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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Speak up and change the conversation about rape

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 | 4:41 p.m. CST; updated 10:05 a.m. CST, Thursday, December 6, 2012

This was sent to the MU student body by email on Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — The past week has opened up an important discussion about dealing with sexual assault on our campus. Despite the incredible resources meant to educate on this issue, the sad truth is that there is still a culture of victim blaming that permeates MU and countless other college communities across the nation. Although it no doubt seems an insolvable problem at times, as students, you and I can have immense influence in shaping the opinions of our peers and promoting a safe environment if only we learn to speak up.

Rape is rape — not only when a sexual advance is forcible but any time one party says "no." There have been no convictions borne out of the accusations discussed this past week, but to think that any student would want to shut out serious concerns about whether an awful crime was committed for the sake of athletics is incredibly disappointing. This shows that even though we have made great strides in dealing with sexual violence and violation, we still have a long way to go.

Much of this conversation about assault has played out over social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. And, although it's important to call out victim blaming wherever it takes place, we have a habit to overlook dangerous sentiments about rape in the classroom, the residence hall and across MU on a face-to-face basis. Although a Tweet can provide an obvious and (because it's on the Internet) permanent representation of victim blaming, it's the casual comments made in-person that can be most damaging — offhand remarks that play down sexual assault as something people "should just get over," something "not that serious."

When you hear comments like this, even when you overhear comments like this made by classmates, say something. Failing to challenge that behavior allows for an environment in which survivors are afraid to come forward, lest they look like they're "blowing things out of proportion." It is our civic and personal responsibility as Mizzou students, staff and faculty to take a stand on issues like this. When victim blaming occurs, another victim is less likely to report.

We have so many phenomenal students, staff and faculty on this campus who work every day to improve this environment at MU. MSA/GPC's Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center is just one stellar example of an organization that can offer valuable information and resources on how you can help make MU a safer place — one where people take sexual assault seriously, as an issue that deserves attention and public discussion. The Green Dot program is one of the best collegiate programs in the country, and we hope that it can continue to help survivors.

To the survivors of sexual violence, please don't be afraid to report. There are people on this campus that care and want to help. If you want to talk to anyone, please visit the RSVP Center in G-210 in the lower level of the Student Center and ask for Ms. Danica. We can help shape this conversation, but that requires speaking up and calling out the trivializing of sexual assault and victim blaming in all its forms.

Xavier Billingsley is the president of the Missouri Students Association at MU.


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