• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Assaults, Then and Now

No longer ignored.

April 20, 2014

Aspergum took me to task last week for providing a linkfarm relating to rape culture on campus, rather than contributing my own analysis. This is a hazard of writing for teachers; they tend to read critically and subtract points for laziness. (I wasn't actually being lazy, Aspergum; I felt that the cumulative message of the articles was more powerful than any filler I could supply. But I appreciate the invitation to use my own words!) So, in addition to sharing this important article,  I will add some thoughts about campus rape culture, generally.

The problem isn't new. I went to a mostly-women's college (the school started admitting men in 1970, my first year there), and fraternity parties at nearby colleges were a major way to meet men. Then, as now, athletes were privileged over regular students, and were considered celebrities at these parties.

We didn't have roofies then (that I know of), but "trashcan punch" (which was basically what it sounds like, everyone threw whatever liquor they had into a large trashcan, mixing in some juice or soda) was popular and nearly as effective.

I had been molested as a child, and was hypervigilant with regard to sexual assault. It could have happened anyway, of course, but luckily for me, it didn't. I did hear about it, though—men joking about the slut in the room upstairs who was drunk and asking for it; hungover women making their way back to our dorms the following morning, unsure what had happened to their underwear; and the occasional story of a brutal attack that included physical violence.

We were disturbed by all of these events, but I don't remember anyone taking action against an assailant. Athletes at these big sports schools were understood to be bulletproof, and it would have been futile for a mere girl to try to buck the prevailing system.

We also, to some degree, bought into the myth that the women who were assaulted were somehow complicit. They had misread signals, or sent out mixed signals. They couldn't hold their liquor. We would never have said this, certainly not to friends who had been victimized this way, but the thought was transmitted to the victims, who suffered from shame and remorse more than outrage.

That is the main difference, I think, between then and now. Assaults on campus are now blog topics rather than sources of shame and secrecy. Individual women and men who might, in the past, have kept their heads down are speaking out with eloquence and force and inspiring others to do the same. So although all of these stories are deeply disturbing, I find them hopeful as well. Nothing heals like light and air.


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