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Saxa Politica: Silence and its dangers

November 6, 2008


On Saturday night, a diminutive sophomore was walking home from a Halloween party by herself. When she reached the end of Prospect Street, a male Georgetown student jumped out in front of her and began yelling obscenities. She remembers him calling her a “hot piece of shit.” He reached behind her, grabbed her behind, and then began tugging at the sides of her jeans as if to pull them down. Finally, two other male students who were walking in the middle of the street-apparently the aggressor’s friends-came over to pull him away, telling the girl, “don’t pay attention to him, he’s really drunk.”

“I think he wanted to play a joke on me,” the student said, although she admitted that she had never met him before and the “joke” had shaken her up badly. Talking to her three days after the fact, though, she said, “It was not that big a deal, I guess, now that I look back on it.” She added that she should not have been walking alone at night, and she was “kind of dressed like a ‘ho.'”

Sadly this response to sexual assault-minimization and self-blame-is an all-too common one, according to Jen Schweer, Georgetown’s Health Education Services Sexual Assault and Health Issues Coordinator. And make no mistake, the above incident is a sexual assault, which Schweer defined as, “unwanted touching … done by using force through coercion, manipulation, threats and/or physical force,” in an email.

Schweer pointed out that the frequency of sexual assault on campus is hard to measure because most victims do not report assaults at all. It is estimated from anonymous surveys and reported assaults, either to the Department of Public Safety or counselors, that about one in four females at Georgetown is sexually assaulted, a rate consistent with the national average, according to statistics on the Rape Abuse and Incest Nation Network’s website.

Next week, Take Back the Night will hold events from Monday through Friday to raise awareness about sexual assaults. The relatively low attendance at Take Back the Night’s events is disheartening-the culminating rally and vigil, held on Friday, generally draws the largest attendance, anywhere from 100 to 150 students, according to Co-Chairs Amy Hapip (COL `09) and Maren Trochmann (SFS `09). Considering that about one in four women at Georgetown have been sexually assaulted, a 150-person rally hardly indicates a discontent with an environment in which sexual assault is not taken seriously enough (I heard rumors of someone dressed up as the “Georgetown Cuddler” for Halloween). Hapip said that she thinks Georgetown’s culture still needs a lot of work.

“Getting a girl drunk and filling up her cup with more jungle juice to get a little action, shouldn’t be the norm,” Hapip said, adding that it seems to happen much more often at Georgetown than it should.

Part of the point in raising awareness is that sexual assault is not just a “women’s issue.” Just as a victim should never fault herself (it doesn’t matter where you are, whether you’re alone, or what you’re wearing), assault should not concern women alone.

Fortunately, on Saturday night the perpetrator’s two friends stepped in, but even they showed a dearth of understanding of the issue. They told the victim, “Don’t pay attention to him.” But with his hand on her bottom, tugging on her pants, how could she not pay attention? Rather than ask her if she was alright, they carried their friend away, protecting him from himself, leaving her alone to deal with his violation.

Take back the night with Kate at kkm28@georgetown.edu



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