I know we are all tired of talking about sexual assault on Duke’s campus. We all know the statistics by heart: one in four women and one in 10 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. These numbers don’t mean much anymore. We’ve heard them so often that we’ve almost become numb to the reality behind such grim numbers; we keep on thinking “that won’t happen to me.” Despite all the dialogue and activities to promote sexual assault prevention and awareness, our campus has sadly remained very much unchanged. So what can we do about this?
In order to make people care about an issue or event, they have to be directly affected by it. They may believe something such as racism or the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference is wrong, but unless the issue touches them personally, they are unlikely to become vocal about it. Using the above reasoning, people are truly concerned with sexual assault prevention only after they or a friend has been a victim; only after they have seen the pain and suffering in the eyes of their friend are they angry enough to do something about it. Unfortunately, this is almost too late.
While reading the accounts of sexual assault in “Saturday Night” I can feel the anger and hurt of the authors leaping off the pages. These women wrote courageously in the hopes that no one else would have to experience their pain. It takes guts to share your most intimate experience with the world. While I am deeply bothered that these individuals were physically assaulted, it scares me even more that they no longer feel they can trust other people. Trusting other people is such a fundamental part of life: relationships, jobs, and families all depend on trust. Through trusting a friend, their lives were destroyed. When this trust is broken, the person is broken too.
Based on past campus responses, it seems that after a sexual assault is reported, students will talk about it for a week or two. The girls will become scared to walk around campus at night or shower in the bathroom if the hall seems quiet. The Chronicle will publish articles about the incident and our administration might even make an official remark. But after all this, life will go back to normal. We will pretend that such offenses don’t actually exist. After all, who really wants to face such realities?
As students, I think it is time we changed the way we dealt with sexual assault. We should demand that our university implement programs so that both students and faculty can discuss why they feel that sexual assault is an issue. Yes, sexual assault is a touchy subject and is something that our university does not wish to draw attention to because there isn’t a clear cut solution to this problem. But, our university shouldn’t be intimidated by this. Rather we should draw on our resources (faculty, administration, alumni) to think of a creative, effective way to alleviate the issue. If this means implementing some sort of sexual assault prevention talk during freshman orientation week, so be it.
If we are truly interested in changing the world, as many of us claim to be, we must first start by changing our community. As Duke students we should take full advantage of the resources around us. We have professors dedicated to implementing social change and fighting for human rights and we have student groups passionate about their ideals. Working with these groups we can engage the campus about sexual assault, an issue that for too long has been thrown under the table.
Yes, changing the attitude towards sexual assault on campus will be hard, but it isn’t impossible. Something desperately needs to be done.
Anne Katharine Wales is a Trinity junior.
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