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Where do we go from here?

Viewpoint Columnist | Monday, September 23, 2013

I opened my email to another message of sexual assault and again, I sat flabbergasted at yet another affront to human dignity that occurred within this Notre Dame community. I must say that my heart goes out to the women and men who feel that their power was taken away from them in a horrible way.
I dare you not to cringe when I tell you, according to the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education website, “One out of every four-to-five woman are assaulted on campuses each year.” This, my friends, is too much.
When discussing this with a friend, she said something that made me think hard about this issue. “For every one report of sexual assault,” she said, “there are probably 10 or more incidents that have not been reported.” This breaks my heart.
I do realize this is speculation and I do not have concrete evidence to support this statistic, but I do know at least three girls who have had unwanted sexual contact during my time here at Notre Dame and have not reported it – one as recently as this past weekend. This, unfortunately, is a reality overlooked. But, why?
I thought about the Notre Dame “hook-up” culture, how overly hormonal men who, because of parietals, have a limited amount of time to “get with” a girl they meet at a party. That somehow our system of residential life may actually be the clandestine culprit of the pain and confusion of many victims on campus. But I threw this idea aside.
The issue of sexual assault is not just a Notre Dame issue, but also an issue that plagues the whole of college culture, and while residential life may play a factor, ultimately, based on statistics, these things would still occur.
We are taught that this topic is extremely relevant, that sexual assault and rape can happen to anyone and that often times the perpetrator is not some creepy guy in an alley, but acquaintances or friends, people the victim can identify. Yet there is some intangible factor, some disconnect. We know rape and sexual assault is bad, but where do we go from there?
Well, this column, I hope, is a start. We have to talk about it.
“Honestly, I don’t think any punishment or administrative policy is really going to change the hearts of others,” my friend who was mentioned earlier continued. “It has to start with the students.”
The prayer service was a great idea, but it can’t stop there. We as a student body cannot be afraid to openly talk and support the people involved in this issue. Public talks and support groups, weekly visits to the grotto, forums, classes and anything that presents the facts and shows no matter how much we ignore the signs – these things are happening everyday and more importantly we want change.
Moreover, other students and witnesses have to be willing to respond when they see inappropriate behavior, for often it is our inactions that cause destruction more so than our overt actions.
Lastly, to the victims of any sexual assault, rape or harassment, especially those within this community (students of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s or Holy Cross) know that even though I may not know you, I am walking with you. I am praying for you. And I refuse to be silent.