Letter: Does rape culture exist at UMW?
We would like to start off by saying we, as women of University of Mary Washington, do not condone rape or sexual assault in any way. There is no excuse for the behaviors of those who commit such terrible crimes. However, after recent events surrounding an offensive chant by the Mother’s Rugby team, there has been talk of a strong “rape culture” at UMW, but our question is: does it really exist here? Feeling strongly about the issue and only hearing one side of the debate, we decided to go to the UMW Young Democrats’ meeting where the President of the Feminists United on Campus discussed the controversy surrounding the chant and its repercussions. We were obviously disappointed in what we heard her say but not for the reason you may think. The president kept stressing the fact that there is a rape culture at this school and that sexual assault and violence against women is a tremendous problem. We want to stress that we are not trying to get between men’s rugby and FUC; we are only trying to get women and men on this campus to be unafraid to voice their opinions. We feel as though people at this school are not free to express their feelings on this issue because they are afraid of backlash from FUC and other groups. During and after the meeting, Ashley asked the president questions involving the repercussions of the release of the recording of the chant. The following is Ashley’s account of the discussion:
“I attended the Young Democrats’ meeting to hear what FUC had to say about the controversy between the Feminists and the men’s rugby team. The president kept emphasizing that there is a rape culture on campus and that women are scared. I talked to her after. I asked her a couple questions at the meeting but the president of the Young Democrats quickly prevented everyone from asking questions. Both men and women were asking the FUC president questions, and she seemed surprised from the reactions she was getting and how others felt about how she was representing the women of this university. I talked to her and expressed that she shouldn’t represent all women on campus on this issue because not every woman on campus has the same opinion. She was emphasizing that it is not a battle between the men’s rugby team and the feminists. I then asked her during her talk why men are being bullied and accused of being rapists when there are no facts to back up this evidence. I just feel that other women aren’t being heard and properly represented.”
As women and students at this university, we strongly disagree with what the FUC president had to say and believe that many other women would agree. We feel that men and women are being bullied and victimized for either standing up for Mother’s Rugby or for being a feminist. This is not the way we, as a student body, should be handling the problem. Every student should feel comfortable enough to express their opinions.
Until recently, sexual assault had not been a publicized issue at this school and we believe FUC is using the recent media attention involving sexual assault on college campuses to stir up fear in students in order to further their cause. We want to be clear that we do not disagree that rape and sexual assault are problems that should be dealt with in a serious manner. We encourage students, both men and women, to speak up and report any sexual assaults. However, after looking at statistics and being a part of the student body, we believe that there is not a strong rape culture at UMW. According to the Annual Campus Police Crime Report in 2013, there were only four reported incidents of forcible sexual assault and zero incidents on non-forcible sexual assault. This means that out of 5,203 undergraduate students, there is only a 0.07 percent chance of being sexually assaulted at this school. That is hardly a rape culture. Radford and Longwood, universities similar to Mary Washington in size, have more incidents of assault. At Longwood rape is 11.1 percent of violent crimes, and at Radford it is at 12.7 percent. At Radford in 2013 there were seven reports of rape and forcible sexual assault is 53.8 percent of all violent crimes. Instead of bashing this school, we as students should appreciate how few sexual assaults actually occur, and if more are not being reported we should do all we can to make people feel comfortable enough to do so.
Our views and the views of other women are not being heard, and we believe there is more than one voice besides FUC. We do not want to be represented by a select few. We would like to reiterate that this is not solely about defending the men’s rugby team but how women on this campus are being represented as a whole. Feminism is about equality of the sexes, not about raising one gender up while tearing another down. The rugby team is just an example of what could happen to any men’s sports team at this school. Both men and women on this campus should be working to stop sexual assault; it’s not solely a FUC issue or a Mary Washington issue. We feel that they have “anti-man” sentiments on this campus and make it seem as though all men here are sexual predators. FUC claim to feel threatened and afraid but have little evidence to back up this argument. If one chant can make women on this campus feel threatened, then why haven’t more women than FUC spoken up against it? We cannot argue with the fact that there may be a rape culture globally, however, FUC is overstating its existence on this campus.
We appreciate and acknowledge the work FUC has put in to helping end sexual harassment but do not agree with the approach they have been taking recently to try to get more women involved in the debate. Using fear and claiming they feel threatened is not the appropriate way to deal with this issue. It needs to be discussed openly between all students on this campus.
Cara Palumbo & Ashley Tucker are students at the University of Mary Washington