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Why the faculty letter matters

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a Letter to the Editor from the Opinion section of The Daily Princetonian, titled “A faculty statement on sexual assault.” I was confused and a bit intrigued, since I could not think of any recent incident it could be in response to. When I opened the Letter, I found 215 faculty signatures in support of holding victims of sexual assault blameless no matter their level of intoxication or dress, opposed to the statements of Susan Patton ’77 made in her recent interview with ‘The Prince.’ Patton responded to the faculty letter, saying that her recent book suffered because it did not directly contrast rape and “regrettable sex,” as she would have liked.

But I digress. This column is not about Susan Patton. This column is about the importance of all parts of campus taking sexual assault, in any and all forms, seriously.

There is a support system on campus for victims of sexual assault. We have the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education center, which has students perform a skit every frosh week called “The Way You Move,” in which a student, after talking to a friend about a supposed hookup, comes to grips with the realization that he has raped someone. SHARE also offers constant support through counselors — both professionally trained and peer — and hosts several events on campus throughout the year to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus and arm students with the tools to dispel situations before they occur. Still, while SHARE provides a substantial amount of support for students who have been assaulted, or for those who want to aid others, many students are oblivious to these efforts.

SHARE is not to blame for this. The fundamental issue is reluctance on the part of the student body to acknowledge that sexual assault happens even here, at Princeton. Sexual assault is one of those issues that we have a tendency to critique in other environments rather than their own. This can vary from one university’s students criticizing another institution, to a nation constantly highlighting the dangers of another. A perfect example of this is the media coverage of the constant sexual assaults in India. By the number of stories that I’ve read on Buzzfeed, The New York Times and other sources, the idea of rape becomes a foreign and distant problem. This is not to say that there shouldn’t be extensive coverage on the struggles women face internationally in terms of security. Indeed, there are a number of places where women face much more dire threats concerning their personal safety in comparison to those in America. Were these horrendous acts to go on unnoticed or underreported, the hope of improving the situation becomes much less likely.

However, just as American coverage of sexual assault abroad is extensive, it should be equally as widespread in the States themselves — as sexual assault is a much more common occurrence than many realize. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reported that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, on average there are 237,868 sexual assault victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year. It would be foolish to assume that just because we live in an Orange Bubble, we are immune to the atrocities of the outside world. In a ‘Prince’ article covering an unpublished survey conducted by several University offices in 2008, it was said that more than 15 percent of female undergraduates reported experiencing non-consensual vaginal penetration during their time at the University.

I am fortunate enough to say I have never had any experiences with sexual assault, so I cannot speak as if I know the trauma a victim must feel afterward. But even despite the wonderful resources and nationally, a decreasing rate of sexual assault in the past years according to RAINN, it can always be challenging for a victim of sexual assault to speak about his or her experiences and seek support. However, it is not helpful when we as a society minimize the prevalence of the problem and the ensuing trauma. When Susan Patton and others like her reframe sexual assault as “regrettable sex,” they make it much less likely that victims will speak out and find justice.

It is blatantly base to insinuate that a victim is responsible because of an outfit or drinks consumed. I highly commend the faculty who has taken the time to involve themselves in an issue so significant for so many students, and I was proud to have seen former professors who determined circumstances like clothing or alcohol does not make someone assaulted accountable. It is a step in the right direction because a society that perpetuates blame on victims will inevitably perpetuate the crime.

Lea Trusty is a sophomore from Saint Rose, La. She can reached at ltrusty@princeton.edu.

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