The independent news organization of Duke University

Rape's deeper problem

This weekend I was hit hard by the rape of a friend. I awakened to the reality that my world had shifted. While I complained about the usual things, too much work, Duke's lifting of the Mt. Olive pickle boycott and not enough sleep, I began to reevaluate what was important. Seeing a community traumatized by violence against an amazing, strong woman shook my core. Through all of the pain and anger, I could feel an enormous amount of love emanating from many people. Friends, relatives and professors jumped in to help in any way possible. It was a beautiful and strengthening experience. This weekend, I began to change the way I value community and love.

But I am also angry. The reality that women cannot feel safe in our world has been present for a long time. It forces women to walk alone at night fearful they will be violated. It forces women to be afraid every step of the way. It could happen anywhere, anytime--in a dorm room, on a date, on a walk through campus at night.

The first thing that came to my mind this weekend was to get out of Duke and Durham. But I realized I couldn't escape the fear and pain of sexual assault. I can't run away from violence against women because it is present everywhere--in our thoughts, universities and neighborhoods. It is impossible to run away from patriarchy and the power that resides in rape and sexual harassment.

It is necessary to face this power. Sometimes it feels like the fight is too big and that ending violence against women is too idealistic and too unrealistic. It is then easy to try to look for solutions that make our surroundings more secure. These things may make us feel like we are safe. We may ask that more police patrol the campus or that no one off campus is allowed in our dorms.

But these solutions skirt the deep roots of the problem. I admit to being a radical. I look at origins of problems and try to see how changing structures can work to make life better for all. I think using social band-aids like police, alarm systems and locks cannot really help in the long term. These things are especially useless when we know those who are abusing us or raping us. A good friend of mine once said, "But what good will more locks do if the culprit is already inside?"

I would like to stress that when a Duke student commits rape, it is often swept under the carpet like dirty laundry. We don't know who he is and we don't seem to mind. Maybe he is that fraternity boy that you saw at a party Saturday night. This week, I received in my email a link to a composite picture of a black man who is wanted for rape. I saw his face online and in the Chronicle. How can we decide that when a black male from Durham is the perpetrator we can post his face while white Duke men do the same and their identities and faces are hidden? We need to call the media out on this in order to see the reality of the issue of rape: that it happens across race, class, gender and sexuality.

This past weekend a violent, random, terrible event occurred. I don't know why he did it. I don't know what was going through his head. But some of you might. Some of you might understand the frustration, anger and confusion that it takes to rape someone. As the community of Durham and Duke, I hope that we can prevent this from occurring again.

We are implicitly taught that rape is okay, that rape is just a sad reality of life. When it happens we are sad, powerless and scared. Some of us become desensitized to it. But we don't have to be powerless. Simply saying these things won't prevent a further rape from happening, but I hope one day rape will hardly happen, when it will be an anomaly rather than a norm.

We need to address violence as a tactic of control. We need to see violence against women as a structural problem that affects every single person in our society, men and women. I don't think that men want to oppress women. I think they would be happier in a world free of sexual violence. But we need to work toward that by looking at our society, our world. And we need to support each other and love each other. We need to participate in this struggle across race and across class. I know that we can make our community safer through addressing deeper problems, like violence as a way of expressing intimidation and hatred.

Jessica Rutter is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Thursday.


Share and discuss “Rape's deeper problem” on social media.