The recent cases of high-profile sexual assaults have once again reminded Georgetown students and administrators that sexual violence exists in our community. On a campus where approximately one in four women will experience sexual violence in their time on the Hilltop, it is truly unfortunate that it takes high-profile attacks for the community to pay attention to the problem of sexual assault. Sexual assault is a perpetual reality for many women on our campus, and assaults are happening weekly whether we wish to acknowledge them or not.
The truth is that most sexual assaults that occur at Georgetown are not made public to the larger community and are unfortunately overlooked. While attacks by strangers are traumatizing and rightly receive great attention, the more pervasive problem of acquaintance sexual assault remains unaddressed. And while images of sexual assault by a stranger saturate our cultural consciousness of sexual violence, in reality about 73 percent of survivors of sexual assault know their attacker, according to a 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Justice. The unbearable and undeniable truth is that Georgetown students are sexually assaulting other Georgetown students at rates that would be alarming if they didn’t match the national average for sexual assault on college campuses.
Unfortunately, the answer to preventing acquaintance sexual assault is less clear cut than the fight against stranger sexual assault. No amount of security cameras, police presence, or locked doors can prevent a perpetrator from betraying his friend’s, partner’s, or acquaintance’s trust. Even cases of stranger sexual assault can never be completely prevented by safety measures. The answer has to come from Georgetown students, and it has to be sustained. Security problems must be addressed; that is certain. But we as a campus must move beyond our standard response to sexual assault which emphasizes women taking personal responsibility for not getting raped. “Lock your doors!” does not prevent sexual assault and only works to further blame and stigmatize victims of sexual assault.
So what can we do? That is a question that cannot be answered in a single sentence or policy recommendation. The cause of sexual assault lies in a culture which condones sexual assault and can only be addressed through cultural changes. Men at Georgetown must start taking responsibility for this crime which is overwhelmingly committed by men. It starts with rhetoric about sexual assault moving from what women can do to reduce their risk to what men can do to prevent rape. Men and women must be supportive of gender equity on campus and call out friends who joke about rape or denigrate women. We should not only be looking to protect our female friends at parties, we should be intervening when others act inappropriately or violently and educating ourselves and others about the nuances of full consent.
Most of all, men and women must support survivors if they choose to disclose or report their experiences. This means listening to them, not blaming them, and supporting whatever legal or judicial decisions they make. If we don’t support survivors when they disclose, sexual assault will remain a hidden tragedy.
There are many different organizations in which both men and women can get involved in supporting survivors and fighting rape culture at Georgetown. Take Back the Night, GU Men Creating Change, United Feminists, and Sexual Assault Peer Educators are all student groups which deal with sexual assault issues in different ways. You can also get involved with RU Ready, an event which occurs every September and aims to engage students on sexual assault issues. Sexual assault is happening all the time, and these groups work year-round to create a campus environment where women can feel safe.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, Georgetown has many resources available for students. Health Education Services next to the Alumni Lounge and Counseling and Psychiatric Service in Darnall are both places where you can confidentially seek help as well as discuss your reporting options. Additionally, the Women’s Center in the Leavey Center has a wealth of resources. If you are sexually assaulted and need help immediately, you can contact Health Education Services at (202) 687-0323 during the weekday or the D.C. Rape Crisis Center at (202) 333-7273 after hours.
Friday marks the last day of this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Let’s not wait until the next Public Safety Alert to get serious about preventing sexual assault in our community. Stand up against sexism, speak up about violence against women, and support all the survivors of sexual assault.