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viewpoint

We’re as mad as hell

| Thursday, September 3, 2015

It took one week, five hours and 44 minutes.

Not fully eight days after the first Notre Dame freshmen began moving into their new homes, we received the year’s first alert of a sexual assault on campus.

Two days later, Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) sent the year’s second email, this time informing students of two reported acts of sexual violence.

With three reports of sexual assault or battery in fewer than two weeks — the first two weeks — frankly, we’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Those words, which come from the 1976 film “Network,” are just about the only way we can accurately express our reaction to last weekend’s reports. Everyone — students, faculty, staff and all members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s community — should have been deeply and personally offended and enraged to learn of these attacks on campus.

We should still be mad, too. When any act of sexual violence occurs on campus, we, as a community, have failed. And with the timing considered, a few short months after the release of “The Hunting Ground” and the productive dialogue it generated, these most recent failures are particularly infuriating.

We can only hope the increased discourse on sexual assault that began last semester is part of what empowered the survivors of these recent assaults to come forward and report the attacks. If it is, then our community has made some progress in cultivating an environment in which survivors of sexual assault feel safe enough to seek the justice they deserve.

And we should continuously strive to build our community as a safe, empowering space, but we should work for more, too. We should live in a community where survivors feel safe, but we should also create a community safe enough to prevent future attacks.

In our final staff editorial of last school year, we as an editorial board vowed to continue the conversation on sexual assault. Now, at the beginning of a new year, it has quickly become apparent that this conversation is still needed, perhaps more than ever. Accept this, our first staff editorial of this school year, as a tangible sign we have not given up on this conversation or the issue of sexual violence in our community.

It has become apparent, too, that a conversation about sexual assault is not sufficient. Discussion is illuminating and emboldening, but it can only go so far. The current situation — characterized by media across the nation as a campus sexual assault epidemic — demands action from all members of the community, particularly from the bottom up.

The unfortunate truth is there is no single solution to the egregious problem of campus sexual assault. Nor will any combination of solutions work overnight.

In the days since NDSP’s emails, we have seen a bevvy of proposed solutions on these pages and elsewhere. Some have been more outlandish than others, but with such a persistent and troubling issue, we are open to new ideas, and the beginning of this year has brought with it many promising solutions.

Saint Mary’s resource groups utilize Green Dot training, a national program designed to empower bystanders to take action and prevent violence before it happens. This year, Green Dot has partnered with student government at Notre Dame. Practices of active bystander intervention and the importance of consent play an important role in the new Moreau First-Year Experience courses. Notre Dame’s student government is continuing its involvement in the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign to prevent sexual assault.

Participating in established programs like these is an excellent step in fighting the campus sexual assault issue, but we still urge all members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities to do more. Don’t just sign a pledge for “It’s On Us”; take its message to heart and make sexual assault a deeply personal issue.

Get mad when an act of sexual violence occurs on campus and use that anger to take real, tangible steps — no matter how small — to prevent the next attack. Refuse to take part in a culture that passively allows sexual assault to happen in our campus community.

That sounds like a massive task, and it is. But we must start with small steps that work against what many scholars and activists call the rape culture that exists on college campuses and beyond. Talk to your friends, or anyone who will listen, about the issue. Introduce it as a topic of class discussion. Point out when others around you make insensitive or harmful jokes about rape and articulate why such attitudes are legitimately harmful. The way we talk about the issue matters.

There is no one big, end-all-be-all solution to the campus sexual assault crisis. Rather, there are a multitude of smaller solutions that, put together, will work towards a true cultural shift and a campus community that can last much longer than two weeks without a report of sexual assault.

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  • Patty Thomas

    I truly appreciate, applaud and understand the anger this situation is generating, but is there also a parallel conversation going on with regard to the influence of the drinking culture on campus? As a former Rector, I know how many times the assault situations could have been defused had alcohol not been part of the equation. It is good that ND officials have begun making sure those who help a victim are not punished themselves if they have been drinking, but really, how can we deny the alcohol abuse that so often leads to the destructive act of sexual assault?

    • Ky

      Thank you for bringing this up. The “epidemic” of sexual assaults has not occurred in a vacuum. According to NCADD, alcohol is a factor in nearly 40% of all sexual assaults and fully 2/3 of assaults where the victim and perpetrator know each other.

      Students need to know the truth: that the unfettered alcohol-fueled college “party culture” is, in itself, “rape culture”.

    • KP

      Patty, can you clarify what you mean? Alcohol is used as a tool by those who commit sexual assault — sexual assault doesn’t just happen because people drink. Since you are a former rector, I hope you know this and aren’t implying that one who is assaulted could prevent her own assault by abstaining from alcohol use, but it is unclear from your comment. You seem to be saying that alcohol rather than rapists may be responsible.

      • Ky

        Kp, You are correct in stating that predators use alcohol as a tool. However, the most recent study of campus rape found that four out of five men who committed rape before graduating college were not repeat offenders – not “predators”.
        Young people use alcohol to have “fun” and sexual activity is implied as “fun” in the college party culture. It is not only the victim’s intoxication that the perpetrator takes advantage of, but the perp’s own intoxication that removes inhibition- and allows for the “I was pretty drunk” and “I thought it was consensual” defense – and, in turn, the difficulty of adjucating many cases. Intoxication fogs intent, communication, memory and more. In addition, friends’ /bystanders’ intoxication renders them unwilling or unable to intervene or to even notice what is really going on.
        The “red zone” is a time during the first semester of freshman year when the risk of rape is greatest. It is also a time when partying is rampant even though It is expressly illegal for virtually all students that age to drink. Who’s stopping them?Colleges want to reduce rape? They must tackle underage drinking – seriously – and prohibit unfettered alcohol-fueled partying on or around campus. Rape is only one of the problems this culture breeds. Assault, theft, accidental injury and death, vandalism… are among other problems – not to mention the damage binge drinking does to young brains. Students deserve the truth and they deserve to be safe.

        • KP

          I said alcohol is a tool used by those who commit sexual assault, not by predators, but even so, I don’t think you need be a serial rapist to act in a predatory manner. One rape seems like one too many. In any case, I’m fully aware that the first few weeks of freshman year is when students are the most vulnerable to assault, and I’m fully aware that “I thought it was consensual” is used as a defense — but there was a time when “Her skirt was too short” meant “I thought she was asking for it” was used as a defense too. We now recognize that allowing the excuses of those who perpetrate violence dictate how victims ought to live their lives inappropriately places responsibility for their own violation on them rather than their aggressor, and fails to adequately protect them anyhow. Alcohol abuse is real, it’s a problem, and we should do something about it, but it is not exactly this problem.

        • Erin Ricketts

          That same recent study remarked that 1/10 college men had committed rape. That’s 10% of college men. There are a lot of factors here, but there is a major CULTURAL problem if 1/10 men think that is okay at any point.

      • CL

        KP, with all due respect, there’s absolutely no victim-blaming whatsoever in Patty’s statement — not even a hint of it. Having lived for 4 years in ND’s dorms, I fully agree with her point about alcohol abuse as it pertains to sexual assault. Alcohol reduces the sexual inhibitions of would-be perpetrators, clouds the judgment of bystanders, and blurs lines of consent which would seem clear to sober people. The perpetrator is still entirely at fault for his/her crimes, both legally and morally, even though alcohol made the assault possible. I ardently believe that ND must reconsider its binge-drinking culture, and I respectfully submit that this self-reflection should be allowed to take place without casting it as some sort of backhanded attempt to blame victims for their own assault.

  • LEP

    As an alumna and a survivor of SA, I am really glad to see this is getting more attention in conversation than before. But I’ve worked with (ie, evaluated) the Green Dot program at a large private university elsewhere, and frankly even the best bystander intervention programming will be insufficient by itself – insufficient without honest parallel discussion as a campus community : both about consent, and about what constitutes ethical sexual behavior. And it is difficult to have that conversation at ND, for many reasons. But it is the role of a university’s leadership & administrative team(s) to figure out how to do what is difficult *and* what is necessary.