Silence is Violence

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I will preface this post with a few undeniable facts as reminders to this campus regarding sexual violence. First, rape culture does exist throughout campus, thus sexual assault occurs throughout campus—and it is not limited to any part of campus. Second, addressing sexual violence is everyone’s responsibility—as a member of the Wesleyan community, this issue is your issue.

Recently, Mari Jarris ’14 and Chloe Murtagh ’15 have made bold moves in addressing sexual assault. In a fantastic post here on Wesleying, entitled “Don’t Assume ‘She’s Lying'”, they remind us:

We need to show that we take this issue seriously by combating rape culture on campus. We need to speak up when we hear responses such as “it seems like she’s creating a problem out of nothing” or “but she went home with him.” These reactions reveal three dangerous misconceptions. First, that there is a likelihood of false reporting (in reality, there is the opposite problem of significant underreporting). Second, and closely related to the first, is the tendency to blame the survivor. Third is the misconception that sexual assault is always perpetrated by strangers in unfamiliar places and accompanied by other physical violence (in fact, 90% of sexual violence on college campuses is perpetrated by someone the survivor knows).

This past week, the two launched a website, silence-is-violence.org, which serves as one online community for survivors to anonymously speak out about their experiences. The site also features quotes, submitted by any member of the Wesleyan community, that demonstrate how rape culture is perpetuated on campus through language. I highly recommend you check the site out—but this recommendation also comes with a strong trigger warning, as the site archives survivor testimonials and direct quotes.

I reached out to both Jarris and Murtagh to gain more perspective behind their motivations and goals behind this website. When asked what purpose they see this new website will have in the discussions on campus right now, the two replied, “First, the need for a place for survivors to publicly, safely, and anonymously share their stories with the Wesleyan community; and second, a public dialogue that engaged everyone with the issue of sexual assault, rape culture, and consent in both its most flagrant and more subtle forms.”

They continue, “We hope that by creating this forum, survivors can see that they are not alone and that they don’t have to remain silent. We seek to reaffirm survivors’ voices and feelings, while spreading a broader awareness of what sexual assault looks like on Wesleyan’s campus. The quotes and testimonials are intended to highlight how horrifyingly widespread rape culture is on our campus—whether it be in a passing comment or a coercive assertion–and to emphasize that this cannot be disassociated from acts of sexual violence. You should be disturbed by the slight familiarity of some of these comments and the casualness with which you can image them being said.”

Furthermore, they have been tirelessly flyering housing spaces across campus with pamphlets-turned-posters to bring our attention to this issue, along with Lynn Ma ’16 and Ryden Nelson ’16. You may have already seen these slid under your door—open it up and put it somewhere visible (e.g., on your window, on your door). Use it to take a stand.

This new website, silence-is-violence.org, “is only a small part of the battle against sexual assault and rape culture on our campus, but we hope that it will provide another source of survivor support and engage a wider audience in a critical examination of the culture in which we all exist and must all act together to change,” in the words of Jarris and Murtagh. But nevertheless, it is still a step in the right direction, and will inevitably foster (what will hopefully be) productive dialogue on campus.

I want to dedicate some time to the title of this website itself (as well as of this post).“Silence is violence.” What this suggests, which I believe to be true, that silence on this issue—or worse, the silencing of survivors—inherently perpetuates the violence that occurs. There is a direct link between silence and continued sexual violence on this campus. Our silence on addressing rape culture at Wesleyan, and the lack of substantive action, is not only us failing the survivors of sexual assault, but allows for sexual violence to continue. This has been said before: “silence is not the remedy for rape.”

If we can all agree that single instance of sexual assault is one instance too many to occur, why is it that today, out of every four women on a college campus, one of them will be sexually assaulted during their college careers? Or for men, why are one out of every seven college males sexually assaulted? These numbers are too high, and it’s high time we all actually do something about it.

This post is not meant to discuss the merits of the discussions involving fraternities and spaces—that will come in a later post—but this is yet another post found on this blog that calls upon Wesleyan to take actual steps in eliminating sexual violence on this campus. This begins with addressing rape culture on campus, and wherever we have allowed it to manifest itself. We need to take tangible steps to move forward together, to take part in conversations that won’t end with this being just another “hot button issue” that dies away—we cannot afford to allow these conversations die away from the general discourse again.

I’m not saying anything new here. I’m not saying anything that those who have been active on this issue do not already know, or has not been said many times before. But the fact that I have been compelled to write this post—that has been written before—means that we sure has hell aren’t doing fucking enough. We need to stop being reactive on issues of sexual assault, and start being proactive. We can’t wait for another case to appear in the media to snap us into attention, nor should we wait for survivors of sexual assault to pull this movement together. It’s not their sole responsibility, nor their sole burden.

How can we begin to change rape culture on campus? It’s not as hard as you may think. It takes each person to make a commitment to this change, to ensure that the language we use does not exacerbate this culture, and to make sure that we are there to watch out for those around us—and to speak up. The following list of facts that pyrotechnics previously put together are worth republishing to serve as reminders:

  • No one has a ‘right’ to anyone else’s body. Ever.
  • Sex, in any form, should only occur between mutually consenting partners.
  • Desire does not equal right.
  • Alcohol-induced desire does not equal right.
  • Alcohol-enhanced desire does not equal right.
  • Desire plus expenditure of money does not equal right.
  • Desire plus expenditure of time/interest/effort does not equal right.
  • Rape is preventable.
  • The occasional awkward conversation is a pittance to pay for the prevention of rape.
  • We are all responsible for preventing rape.

And now, you, the reader, have just finished reading this post—probably telling you things you already knew too, right?

Then it’s time for you to take action.

More posts on the conversations taking place on campus to come soon.

Take Action

Take the consent pledge.
Listen to the dialogue.
Change the dialogue.

Read More

You Should Read This: Sexual Assault and its Supernumeraries
The Atlantic, Fraternities, Wesleyan, You
Shock and Awe
Guest Post: Don’t Assume “She’s Lying”
A Repost: Silence is Not the Remedy for Rape

2 thoughts on “Silence is Violence

  1. Ella Dawson

    I’ll be the first to say that I love the Silence is Violence tumblr and I think bringing attention to this issue is necessary and important. Tumblr is a great medium to anonymously submit and share stories. But one request: can we not flyer housing spaces? It’s one thing to make these flyers visible and undeniably present on campus, it’s another to interrupt the personal space of survivors. Thankfully my housemate found the stack of them shoved under our door and threw them out before I woke up, but I’d rather not be triggered first thing in the morning in my own apartment. The surprise of stumbling across it is triggering in and of itself.

    1. Vibes

      Word, I heard the same thing from other folks, and that makes total sense – I wasn’t involved with the flyering but I will let Mari & Chloe know (if they don’t happen to see this comment).

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