Category Archives: Sexual Assault

On Dartmouth, Sexual Assault, and Activist Tradition

Many colleges and universities seek to decrease reports of campus sexual assault, not by addressing the actual rate of sexual assault, but through policies and practices that discourage reporting. These administrations are more concerned about campus image than campus safety, particularly due to a desire to improve rankings through higher rates of student applicants and acceptance. A 2010 report from the Center for Public Integrity revealed how widespread this problem is and how few campus rapists see serious consequences.

I understand why many people were upset by the protest of sexual assault and anti-LGBTQ and racial discrimination that took place at Dartmouth’s Dimensions show for prospective students. But the very controversy of that place makes sense. The goal, after all, is to improve campus safety for present and future Dartmouth students.

When administrations prioritize a falsely perfect image to attract prospective students, I understand why protesters would select a venue for prospective students as a platform. Students facing prejudice and physical danger took an opportunity to pressure the administration to pay attention to serious campus problems–ones students have been organizing around for years. Increasing anti-rape activism on campuses nationwide shows that young people are fed up with college attendance being a risk factor for sexual assault.

The rape and death threats that followed on a Dartmouth messaging board underscored the problems these protesters were calling attention to. That Steve Mandel, Board of Trustees Chair, followed up by equating these threats with the protest as equally antithetical to the Dartmouth community is appalling. The consistent attention by many Dartmouth-associated commentators to the choice of venue, rather than high rates of rape, displays a severe lack of empathy or comprehension of what real problems, real dangers, look like.

I am also shocked at the references to how protesters violated the Student Handbook; although perhaps I shouldn’t be, given my experience as a student with negative attitudes to activism focused outside or within the Dartmouth Bubble. Protest, activism, civil disobedience is part of Dartmouth tradition–including occupations of administrative buildings such as during the Vietnam War. Justice isn’t always served by following rules. Travis Mushett ’08, editor of the new online magazine Blunderbuss, spoke to this in his editorial on the incident: “mysteriously, the ‘improper’ place is always a highly public one where the issues are likely to actually garner some attention, and the ‘proper’ one is tucked out of the view of most everyone, easy to ignore and contain, or relegated to some indefinite point in the future.”

Loving Dartmouth tradition does not mean accepting every flaw. I am tired of seeing the concept of “Dartmouth tradition” claimed by those who defend the status quo in its worst manifestations. Strategic disagreements among activists are valid; acting as though this protest is a bigger problem than actual incidences of rape (and rape and death threats) is not.

Alex DiBranco

Dartmouth ’09

(A version of this letter was sent to The Dartmouth.)

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How Are We Going to Change #ididnotreport to #isentmyrapist2jail?

Because I’d been drinking. Because I thought it was my fault. Because I thought no one would believe me.

Thousands of sexual assault survivors have joined in tweeting their stories with the hashtag #ididnotreport over the past week. Many gave their reasons for not reporting — reasons echoing those above again and again, and more. Because I was a kid and I didn’t know how. Because the one time I did report it, it didn’t make a difference. Because I was afraid.

“#ididnotreport because I was made to feel like it wasn’t a big deal,” one survivor tweeted. “It was.”

The campaign started in the U.K., inspired by another supportive Twitter campaign: #WeBelieveYou. It has resonated far beyond that starting place, inspiring primarily women — but also a number of male and transgender survivors — to speak out about the attack they never reported, either tweeting from their own accounts or anonymously at @Ididnotreport1.

While many people have sent supportive tweets, vital to creating a safe and caring online space, the courage of these survivors deserves more than a kind word. 60% of sexual assault are never reported. So what are the rest of us going to do to make #ididnotreport obsolete? What are we going to do to change it to #isentmyrapist2jail?

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Filed under Feminism, Sexual Assault

Thoughts on SlutWalk: Can “Slut,” Like “Queer,” Be Reclaimed?

Can we reclaim “slut” as a positive term?

Sophie Jones has an interesting commentary on SlutWalk, criticism thereof, and the ensuing “feminist debate about the politics of linguistic subversion” at The F-Word.

She starts by tackling those feminists who criticized SlutWalk as a misguided attempt to promote the “right to be called ‘slut.'” Jones writes: “Some women argue that SlutWalk is just an expression of what Nina Power has called Feminism™, in which gender equality is rebranded as the right to buy whatever you want on the way to your burlesque class, whether it’s a diamond-encrusted vibrator or a pair of effing shoes.” I, like many SlutWalk supporters, have been frustrated by this misunderstanding of how and why the term is being used. That said, I’m also in complete feminist support of burlesque classes, vibrators, and “fuck-me shoes.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be sexual or sexy — it’s a woman’s right and still not an invitation to rape.

Jones sums this issue up as “a clear case of these writers simply misinterpreting the mission of Slut Walk, which is not a protest ‘for the right to be called ‘slut’ but a protest for the right to dress however you want free of the presumption you are ‘asking for it’.” Then we move on to more interesting questions: even if the point of SlutWalk isn’t about reclaiming the word “slut” — can we? and should we? Continue reading

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Filed under Feminism, Sex, Sexual Assault

Recy Taylor Gets Alabama Apology for Gang-Rape, Waits on City of Abbeville

[Update: Victory!]

Sunday, 91-year-old Recy Taylor went to church in Abbeville, Alabama. Now a Florida resident, she made the trip to her old hometown for a special purpose: Taylor was finally receiving an apology from the State of Alabama for its “morally abhorrent and repugnant” conduct in response to her 1944 gang-rape.

The group of white men who admitted to the assault were never brought to trial, while Taylor and her family suffered threats and slander from law enforcement engaged in covering up the crime. Not even the concerted efforts of Rosa Parks and the NAACP could overturn the racist structure of the time to bring justice to this young Black woman. The long-overdue apology came after nearly 20,000 Change.org members signed a petition from Taylor’s youngest brother, Robert Corbitt, demanding an apology from the City of Abbeville and State of Alabama. Having won this amazing state level victory, Corbitt’s campaign now turns its focus to the city.

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Filed under Racial Justice, Sexual Assault

Concerned About Bad Press, Colleges Provide Cover for Rapists

As a recent college grad, I’d love to say that I was shocked by the findings of the Center for Public Integrity’s nine-month investigation into the “culture of secrecy” surrounding sexual assault on campuses. But that would be a lie.

It’s hard to be a woman on a college campus for four years and not be aware of what a serious problem sexual assault and rape is there; to not know personally one of the at least 150,000 students raped every year; and to not realize how few of those victims pursue legal action against their assailants or speak out publicly (less than five percent). Given that one in five college women will be the target of a completed or attempted rape by the time they get their diploma, you’d hope that administrators would be doing their utmost to address the epidemic of gender-based violence.

Instead, many of the precious few victims who seek to take action against their assailants are deterred from doing so, in either the criminal justice or campus disciplinary system, by college bureaucrats. Since the courts tend not to want to prosecute student rape charges due to claimed concerns about weak “he-said-she-said” evidence, the campus system is the only other recourse. Unfortunately, worried about the college’s reputation, these administrators focus more on keeping these young women quiet (using illegal gag orders and the threat of disciplinary action against them for breaching confidentiality) than on protecting their safety by investigating rape charges. The number of assaults reported to support centers each year are almost never represented in the college’s crime statistics.

One survivor, advised by a dean to “do nothing,” indicates, “It was insulting. This guy had just raped me … and that’s her answer?” It also happens to be illegal, under Title IX — better known for mandating equal access to sport, Title IX also considers sexual assault to be sex discrimination, which colleges are obligated to investigate and take action to put a stop to.

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