By Anne Hallbrooks-Fulks
As a 9th grader, I used to read chain emails forwarded to me by my English teacher and other female role models in my life with titles like “forward this to every women you know!” They were filled with instructions and tips, such as not getting into your car if a van with sliding doors is parked next to it.
But as I learn and think more critically about sexual assault, these emails infuriate me.
We are conditioned to believe that sexual assault is a crime that happens, usually to women, who have made stupid decisions to go by themselves into a parking complex or walk home alone at night.
It shouldn’t matter where I am at what time or what I am wearing. It is not my fault if I get assaulted.
Some of the conversations I heard this past fall concern me. I overheard group meetings where well-intentioned students discussed the possibility of creating maps with “danger zones” so that everyone knows “where not to go”. I heard students asking each other “who walks alone at night into the parking lot? I mean, really” and “I thought Fredericksburg was really safe.”
Fredericksburg is safe: sexual assault happens everywhere.
As practical as self-defense classes and buddy systems may be, in some cases of sexual assault, it does not address the root of the problem and creates an alluring yet false sense of control. Everyone would like to believe that if he or she doesn’t do x and y he or she won’t be assaulted. But that simply isn’t true.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone and a lot of victims do not even know that they have been assaulted.
Someone who breaks in and uses a gun to overpower a woman is one thing, but the majority of sexual assault is acquaintance rape. This happens when two people consent to some sexual acts- kissing, touching, etc.—and one person is eventually pressured into, or not in a state in which they are able to assert that they are not comfortable with other activities.
The big question that we need to be asking ourselves is: Why the hell does sexual assault even happen in the first place?
The key to preventing sexual assault does not involve backwards strategies about teaching potential victims how to avoid it, but in examining this essential question.
There are many students, movements and groups who are already working to educate about sexual violence. Currently The White Ribbon Campaign, which focuses on men educating men about violence, is taking place. SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) members are also planning consent workshops and The Red Flag Campaign, which promotes awareness about dating violence, took place in the fall.
VOX, Voices for Planned Parenthood, and SDS will hold a forum on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. with Professor Chris Kilmartin in the Red Room to address this question.
Answering this question does not just involve women. It does not just involve rapists. It involves examining learned behaviors and power dynamics in our society. In order to make our campus a safer place, everyone has to make an effort to learn why sexual assault happens and what they, as men, women, friends, significant others, professors, and students, can do to prevent it.
Anna Halbrooks-Fulks is a freshman.