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Playing a part in female safety

THINK sexual assault doesn't affect you? Think again. I first spotted these words on my way over the Ruffner Footbridge. It was the night after the reported assault in Alderman Library and I was walking my friend home from Clemons. Recent events had upset her and made her nervously conscious of where she went and where she studied. She said she was much more comfortable returning home with a male friend.

The effects of recent assaults on the community are clear. People worry about walking home or studying late. Administrators and student groups have tossed around proposals that would keep libraries open 24 hours, place more lighting around Grounds, and resuscitate Student Watch. More police are required to patrol neighborhoods - I was even stopped one night near my house by a police officer, who was just checking to make sure all was well.

There's no question that more money must go to security, and student-run groups can take a more active role in making the University as safe as possible. But the truth is, we can't always turn to the police or administrators for safety.

Instead, students must look out for themselves and each other. But men especially have the opportunity - and the responsibility - to protect women at the University with minimal effort. Women are the victims of sexual assault much more often than men, and they have more to fear when walking home alone. Male students at the University should feel accountable to escort women home or to call a ride. Not only will this decrease the likelihood of the woman being targeted for assault, but it also will increase her peace of mind.

Another concern is acquaintance rape. Men can help prevent these frequent assaults by being aware of situations that may compromise a woman's judgment or ability to enforce that judgment. It's not very hard to tell a friend that he should stop drinking or that she is too drunk to go home with someone. But too often, people rationalize away their responsibility, claiming that their friends know what they are doing and what is in their best interests. Everyone must realize the effect alcohol has on judgment and the consequences that can result from keeping silent.

But men aren't limited to preventing attacks; we also can have a positive effect after an attack has occurred. There are many resources to which men can refer - One in Four and SARA are just two - for help in dealing with women who have been assaulted. Not only is it important for men to take a role in this issue, but we may be able to mitigate the psychological effects simply by supporting the victim.

Whenever I watch old movies, I'm always struck by the manners of the "classic gentleman." These days there seems to be a pervasive feeling that common courtesies like holding a door or escorting a woman home are chauvinistic or threatening to women's independence. Rather than being condescending, these actions show a concern for a woman's well-being. Perhaps the solution to sexual assault and the climate that induces it is a step backwards.

But it shouldn't stop there. All members of the University community must contribute to the safety of our peers. Don't forget that when you are protecting your fellow students, you are protecting your community, your residence and your family. Every student should feel responsible for preventing further attacks and for making women feel safe at the University.

I recently had dinner at President John T. Casteen III's house. He gave a short speech, emphasizing that while the community must work together to try to prevent such crimes, there also was an onus on students to protect each other. Specifically, he stressed that students needed to treat each other like brothers and sisters.

Indeed, if every male regarded every female as if she were his sister, there would be less opportunity for sexual assault, and, for women, a greater feeling of security.

If you think sexual assault on Grounds - or anywhere else - doesn't affect you as a male, you're wrong.

(Nick Lawler is a Cavalier Daily associate editor.)

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