Yesterday marked the beginning of Cornell’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week. It is a time in which different Cornell groups come together to raise awareness about sexual assault on campus through activities, lectures and art campaigns.
I’m not going to waste your time explaining why SAAW is necessary. As recently as the 1990’s, feminist groups were ridiculed, scrutinized and even punished for trying to bring light to the issue of campus sexual assault. Yes, we are so lucky that so many student organizations have worked to support SAAW, but sexual assault is still a taboo subject and I’m sure some schools are still so backwards that a week like this wouldn’t even be possible.
I have to admit that events like this one, although I know how important they are, make me feel a little conflicted. As with many things of this nature, bringing up past traumas can be difficult and emotionally exhausting. Not to mention all the women on this campus, myself included, that don’t have the luxury of only thinking about sexual assault for one week of the year. I cringe a little everytime I see that one commercial that starts with “my rapist had sandy blonde hair.” My heart beats a little faster when I walk past certain houses or see certain people across the library.
I’ve felt this way throughout the #MeToo movement. It is vital that women share their stories. Writing and publishing the details of my rape was cathartic but we cannot forget the psychological toll that hearing and seeing stories of assault can have on some people. Women — the world’s best and most silent emotional laborers — are forced to relive our traumas for the sake of educating others. I want men on this campus to hear these stories. I want them to know it was their friends that push girls up against walls. It is their organizations that put Xanex in jungle juice. It is their roomates that lock the door behind them when they go to their room with a girl. Their problem, their crimes, their willful ignorance, our burden.
I want men to know these things but it is a hard tale to tell. We are the victims and we must think back and remember the clammy hands and the pinned arms that we have tried so hard to forget. I am a survivor. My friends are survivors. Many of the organizers of SAAW are survivors. I accept this as a part of my identity, but wouldn’t it be nice to only have to think about it for one week a year?
The burden of education is often placed on marginalized groups. We look to LGBTQ+ people to teach us to be less homophobic and black people to teach us to be less racist. It is important to have a platform. Sometimes it just gets tiring.
I am less angry about what has happened to me and more angry about the endemic nature of sexual assault on college campuses. I am mad that so many girls have the same story that I do. Most women don’t need to be reminded of sexual assault. We have had it ingrained in us since our youth. We have learned strategies to avoid dangerous situations. We have developed tricks and tips to refuse advances without angering men.
However, we must remember that not all women are innocent in this. I think back to a time when my friends wanted to hang out on the beach with a man who had assaulted me the night before. My friends said “It’s broad daylight, it’s not like he is going to do it again.” Another example, a good friend of mine was raped by her now-ex-boyfriend and yet girls in her sorority still invite him to date nights and befriend him — despite knowing the details of the assault. Why is “boycott rapists” such a hard concept for some people?
Some women, especially those who have been fortunate enough not to experience a traumatic assault, can really benefit from the lessons SAAW is trying to teach. Problems surrounding rape culture on campuses, like victim blaming and doubting the truths of survivors, are often perpetrated by women too. Here is a hot tip: don’t talk to people that have assaulted women, whether those women were your friends or not. Always “fuck rapists” but never “fuck a rapist”.
I want to thank all the survivors that might have to stave off some ugly thoughts this coming week, as triggering content pops up everywhere. But mostly I want to thank the women who have reported. You are stronger than I am, and even if you were bullied out of justice, your bravery will be remembered.
Use this week to reflect on your own experiences, as difficult as they may be. Survivors, remember to be gentle with yourselves. But be assertive with everyone else.
Willow Hubsher is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is Not a Sex Column appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.