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Speak up and speak out

| Friday, September 26, 2014

It is happening even if we don’t want to admit it: crude sexual harassment on the @UNDCrushes Twitter account, inappropriate advances by a classmate on a cab ride back to campus and the aftermath of violence that cannot be forgotten. These are some of the experiences that many of us have encountered.

As we progress through our college years at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, it becomes clear that sexual assault is not something that happens to the ambiguous “other.” Email reports arrive in our inboxes far too often, notifying us of acts far worse than the words “non-consensual sexual contact” can begin to convey. Such words are the facts we are told, but the personal reality of sexual assault is far worse.

We must acknowledge that a proliferation of rape culture exists nationally. And it is a problem that continues to plague us here at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. Just this week, we received two email alerts, the first of the year, citing reports of sexual assault and sexual battery on the Notre Dame campus. The alerts are the formal notification of a particular incident, but hints of the overall culture appear in other ways – sexually explicit posts on anonymous online confession accounts or overheard conversations in the hallways.

In the last few years, the Gender Relations Committee and Student Government have worked to make Notre Dame a community that recognizes the gravity of sexual assault on campus. And a growing number of students are willing to talk about the problem and react compassionately to victims. Prayer services bring together a tangible support group without singling out the victim or asking the victim to relive the events of the attack. Posters showing support for survivors of sexual assault that hung on our doors last year made it known that even one assault is too many. But often our efforts to support survivors stop there — with kind words and prayers.

We are called to do more, and we ought to do so.

While these new initiatives are encouraging, we as a community have a long way to go. Each one of us must act to take a stand against sexual assault and violence, before any incident occurs.

It’s easy to feel that we can have no tangible impact on the situation, that we cannot end the unhealthy sexual culture that exists in our world. But if we truly believe that one is too many, then each of us must act so there will be one less.

Whenever we hear someone speak about a person as if he or she is a sexual object, we are obligated to speak up and speak out — whether it happens on social media, in the dining hall or in the classroom.

Every word that demeans the value of another person contributes to and strengthens a culture that tolerates rape and abuse and exploitation. We cannot expect to change how we treat others if we speak about them as sexual targets.

As the Notre Dame community prepares to mark its Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we are called to be aware. More than that, we are called to be active. Together, if we demand and foster a community founded on love and respect, we will move one step closer to being the community we aspire to be.

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