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Rape: the stigma that won’t go away

As a short, sheltered girly-girl, I think I speak for all girls — tall and short, sheltered and street-smart, girly and tomboyish — in saying that even though I have never been the victim of a sexual assault, the subject is never far out of my peripheral perspective. I may be what my guy friends call “scrappy”, but I’ve always suspected that doesn’t refer to my ability to use my fists. Let’s face it, when they throw me into a (equally loving) headlock, I don’t have a chance of squirming away. This has nothing to do with “girl power” or subverting my feminist roots: I’m a young woman, and being one innately poses risks that young men are never going to consider. Sometimes, especially walking to my car after work or crossing campus streets at dusk, I feel like a moving target.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. On campus, this means a flurry of posters and flyers advertising Take Back the Night rallies, the USF Advocacy Program’s support services — conveniently located on the back of your bathroom stall door — and touchy-feely forums for “survivors” and women who are just as likely to become one. Forgive me if my frustration is a bit obvious, but I don’t think we’re getting at the root of the problem here. None of this is meant to denigrate the survivors of rape and sexual assault, but rather to question why there have to be so many of them.

Rape, considered one of the most heinous crimes one human being can commit against another — female or male, which is something few people consider — is also one of the toughest to prosecute. Victims all too often shower or destroy their clothing to try and “absolve” themselves mentally and physically of what has happened to them, destroying evidence. This isn’t even taking into account the large percentage of cases that are never reported out of shame, guilt and fear. Also — and especially in gang rapes — an attacker is more likely to be coherent and logical in court than a humiliated and shaken rape victim. These facts have skewed the treatment of sexual assault cases and have led extremists like Susan Brownmiller, a feminist theorist, to translate rape –committed by a fraction of a minority of perverted, sick trash of both sexes — into some sort of sexual terrorism committed by the patriarchy to hold women down.

As ludicrous as this might seem, what are we doing to change that theory? As a female college student, I’m skeptical. Universities are required to publicly report the crimes that occur on campus, but if you follow the news (go ahead and google “rape cover-up” and read about events at SUNY-Binghamton and Boston University), you’ll realize that these statistics aren’t necessarily pristine, and all sorts of variables from administrative fear of negative publicity to the closed-mouthed brotherhood of community leaders can stand in the way of justice. Our campus police force maintains its crime reports (the most recent being for 2000-2002) in the student handbook, found online at Separated by crimes reported to University Police and those reported by “university officials or other law enforcements,” the numbers seem low — safe, even. If less than 20 people have been sexually assaulted on a campus of 30,000-plus over a three-year span, what are the odds of you being affected by this ugly issue? I know I desperately want to feel protected on my home campus. I don’t want to believe it happens here.

So I did a little experiment. I gave out some surveys to my classmates regarding their attitudes toward sexual assault and campus safety. And as the results rolled in, I began to get a slightly clearer picture of what our “awareness” at USF includes. I’ll be discussing those results next week as a continuation of a discourse on campus safety and sexual assault awareness. If you have anything you want to add, you can e-mail me anonymously with your age, class standing, major and comments at