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Ending violence against women

Kamaria Porter | Monday, December 1, 2003

Depending on reading speed, by the time you finish reading this piece, approximately two to three women will be sexually assaulted in this country.The phrase “Nowhere Else but Notre Dame,” used in compliment or criticism, inappropriately isolates our campus. True, conditions here are highly conducive to a lifestyle of splendid isolation from world issues, current events and the outside community. Yet the argument of environmental determinism only holds to a certain point, at which we must recognize student and administration choices in what elements of community living receive priority. Issues surrounding gender relations are not only marginalized in discourse at Notre Dame, but people here choose to focus only on certain aspects of this complex topic. Debating single-sex dorms and their effect on an individual’s ability to form a successful union only speaks to a narrow worldview. I would agree that the separation of the sexes, to borrow from Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, “creates gendered relationships of the brand in which parties view each other solely as objects.”Student experiences of alienation from the opposite sex come from real places, yet I stress community complicity and misguided action in the preservation of these dynamics. The focusing on courtship – a highly individualized aspect of gender issues – I feel does us injustice and further insulates our community from the outside world.Sexual violence against women is an important and hidden issue in the United States and abroad. Over 135 million women and girls worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation, which ranges from the removal of the clitoris to infibulation, in which a female’s clitoris and labia are cut off and her vagina is sewn shut. Although this trend predominates in Middle Eastern and African countries, FGM occurs in the United States largely undetected.More locally, in 2002, 248,000 Americans were victims of completed or attempted rape – seven-eighths were female, and the majority of the perpetrators were intimate partners or acquaintances of the victim. The full volume of this problem cannot be grasped because most rapes – by acquaintances – occur in private spaces within relationships or are viewed as isolated problems of a union.Even more relevant to our campus, an estimated three percent of college women are raped yearly; 90 percent of these cases involve an intimate partner, friend or classmate. Some sources declare one in four women will be victims of sexual violence during their college careers. Notre Dame’s supposed exceptionalism cannot escape the reality of sexual violence. Rape, stalking, harassment and sexual coercion exist on this campus. The lack of discussion and influential institutionalized assistance concerning these issues only adds to their proliferation.The manner in which our University addresses gender and sexual violence issues is appalling. The pseudo-mandatory session concerning rape offered to first year students is insufficient. Our University Health Center does not stock rape kits to facilitate immediate and easily accessible response to incidents. A woman’s only sources for treatment and further specific aid lie off campus. Health Services’ UB Well 2 hotline reference sheet lists no numbers for rape and sexual violence assistance. We need constant and institutionalized structures to address gender issues and sexual violence. The proposed creation of a Gender Resource Center would be a giant leap in the right direction. The center would create permanent positions dedicated to education on gender issues, provide literature on topics of sexuality, health, sexual violence and other gender themes, be a haven and resource for various existing campus organizations addressing women’s and gender subjects, give victims of rape the local support they deserve and plan preventative and educational sessions to eradicate sexual violence on our campus. To encourage varied and substantive discussion of gender issues and sexual violence, I urge everyone to participate in February’s V-Day celebration on campus in some way. The V-Day movement – “V” standing for Vagina, Victory and Valentine – is a global initiative to end all forms of violence against women through raising awareness and fund raising and distributing. The crowning event on our campus will be a performance of the Vagina Monologues on Valentine’s Day. Lastly, we need to shed our socialized myths about sexual violence and grotesque view of gender issues. No woman – whatever her lifestyle, choice of dress, class or race – deserves to be raped. Every man needs to take responsibility in ending violence against women. Students here must realize concerns of gender relations reach beyond questions of finding a spouse under the Dome and not all female-male interactions here uplift the humanity of women. Creating a world without violence against women is a movement we can all be personally invested in. Such a world, I believe would bring greater overall harmony and lay ground work for the elimination of the other marginalizing ideologies dividing people in our world.

Kamaria Porter is a sophomore history major. Her column appears every other Tuesday. She would like to wish everyone in her dorm section and PSA a happy holiday. Contact her at [email protected] views expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The Observer.