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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: Cultural views on rape, sexual assault need to change

By Submitted by Nicole Silvestri/Missourian Reader
November 30, 2012 | 7:46 p.m. CST

Nicole Silvestri, Kelsey Saragnese, Caitlyn Stevens, Kaitlyn Ingersoll and Alison Schwartz contributed this post on behalf of MU's Feminist Student Union.

We think everybody on this campus needs more education on the subject of rape. From Daniel Tosh’s horrific comments earlier this year, to Todd Akin’s misguided biology, to the mockery made of the “campus bear hugger,” sexual assault on women has been heavily publicized and public discourse is not improving. In light of this Michael Dixon scandal, we have seen disturbing reactions from the student population.

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We are addressing some of the worrying comments we have seen the past few days on social media.

First, let’s talk about the public’s misconception of rape. We feel that our peers believe a woman can simply go get an exam done at the hospital and immediately prove her attack. However, the world isn’t so clear-cut. For one, rape kits are terribly triggering. Women must relive their attack when they enter the hospital and give their accounts. Therefore, many women opt out of this. It takes a great deal of courage to face your attack and report it to the police. Also, rape kits are only helpful if done within five days. Therefore, gathering evidence is extremely difficult.

Second, we need to change our image of rape. On television and in films, we see the kind of violence that leaves women bruised, bleeding, and in torn clothes. We rarely see the sexual violence done through emotional manipulation, fear, and coercion. We fear rape as the “evil man jumping out of the bushes,” but rape most commonly presents itself in less overt ways — it's not black and white.

It is oftentimes someone the victim knows and someone they hold in high regard. Therefore, we cannot dismiss allegations because they do not fit social assumptions of rape. An individual never loses his or her right to refuse sex, no matter what the circumstance. Consenting to one intimate act, such as kissing, is not consenting to all forms of sex. We must not mistake self-preservation and safety for consent.

Third, we must learn to trust women in our society. Victim blaming, as we clearly saw with the “campus bear hugger” Clery release, is a toxic epidemic to our society. We are taught that women are crazy, emotional and vengeful. We teach women to not get raped instead of teaching perpetrators not to rape.

When a woman comes forward about sexual assault, she all too often faces skepticism and humiliation. It is hard enough to report your attack without the harassment of your entire community.

When instances like this arise and we choose to simply write off the woman’s allegation, we are silencing future women from speaking out and seeking help for their attacks.

Evidence is extremely hard to gather in rape cases. A miniscule percent of men accused of rape are ever actually convicted, but one in three women are assaulted in their lives. These numbers don’t add up. A woman’s personal testimony must carry greater value. In order to address this sweeping problem of violence against women, the victim blaming needs to end here. From now on, when a woman speaks out about her assault, believe her.

This institution means a lot to all of us. We are One Mizzou for a reason. Being a part of this campus means more than simply attending classes; it is being in ZouCrew, it is eating at Plaza 900, it is studying at Ellis, it is getting Starbucks at Memorial Union, it is being involved in organizations, it is attending concerts at Jesse, it is living in the residence halls.

We are members of this community and we must keep the integrity of this institution alive. This Dixon case and our reaction to it is a reflection on us, whether we like it or not. We are in danger of having the country view us as they did the students at Penn State last year during the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

But, here we have the opportunity to show that we as a community value the safety of our students more than points on a scoreboard. Now is the time to take action, educate ourselves and to support all of our students.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor is Joy Mayer.

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