Treading water

Why talking about sexual assault is exhausting me


Victoria’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

There are several personal narratives I could use to preface a column which attempts to explain my feelings about the rampant presence of sexual objectification on Grounds.

I could begin by detailing for you the nauseating lurch I experience in my stomach each time a male classmate needlessly places a hand on the small of my back, corralling me toward the bar as if I were an animal which could see her chance to escape at any moment, and take it. An unsettlingly feeling of both unease and familiarity, it’s a sudden, punctuated onset of fear I’d never felt before coming to the University. It spikes violently and lingers thereafter.

I could try to illustrate for you the staggering gait of a male (whom I refer to as a male only because I hesitate to allow him to be called a man) who’s six drinks in and whose glazed eyes are watching my mouth move although his inundated brain isn’t processing my words. I would make you smell the whiskey on his skin and hear the distance in his voice. If I could, I would show you what it’s like to feel like someone’s prey.

I shudder to think how many of my classmates — be they friends or strangers, males or females — have had similar experiences and are forced to house similarly unnerving memories.

At least once every day, I am presented with a concrete reminder of the unadulterated animosity I feel toward the culture of sexual objectification which pervades Mr. Jefferson’s University. Be it an offhandedly misogynistic post on social media, a derogatory comment made about how slutty so-and-so dressed at beach week or a repulsively distasteful mantra like, “Thank you for bringing your daughters to U.Va.!” emblazoned on Beta Bridge during first-year orientation, I am continuously nauseated by actions carried out by the student body which propagate this climate of insidious sexism.

To be sure, I’d like to highlight that neither male nor female students are the sole perpetrators. I don’t mean to demonize men in general. Rather, I’d say the vast majority of students — that is, both men and women — are at fault for it. Offenders and bystanders alike are at fault — and our contributions to the problem are more significant than we often realize.

We contribute every time we pretend not to be uncomfortable when someone makes a distasteful rape joke. We further the problem every time we humorously preface an account of an assault by saying, “I know this is bad, but…” in an attempt to excuse ourselves for making light of something so serious. We sanction these behaviors every time we overlook or pretend not to notice clearly hazardous situations.

As members of a species which finds solace in the allocation of blame, it’s easy to blame “society” for the bulk of today’s social problems. In my own imperfectly human way of wanting to compartmentalize everything into black and white, I harbor resentment toward a “culture of misogyny” undoubtedly present on Grounds. I call attention to a cultural climate that sets the stage for these things to happen. Yet, much like society, this “culture” doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

We, as the contractors of our day-to-day lives, construct this demeaning culture with our every thought, word and action. In a sinister way I’ve yet to come to terms with, I am the culture of rape that weighs me down and debilitates me more every day. I am the face of a generation that not only fails to prevent these crimes, but also sanctions the behaviors that often precede them.

And this issue exhausts me. Though until recently I’ve been too indignant — or maybe too ashamed — to admit it, I’m awfully tired of talking about rape.

It takes everything out of me — the stories, the abundance of anti-misconduct campaigns and the news coverage of the unspeakable mistreatment of women in distant countries as well as women at the University. All of it debilitates me to a state of near resignation. It’s a feeling I can only compare to treading water.

Have you ever had to tread water for an extended period of time? It’s tiring. And it’s scary not knowing when you’ll be able to stop.

I’m more than familiar with the gravity of sexual misconduct and understand the necessity of bringing it to light as often and as adamantly as possible. Believe me — I’d go to any length to diminish the abundance of sex crimes on Grounds and at large. But with the inundation of dialogue surrounding the issue in recent weeks, I can’t help but feel impatient.

Ultimately, I think I’m frustrated because the same school that has given me so much happiness and equipped me with invaluable understanding of the world has simultaneously beaten me down into a state of constant fear. I’ll be the first to bore my friends at home with how incredibly lucky I am to be at the University of Virginia. But when the phrase “Thank you for bringing your daughters to U.Va.!” is heralded as a representation of our values as a student body I feel both embarrassed and terrified to be a Cavalier.

Victoria’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at

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