By now, most of you are anxiously tracking the trending Stanford case.
It has inspired justifiable rage. There is rage at Brock Turner for insisting on believing that he did nothing wrong. There is rage at his parents for their own denial. There is rage levied at the judge who handed Brock a paltry 6-month prison sentence. The survivor-affirming responses are so ubiquitous that I almost didn’t pause to take note … of how novel that reaction feels.
Just a few years ago, when Kamilah Willingham “came out” not only as a survivor of sexual violence but as an angry survivor, she felt as though her own justifiable rage caused others to look away.
“After I was assaulted, I showed my anger. It was only later that I realized that many people are more inclined to believe the plight of a ‘broken’ victim… But I can’t shut up. I’m sick of the notion that we have to pull back on our agency, shrink down our identities, so that we can fit into this little box that represents what an innocent, truly sympathetic victim supposedly looks like.”
Today an all-star cast of powerful women on the front lines of change convenes in Washington, D.C. for the United State of Women Summit. They’re discussing, with grace and humor, how to increase access to STEM jobs, grow women-owned businesses, and achieve pay equity.
Shoulder-to-shoulder (so to speak) with Michelle Obama, a few of those women will discuss how colleges and universities — the places that supposedly prepare our young people for the workforce, parenthood, and life — are a hotbed of sexual violence. Thirty percent of college students who survive sexual assault suffer from PTSD – making PTSD more common among sexual assault survivors than among combat veterans.
Annie Clark and Andrea Pino were both the targets of sexual assault while attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the years since, they have co-founded End Rape on Campus, been featured in the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” and co-authored a powerful collection of stories and guide for advocates, We Believe You. They help other survivors file federal Title IX complaints, mentor student activists, and lobby for needed policy reforms. They are partially to thank for President Obama’s “It’s on Us” campaign.
All three of these women felt re-victimized during the process of reporting rape to the alma mater they trusted and still love.
A law professor at UNC said of her own reporting experience: “I didn’t report it to the police, only to the university. I wanted to have it counted. And I finally had enough cultural capital where I felt like I wouldn’t feel demeaned. I thought that I had nothing to lose, but I was wrong. Reporting was awful… My suicide attempt was a few months later.”
High publicity cases like the Stanford case give the public the erroneous impression of an isolated bad act by a bad egg. The truth is that 1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence while in college. The truth is that only 3 of 100 rapists will receive any jail time at all.
The truth is that less than 10% of assaults on college campuses are reported and that 28 of the top 50 “best universities” according to the US News and World Report are currently under investigation for Title IX violations.
For Annie, the story that she wants told isn’t about her personal anguish, the awe-inspiring activism that followed, or even a frank practical discussion of how to reduce sexual assaults on campus. She wants dialogue about a culture that supports rape.
“If you address sexual assault as an issue in and of itself, rather than considering it in the context in which it occurs, you will never cease marginalizing certain people.”
That sentiment especially rings true when you learn that the rate of sexual assault among women ages 18-24 not in college is even higher than for those who are in college.
What can you do?
You can tune into the Summit via livestream. You can write your congressional representatives and urge them to support policy reform. You can model an equitable and mutually supportive relationship to your children. You can dismiss cultural norms that serve to shame or subvert the “other” among us.
You can stay angry.