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Changing sexual assault culture

| Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Notre Dame student body received an email during the football game against Michigan State on Saturday, informing us of another sexual assault in a North Quad men’s residence hall. Distracted, we may have checked our phones, said a quick prayer, clicked “delete” and returned our attention to the game. That’s the problem with e-mail – it can easily be ignored, numbing us to the reality of an incident that may represent one of the most traumatic events in someone’s life.
In a Letter to the Editor (“Praying for the Irish,” Sept. 23), a student talked about the prayer service student government hosted at the Grotto on Sunday for victims of sexual assault. “Less than two percent of our student body took time to pray together for our brothers and sisters in Notre Dame affected by sexual assault,” she wrote. While prayer is not the only way to deal with troubling issues, the small turnout reflects a casual attitude toward sexual assault on campus.
Approximately one year ago, The Observer Editorial Board wrote an editorial titled “Getting serious about sexual assault.” It called on the student body to move beyond the unfortunately alliterative phrase, “forcible fondling,” which was used in e-mails reporting sexual assaults to the community, and to realize this crime is real and serious.
Has anything changed in a year? The phrase “sexual assault” has replaced “forcible fondling” in the alert e-mails, which hopefully has removed any element of humor from the situation.
This change is positive, but it does not strike at the root of the problem.
We think there’s another answer, a simpler answer. As the student bodies of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, we need to realize the only way to begin to eradicate sexual assault on our campuses is to take responsibility for our actions and for how those actions create a standard of conduct in our community.
It’s up to us and no one else to change this culture.
If one of us want to progress to a new stage of interaction, we need to take responsibility for getting consent from our partners. You deserve someone who fully consents to be with you, and they deserve to be asked for consent.
Let’s consider the reverse of that. You also need to put yourself in a position to give consent. To be clear, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Still, each of us makes choices that help us to be safe or endanger us – when we drive, when we drink, when we walk alone at night. We need to make decisions that help us to be safe sexually, as well. If you drink, make decisions that enable you to retain control in a situation and to give consent. Make sure you know where your line is and are prepared to draw it. These efforts cannot completely prevent instances of sexual assault, but they will make these crimes less likely to occur.
It’s not going to be the wording in an e-mail, a prayer service at the Grotto, freshman orientation programs or vigilant hall staffs that prevent sexual assault on our campuses. Instead, it will be the girl who sees her friend is too drunk leaving a party with a guy and intervenes before the situation escalates. It will be the junior guy who sees a sophomore aggressively pursuing a hook-up and tells him to stop. It will be when we all are active participants, not bystanders, because we see and respect each other as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Notre Dame.