Saturday, August 4, 2007

Dartmouth Saturday—Sexual Assault

Saturday will be a Dartmouth-themed post.

The beginning of this summer saw a rash of sex crimes (two qualifies as a rash in Hanover, NH) at Dartmouth. And the weird thing is, they were both the kind of sex crime that everybody thinks about when they think "sex crime," i.e. the kind that rarely happens. The first was an assault on the green—that's the quad, for you non-Dartmouthers—at night. A college student groped a high school camper under her shirt and then ran away when she screamed. Then, a day later, an older man followed a walking female student in his car, masturbating while watching her.

There were two important responses. The first was that the sorority system on campus immediately spread the news about the assaults and started a "ride home" service of their own to supplement the (limited) one provided by Safety and Security. Good for them. The second response, however, was a bit more puzzling. The administration immediately posted long notices about the incidents on the doors of every dorm.

Good for them, too, but what the hell? Sexual assault occurs regularly on this and every college campus. Usually it is the kind of sexual assault that makes up 90% of assault cases: the kind where the victim knows the assailant. However, have one "creepy guy in the bushes" style assault, and now the administration sees fit to start warning students? That's not to decry the response that the administration made—it was appropriate—but it highlights the culture of secrecy and shame that surrounds campus sexual assault. Where is the notice every time a rape is reported to SAPA, the (excellent) Sexual Assault Peer Advising service on campus? Where is the notice every time a woman—or man—is taken advantage of after a night of drinking? Where is the notice every time someone gets unwantedly groped on the dance floor at a frat party? But one random dude gropes a random girl on the green, and now it's headline news in the campus paper and a priority for the administration. The end result? The all-too-ordinary, all-too-mundane type of rape, the kind that happens every day while we watch, gets normalized in contrast. Rape apology becomes easier, because the "ordinary" kinds of rape don't get the drama and coverage that the "guy in the bushes" kinds do.

I'll leave off with a quotation from the second victim, the one who was followed, in case anyone is still under the impression that sex crimes, even those as comparatively mild as getting followed by a creepy guy, don't do serious damage to their victims sense of security and personal integrity:
I’m not walking outside alone after dark. This past weekend my flatmates were both out of town, so I slept at a friend’s room Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. I felt pretty vulnerable on Thursday, and took the day off from work on Friday…I’ve also been looking at license plates like crazy.

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