​GRUMBLING: Take Back the Night against sexual violence

A high level of activism is necessary for students to reduce sexual violence

Mid-September of my first year in 2014, I attended a rally against gender-based violence. It was only a couple of days after Hannah Graham went missing, and I counted fewer than 10 people in attendance. When I attended the Take Back The Night Vigil in April, there were over a hundred people present. In order to combat sexual violence, our community needs to respond with this level of activism.

TBTN is an annual series of events that “hopes to end the silence of dating sexual violence and aid in eliminating sexual violence in our community.” This week-long event features panels regarding how to support a survivor, an Open Mic Night for survivors to share their stories, a Day of Healing and more. Though a mere week of programming cannot do justice to the gravity of sexual assault, the events help raise awareness and support for survivors. This year’s week of events has ended, but TBTN is held annually, and it is never too late to become an advocate for survivors.

Per the University’s policy on sexual and gender-based harassment, “sexual assault consists of sexual contact and/or sexual intercourse that occurs without affirmative consent.” Essentially, sexual assault is any unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact. Though this definition is simplistic in nature, the issue of sexual assault is anything but. Sexual assault is a pervasive, systemic issue that plagues all types of people. Sexual violence is perpetuated in our prisons, military and even in Congress. We have an obligation to end sexual violence, for our friends, family, ourselves and future generations.

Sexual violence happens far more frequently than one might think, especially on a college campus. In Sept. 2015, the Association of American Universities conducted a campus climate survey on sexual assault and misconduct. Their research revealed approximately 23 percent of undergraduate women and 6 percent of undergraduate men have experienced sexual assault since enrolling in college. Statistically speaking, one of your best friends has experienced sexual assault. Your classmates, your friends and your family are survivors of sexual violence. Though your relationship to a survivor is not what should matter, understanding how many people sexual violence affects is essential.

Upon hearing the news in early June that an unnamed woman was raped by a Stanford student, my heart became heavy knowing that another woman is now a survivor of sexual violence. I know the statistics. I know that one out of four of my friends (and women across the country) are survivors of sexual assault. But that doesn't make these events any easier. My heart still breaks for this woman, and reading the devastating letter from the woman at Stanford was even more difficult than I anticipated it to be. Eloquent and emotional, she tears down every victim-blaming excuse so many people throw at survivors of sexual violence.

I am grateful that there are people in the world like the two men who stopped this atrocity from further continuing. Their courage and bravery might have saved this young woman's life. Active bystander intervention is paramount for this reason. The University’s Green Dot program functions based off of this notion of prevention. If you see something — anything — that does not seem right, do something. Say something if you see even the slightest occurrence that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Further, I am incredibly enraged by the failures of our criminal justice system. To anyone who ever questioned why survivors of sexual violence might not step forward, this is why. Numerous media outlets lamented the now-destroyed swim career of the rapist, and his mug shot was not released to the public for months, leaving his graduation photo circulating online. Even with two eyewitnesses, physical evidence and a powerful testimony from the survivor, Brock Turner will likely only spend three months in county jail (I do not doubt his white privilege and socioeconomic class have a large part to play in this, as discussed here). As devastating and disappointing that is, he will serve more time than 97 percent of rapists ever will. Most sexual assailants will never face any repercussions for their atrocious actions, and that has to stop. The amazingly overwhelming support of the survivor has illuminated the injustice in sexual violence court cases, and I hope that people will continue to fight for justice.

If no one has asked you to take a firm stand against sexual violence yet, consider this a formal request. Be an active bystander and intervene if you see an unsafe situation. Become an advocate for survivors so that more people might feel comfortable sharing their stories. It is never too late to enact change, so from now on, commit to being an agent for change.

Meghan Grumbling is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.grumbling@cavalierdaily.com

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