Jarring were the words written in the article titled “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA”. I had to take breaks between the photos so my mind could process the reality these individuals lived through. Below are the top ten themes that stuck in my mind as the article kept going and my heart grew dejected:
- Individuals using normal behaviors to mask their ill intentions resulting in betrayed trust and violation.
- The social price of reporting. Close friends seeing the victims going public as tantamount to group betrayal.
- Doubting victims, brushing the incident off, leaving the victim feeling isolated and misunderstood.
- Comments from others blaming the victim for potentially putting a school or organization in a bad light.
- Leaders who are less concerned with protecting victims than it is with protecting its reputation from scandal.
- Emphasis on organization or agency honor yet prestige is their downfall.
- “Compelling and believable” story of the victim’s reality yet betrayal once again by individuals in the justice system that portrayed itself as victim centered.
- Survivor resilience through the difficulties in hope to protect others… only to find out they aren’t the first victim and probably won’t be the last.
- Backlash, especially from those who felt the victims loyalty was broken or those who identified with or commiserated the perpetrator.
- At the end of the day, everyone is outraged. Outraged for different reasons.
Reading the comments that followed the article, some people chose to focus on UVA as a problem campus, a party school, or the Greek life. Some chose to look at the Sexual Assault Misconduct on college campuses and how that attempt at justice is failing. To me, this is a much larger problem, a cultural issue.
This isn’t only happening on college campuses. The themes above are relatable to many of the sexual assault survivors that I know, have worked with, and my own experience going through the military judicial system. The photo above is of a text that a friend sent me who is familiar with my story. Different stories yet similar variables. I am a data point in a data set of all of us where the systems meant to protect and give us rights has failed.
Originally, this post was a lot longer. I felt like it was too choppy and I wanted to delve further into some key topics so I’ve saved the majority of it for later. Take each topic and make them more bite size and easier to digest.
But for now, I want to hit on theme 10. I am not alone in the outrage I feel when I hear another story, learn of another incident that a friend lived through. An activist once told me that anger can have a positive function— sometimes it takes such a strong emotion to motivate people to take action. I get excited when I talk to others and they are also outraged by sexual assault. We are at a tipping point and good things are happening.
Stories of sexual assault such as these at UVa will always be jarring to me. Jackie was brave to share her story and I thank Sabrina Rubin Erdely for capturing it in such a respectful and moving way. I would suggest reading her story The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer where she articulates compellingly issues with sexual assault and the military. I found myself identifying with what she wrote. I was glad to see Major General Gary Patton quoted—in the fall of 2013, I sat across from him for almost two hours sharing my experience going through the military judicial system. I was the first civilian to share their story with him. The fact that he was willing to listen, apologize, and take seriously the two pages of notes I had created based off of their already determined strategic plan was amazing.
We need more leaders like Maj. Gen. Patton who knows that the system is broken and is taking an active role in reforming the system from the top down and the bottom up. We need journalists who are willing to bring awareness to the public at large. We need individuals who are victims of crime to speak up and we need allies who listen, believe, and support us. We need a society that doesn’t tolerate sexual assault and keeps those who choose to rape and sexual assault accountable. We know the systems are broken but systems are made of people who may passively condone the behavior or take action against it. I choose not to tolerate sexual assault.
What are you personally doing to take action against sexual assault?