A call for awareness
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, September 14, 2016
This past Thursday, September 8, the Observer published an Observer Staff Report titled, “Rape reported to [Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP)].” It stated that a rape, allegedly occurring between 7 p.m. Aug. 28 and 10 a.m. August 29 in Keough Hall, was reported to NDSP on Wednesday, Sept. 7, and that the crime log of another rape, occurring Aug. 5 in the Fischer graduate student apartments, was updated to indicate the rape had been reported to St. Joseph’s County Police. The Notre Dame student body did not receive an email alert from NDSP regarding these two reported rapes, nor did it receive emails regarding two other instances of interpersonal violence that have been reported since the beginning of the academic year.
Our campus cannot understand its problem of interpersonal and sexual violence unless we understand when members of our community are being harmed. The crime alert emails have value, and if our campus culture is supposed to be one where violence is not tolerated and everyone is committed to its betterment, we need to receive them.
Yes, information on crimes and allegation reports are available outside of crime alert emails. They are technically accessible on NDSP’s website, but the crime alerts page has not been updated since November 2015 and a list of all filed crime reports since 2006, which is not sorted chronologically, must be searched by looking for individual crime logs.
Yes, these emails can be controversial. They call into question their very purpose: Are they meant to alert students of potential imminent danger or are they meant to inform students of a tragic and senseless problem causing harm to our community? In the emails sent to students by NDSP after an instance of interpersonal violence, we are told, “on college campuses, perpetrators are more likely to assault an acquaintance than a stranger” and that “sexual assault can happen to anyone,” which I take to mean these emails serve both purposes. They are meant to make us aware of our own safety and call to attention the problem of sexual violence on campus as something that is relevant to us as individuals, going beyond the myth of victim blaming.
Yes, there is an argument for why students should be motivated to change campus culture around sexual violence and keep each other safe without being alerted of specific instances of violence, in the name of protecting victims’ identities. But, the anonymity of both the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator respects the difficulty and possible degradation of reporting. Anonymity helps keep the victims safe from judgement and gives them some power of their own stories, possibly as much power as they’ll have in the process of reporting. Reporting a crime of sexual violence requires immense bravery, and it is an injustice to disrespect this bravery by not acknowledging violence on our campus.
Yes, I agree with past crime alert emails from NDSP that say “the perpetrator, not the survivor, is responsible for any instance of sexual assault. Nothing a survivor does or does not do is an excuse for sexual assault.” But, we as a family of brothers and sisters must also recognize that we are responsible for our campus culture, a culture that does not do as much as it should to prevent sexual violence. We can all be better bystanders, better understand and promote the essential importance of consent, more often call out rape culture as it functions on our campus, and more fully cultivate a campus culture that does not tolerate violence and knows that even one instance of harm against a peer is too many instances.
Yes, I know and appreciate the changes that are occurring on our campus. I am proud to witness new conversations regarding interpersonal violence taking place between students, faculty and staff. I am encouraged to see people involved in courses, student programming offices, hall events and student organizations that are focused on making a difference. But I truly believe that our university can do more, and has a responsibility to involve more people in the cause.
It starts with letting people know that members of our own community have been wronged, have been harmed in ways we cannot imagine, and have been betrayed by a place they thought was safe and a community they thought was home. Yes, we can make Notre Dame a campus community free from harm and full of care for others. Yes, we can learn to respond to complex issues facing our campus and other campuses across the country, but first we must know that there are things we must respond to, and work we must continue to do. We need to know our community is hurting. Those emails help us do that; those emails have value.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.