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The Blue & Gray Press | August 24, 2017

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Letter: Does rape culture exist at UMW?

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

Comments

  1. Class of 1994 and 1996

    Cara and Ashley:

    What a well thought out editorial. Thank you for basing your thoughts on facts rather than innuendo.

  2. a fellow UMW female

    I really wish you could’ve attended Take Back the a Night,an event that took place last night (4/8/15) where students were encouraged to speak out about their experiences with sexual violence. It breaks my heart to hear that you don’t think that’s a problem here, clearly, you aren’t looking in the right places. It’s a problem EVERYWHERE and many people who are not involved with FUC are passionate about brining awareness to it.

  3. Anonymous

    What an insightful and well-written letter! It’s a shame that groups like FUC are so intolerant and sensational that they shut others out from the discussion, unless you are saying exactly what they want to hear. Their approach moves the discussion backwards, not forwards, by shutting out any meaningful dialogue. Thank you for presenting our school as a safe, positive place, while still emphasizing that no matter where this may occur, it needs to be addressed. That was a very constructive way to approach such a difficult topic. Maybe others can learn from YOU!

  4. UMW Female

    I love the stance you have on this situation and I completely agree. We ALL need to stand together and not just shame all men and put fear into women. I hope that we will get to a point where we can talk about this and come up with a reasonable solution sooner than later. Great Job Cara and Ashley:)

  5. Also @ the meeting!!

    This is an extremely inaccurate account of what took place at the YOUNG DEMS MEETING. This was not an open forum for you, this was a short Q&A opportunity AT A YOUNG DEMS MEETING. The questioning period ended so that young dems matters could be addressed, and, convenient that you left this out, you all left immediately after the questioning period, which was incredibly rude. Additionally, Paige was very open to questions, and OPENLY AGREED WITH YOU when you addressed the bullying of the rugby team. She does not, nor does the rest of FUC condone or promote the bullying of ANYONE. Paige also reiterated MANY TIMES that she does not claim to represent the views of all women on campus. This was incredibly disappointing to read, and I would have hoped that you’d gotten more out of that meeting. This sounds to me like you attended this with both a closed mind and heart.

  6. HEY WAIT A SEC

    Not all cases of rape and assault are reported! Due to the very traumatizing nature of these crimes, many victims find it hard to report. I hope you take that into consideration when you talk about statistics on this campus. Maybe you shouldve attended Take Back the Night. Many survivors spoke there, and I think it would have been a beneficial experience for you.

  7. Grace Mann

    This is the most disgusting and offensive article I have seen in a long time. As a survivor of sexual assault and an advocate for other survivors, this only isolates other victims and is totally ignorant of why so many do NOT come forward. The authors of this article should be ashamed of themselves. I am ashamed I go to the same school as them. Hopefully one day they will understand how hurtful their words were by diminishing the pain so many UMW students have experienced by being victims of rape and sexual assault on this campus.

  8. Olivia

    Rape culture is not something that exists in isolated locations. It pervades our Entire culture, so sadly, yes it is here at UMW. I do agree that our campus appears safer than others. However, sexual assault statistics are always inaccurate because many if not most of those instances go unreported. Pointing to numbers is not a good way to gloss over this issue. I do agree with the letter as far as the hostility of the discussions surrounding the rugby team events and FUC reactions. We are adults and should act as such when it comes to dealing with these problems. An open dialog and non militant environment are vital.

  9. anon

    “Rape culture isn’t a problem here,” says those who have never had to deal with sexual assault on this campus or in the fredericksburg area. I hate to make the comparison, but that’s like saying racism isn’t a problem because you’re white and have never felt its effects. I think the writers of this piece need to take a Women’s Studies course and brush up on what “rape culture” actually means. It’s not something that “doesn’t exist” on this campus; it’s pervasive through society as a whole. I’m glad that the writers haven’t felt threatened before on campus; that’s a good thing! But I’m disappointed that they would ever presume to speak on behalf of “many other women.” Isn’t that what you’re accusing FUC of doing?

  10. Anon

    First of all, Feminists United has never once claimed to speak for every woman on campus. The club does not condone bullying or harassment of anyone. Second of all, as many other commenters have said, the statistics you referred to do not even remotely begin to cover the truth. The vast majority of sexual assaults are never reported. Many students suffer rape or sexual assault at college, and most certainly, UMW is not an exception. By writing this article, you are invalidating all the students at this school who have been assaulted, and you yourselves are reinforcing the very rape culture you claim does not exist. It is this kind of attitude that makes survivors not want to report, and makes perpetrators feel as if they can hurt people and get away with it. This is disgusting, and I pray first that you take a gender studies class and educate yourselves, and second, that you never have to experience first hand just how pervasive rape culture is.

  11. Kathryn Erwin

    I strongly suggest that before one writes an article about “rape culture” they understand what rape culture is. Rape culture does not mean “the number of reported occurrences of rape compared to enrollment. Rape culture is the systematic silencing and mis-representation of sexual assault survivors. I am the daughter of survivor, the niece of survivors, and the best friend of survivors. Moreover, I am one of the few who has evaded an experience of sexual assault and consider myself lucky because of it. I have heard countless, unreported stories of sexual assault (i.e. rape) from survivors at UMW. You seem so focused on preserving the ability of everyone to have an opinion, that you silenced survivors in the process. A school should pride itself on not only its ability for its students to speak freely but for its students to feel safe from sexual violence. UMW has only protected the former and you both, along with others, seem to prioritize UMW’s reputation over the safety of it’s men and women. Next time you decide to speak from a place of ignorance under the veil of “inclusion” makes sure you don’t need a huge disclaimer in your first sentence. Word to the wise, that usually means what you’re about to say is offensive, embarrassing, and shameful.

  12. Anonymous

    “FUC says they’re threatened by have no evidence? ” Why don’t you look at yik yak and see the hundreds of threats of physical assault and death threats that FUC receive constantly.

  13. Anonymous

    As a survivor of rape at a very early age and again later in life I disagree with both this article as well as FUC stance on previous issues. By stating that UMW is not that bad, with regards to its sexual assault rate and rape reports, is extremely misguided. This is is not something to be applauded. That’s like stating that the murder rate here is less than somewhere else in the world but the fact that there is a murder rate still calls for action. Rape Culture is the aspects of society that make rapist feel like it’s okay to do what they do and silences victims.But Feminist United also silences many women on campus I left the facebook group last semester because I found the way they talk to people who disagree with them disgusting. The girls who wrote this article are just as much feminist as any member of Feminist United yet this organization dangles their monopoly of the title over everyone’s head.

    How can you be Feminist UNITED when you are not open to any other feminists ideas that differ from your own.

  14. Tina Geithman

    I am writing this reply with my name present because I refuse to speak anonymously about a topic that has affected so many individuals on campus. I have found many things wrong with this article. Unfortunately throwing around some statistics (which are not representative of our entire campus because sexual assaults are often not reported) and stating that we should be “thankful” that sexual assault at UMW is not “that bad” is a shameful way of looking at the issue of rape culture.

    1. “There has been talk of a strong “rape culture” at UMW, but our question is: does it really exist here?” Clearly it exists here. Rape culture is all around us. It is institutionalized. I would just like to also point out that rape culture does not mean the number of reported rapes that have occurred on a campus. Rape culture consists of victim-blaming and the silencing of victims. It is the atmosphere that exists around the topic of rape and the victims that experience sexual assault, whether they are male or female.

    2. “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.”
    Actually, the goal of FUC is to publicly discuss the culture that exists at this school and therefore make it an open topic. You can either speak for them or against them. Because of FUC, there have been more discussions in regards to rape than ever before. Sexual assault is a hushed topic and victims are often shamed into silence. At least this organization is attempting to breach the uncomfortable silence around the issue.

    3. “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.”
    The rugby team is not being accused of rape. They are being accused of inappropriate statements that do not represent UMW and also do not comply with the standards of conduct. Yes, their song perpetuates rape culture. Period.

    4. “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.”
    No, we should not appreciate that “few” assaults that actually occur. Even if one or two girls every year (that we know of) is experiencing sexual assault, then rape culture continues to exist at UMW. The fact that you think we should appreciate how few occur compared to other schools just shows how skewed your perception of rape is.

    5. “If one chant can make women on this campus feel threatened, then why haven’t more women than FUC spoken up against it?”
    Rape is not seen as a socially acceptable topic to discuss. Few victims actually speak out against their own experiences because they are silenced actually as a result of rape culture. There are very few ways to speak up against it and FUC is trying to CHANGE that by going public with their discussion.

    In conclusion, this is a poorly written article with very little factual evidence. Their main question is “Does rape culture actually exist at UMW?” but they have completely failed to address it in their summary. They have failed to provide a solution so that students can “comfortably” talk about rape culture. The writers seem to exist in a bubble that does not coincide with reality. Like many uncomfortable topics the only way to speak out against it and create discussion is by publicly arguing against it which is exactly what FUC has done.

  15. Anonymous

    Please be consistent. The song the people sang at the party while most of the rugby team wasnt’t even in town talked about wanting to find a prostitute. The song the FUC president put on her Twitter feed last month from 2 Chainz talks about beating a woman in her lady parts, among other things. How can you be offended by one song but ask for another? This is about using the horrible word rape to get attention for yourself. Rape is horrible, and wrong, no one disagrees with that.

  16. You cannot speak openly against FUC. They are always 110% correct – they in fact are god-like and will pass judgement on anyone. Ridiculous to think they are not bullies. They bully and threaten until they get their way and everyone else is shamed for something they did not do…

  17. Kristine

    To the authors of this post,

    As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, one of which occurred on this campus, I find your article absurd, ignorant, dismissive and downright offensive. If you truly cared about victims of this horrible crime you should have come out to take back the night and learned from us instead of writing a piece that further alienates us and discounts our experiences. I am deeply saddened to read posts such as yours, but am glad that you have not experienced rape culture and sexual assault first hand. I would never wish it upon my worst enemy.

  18. Kristine

    sorry that happened. There is a not a culture of rape though, anymore than there is a culture of theft. FUC continues to threaten and bully. It is not right.

  19. Tina, your argument rambles and makes no point

    Tina: FUC DOES NOT welcome any discussion. People fall into to categories:
    1. people who agree with them
    2. people who are pre-disposed or conditioned to rape culture (those that don’t agree with them)

    They are bullies, offensive and close-minded. Who agrees to talk to national news (albeit the same station and reporter Prof Kilmartin brought to campus a few weeks earlier for a fluff piece) yet refuses to talk to their fellow students in a public place: The FUC ladies.

    Anyone that says that they want to talk is WRONG. Anyone that says there is a RAPE CULTURE is wrong. You CANNOT logic or argue your way into this being true. Won’t happen, never will.

    Grow up and simply try to help people – stop lecturing.

  20. Anonymous

    If you are a survivor of sexual assault, then I am so sorry that it happened, as anyone should be sorry for that. That does not mean you have the MONOPOLY on the dialogue. You can indeed speak from your perspective, but that does not mean that anyone who disagrees with you is “absurd” or whatever other insults were used in some of the comments. That is EXACTLY what shuts down constructive conversation – unless you are just trying to control all of the discussion. The article was very well written and clear that they don’t discard the seriousness of these crimes. They simply said that they disagree with the way certain terms are being used and abused, and how one group is trying to control the conversation. Open minds and open hearts can lead to two-sided conversations that actually ACCOMPLISH something, not just stir the pot.

  21. Anonymous

    The basis of your article was: there is no rape culture because there are hardly and rapes reported. Maybe you should try to understand that rape culture does not equate to high numbers of rape on campus. As numerous people have stated before, many women do not report their assaults because they are scared or feel ASHAMED. Why would a woman feel ashamed, you may ask? Because of rape culture. Because someone is going to tell her she asked for it; because someone is going to ask her how much she had to drink or what she was wearing. THIS IS RAPE CULTURE!!! Numbers aren’t as telling as you make them out to be.

    Just because you have never experienced an assault or been associated with someone who has, does not mean rape culture does not exist! Get a grip… this is a problem throughout all of America and the world for that matter.

  22. Anonymous

    I have been assaulted and can also agree that rape culture is a problem as a whole in the US, but UMW does not have a strong rape culture. I always felt safe when I was a student there (I graduated), and for a survivor to feel safe that’s saying something

  23. Anonymous

    I am extremely disappointed in this article. I am extremely disappointed that just because you think the numbers of sexual assault on UMW’s campus aren’t staggering (by the way, 4 REPORTED incidents is still too many), you’re trying to discredit these women and their experiences with and beliefs about sexual assault. Feminism is not and has never been about tearing men down, it is about bringing women to an equal level with them. I am disappointed you did not research the correct definition of the word before writing this editorial. Ultimately, this editorial shows a lack of understanding of the experiences of these women who do rightfully fear sexual assault, and a hostility toward these brave women who are fighting for their equality. Rape culture is not something that can exist in some places and not in others. It is built into society and must be dismantled by everyone working together. Feminism is about working together and equality, and if you were truly about equality and empowerment, you would support these women and want their voices to be heard through FUC. If you’re against feminism, you’re against women being free to express themselves and feel safe in their environment. It saddens me that as women, you could write something like this. Telling survivors of sexual assault and women who want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone again to “tone it down”, which is essentially what you are saying, is gross. These women are not “claiming” they feel threatened, or “putting fear” into anyone. This is how they feel and I am disappointed you would try to discredit that. I hope you will reconsider your position on these issues.

  24. Prof

    The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. The content/conclusions of the article aside, it’s nice to see that it elicited logical, passionate, and, for the most part, respectful comments. Perhaps a public forum/debate would help all have their voices heard.

  25. Anon

    I am a student who was sexually assaulted by a friend two years ago. I decided it would be best to not report it since the person was very close to me and the whole situation was weird. I really hope this debate continues because for the first time I feel there are people out there who would be there for someone and help them break through the confusion of a sexual assault. I wish I had felt that way 2 years ago and reported it.

  26. Proud Mother of a Rugger

    I think the article was well written. I think many of the people who commented didn’t read it correctly. The writers of this article are not belittling sexual assault or saying that it doesn’t exist or that they don’t feel for the victims of assault. They are just pointing out that Feminist United is trying to build themselves up while pulling down men. This group is way over the top. If you don’t agree with them YOU are wrong. And again it was NOT the whole rugby team and the singing also included one of the feminist uniteds’s very own members. Coincidence? I’m not sure.
    Oh and how do they get away with the name FUC? Isn’t that offensive to anyone? It is to me.

  27. And Another Thing

    Why did they get so upset about the rugby song, but no one cares that the one FUC person doing most of the talking requested on twitter a song that was probably even more offensive?!?!? Talk about a double standard!

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