Break the silence
Mia Lillis | Thursday, November 21, 2013
Seventeen of my Notre Dame friends have come out to me as sexual assault survivors. Of these 17 survivors, five are men. Three of the 17 were assaulted by a woman. Nine were assaulted while attending Notre Dame. Eleven of the assaults involved alcohol. Three survivors have explicitly spoken to me about feeling suicidal following the assault, but six others have struggled with the aftermath to the extent that it interfered significantly with their daily lives. Seventeen may sound like a high number, but I guarantee you that whether or not you know it, the same is true for you. Of course, my friends are not simply numbers. I could tell you about the problems they’ve had with recurring nightmares of their sexual assaults, of their inability to go to parties without being reminded of their assault, of their struggles with intimacy. But this column is not about the survivors. This is about the perpetrators. This column is about us.
As Domers, we often like to quote Corinthians and say that when one of us hurts, all of the Notre Dame family hurts. I’d like to take that a step further. When one of us is guilty, we are all guilty. When one of us commits sexual assault, we are all to blame. Before you try to shy away from this guilt, keep in mind the pain of the survivors on this campus. Keep in mind the cliffs they wished to dive from, searching for the peace that has been ripped away from them. Keep in mind that good intentions do not excuse our wrongdoings, ought not shield us from blame. With this in mind, entertain the possibility of your guilt.
Our society and our media are built on rape culture. This rape culture is gifted to us, wrapped in a deceptively pretty bow. Consider this: How many movies have you seen in which the instigator of romantic or sexual contact has asked for permission before leaning in for a kiss? Or for going beyond that? We have been socialized by our culture to believe that our “reading of body language” is adequate consent, or worse, that we as instigators can go ahead with whatever sexual or romantic contact we wish to make, and the burden of actively denying consent lies with the receiver of that instigation – in which case, often times the unwanted contact has already occurred.
Essentially, we have been socialized to think that not speaking during a hookup is romantic, that not needing to acquire verbal consent is sexy. It’s not. It’s sexual assault. If we are narcissistic enough to believe without a doubt that our ability to read body language is 100 percent reliable, then we need a reality check. Scientists, sociologists and virtually all academic fields will tell us that nothing is ever 100 percent reliable. And if that is the case, if our ability to read body language accurately is reliable only 99 percent of the time and we decide to go ahead and hook up with someone without asking for verbal consent because “talking ruins the mood,” we are risking that one percent. We are risking sexually assaulting someone, simply because we “don’t want to ruin the mood,” simply so we can get off.
Besides, do you really want to hook up with someone that’s not into it? Is your self esteem so unbelievably low that you must receive false affirmation by hooking up with someone that doesn’t really want to hook up with you, that will only hook up with you when they’re wasted and their standards are lower, or they are more susceptible to your “persuasion”? Stop using other people so violently in order to deal with your own self esteem issues.
But once again, we are all guilty. We are guilty for saying, “That exam raped me,” to our friend on South Quad, forcing the person walking behind us to remember and relive their rape experience. We are guilty for blacking out with our friends and not watching out for them, allowing them to throw themselves onto someone else and sexually assault them. We are guilty for questioning victims based on their level of intoxication. If someone didn’t want to have sex, they didn’t want to have sex. Consent is absolutely not acquirable when alcohol is present. We are guilty for not acknowledging that thanks to our socialization, we are all potential rapists. We are guilty for shying away from that label, for trying to escape this guilt. It is only once we are able to acknowledge this guilt that we can work towards creating a better campus environment, free of sexual assault. We are guilty for not asking someone before we kiss them. We are guilty for finding silence romantic.
Break the silence.
Mia Lillis is a senior residing in Cavanaugh Hall. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.