to amount to victim-blaming. Even if you were to look purely at statistics, most people who are raped are raped by someone they know, so what is the advice going to be: don't be around your friends?

Anonymous said...

I think parents also need to be more aware of the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, so that they can have open discussions with their children about the issue. All through middle/high school my parents talked to me about drinking, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, not getting enough sleep, mugging, and a host of other possible dangers (some more real than others) that one should be aware of on a college campus. They never said a word about sexual assault though, and that's ironic because that's the one I needed to know about. (Of course, in turn, I have never told my parents that I was assaulted. There's too much silence on this subject and I still don't know how I'd broach the subject, or to what end, at this point.)

This is not just about mothers warning their daughters, either. Parents should be talking with their sons, too. No parent I know of raises their son to be a rapist but how many parents have actually talked about this with their sons?

Anonymous said...

Joshua, how about 1)Be careful who you pick for friends, 2) Don't get fall-down drunk even among your friends, and 3)Always be alert to your surroundings, to name just 3 bits of good advice. No one should be blamed for being raped, but everyone should be taught steps to avoid being raped. I know (or at least I hope) you're not saying don't teach your kids how to minimize the likelihood of being raped. Yes, it can happen even if you take all possible steps but everyone should be taught how to minimize the risk. Again, an ounce of prevention. . .

Anonymous said...

this should be required for every zenith student. maybe the argus should print it. Pressure needs to be put on the administration to address the issue, including filling the open position for a rape crisis counselor. Like you said rape needs to stop and the students need to affect the change.

Also, as a parent I have spoken and continue to speak to my son about this and other issues. He knows no means no, and understands how alcohol clouds everyones judgement.

Unknown said...

do not URGE the victim to report. Support them in whatever decision they make. They do not need the addded pressure. They need encouragement and support and the decision to report is ultimately THEIRS to make.