This post was originally written for TheIthacan.org on April 19th, 2016
*This post is in response to the recent Public Safety Alert, which can be viewed here.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault (because that’s what it’s called)
A couple of days ago, my phone buzzed with an alert from Public Safety. Since I’m not based on campus this semester, I oftentimes overlook these emails. But this time I saw that Public Safety is investigating a report of “forcible touching.”
Forcible Touching? I think what they mean is sexual assault.
According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, “sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.” Last time I checked, unwanted touching falls under this definition.
We need to call it what it is.
Not acknowledging someone’s experience like this, is feeding directly into rape culture.
I get it, the phrase “sexual assault” is scary and we don’t want to admit that it happens at Ithaca College—but it absolutely does. According to a report on campus sexual assault published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during college and 27% of college women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact. On top of that, 90% of these crimes on college campuses are never reported.
So can we at least support those who do actually come forward? Can we validate their experiences? Can we call them what they are?
Maybe, if we do those things, one day there will be culture on college campuses where survivors feel safe in coming forward if they choose to.
Because right now, this inability to even give sexual assault the proper label, points to how seriously we take it.
It’s rape culture.
It’s downplaying the problem. And framing sexual assault as “touching” instead of a violation only implies that sexual harassment and unwanted touching and contact is not the worst thing in the world, that—like consensual touching—it happens sometimes.
To make matters worse, according to psychologist Lynn Phillips in her book Flirting with Danger, women and girls receive such conflicting messages about love, relationships, and male aggression that they struggle to even name their victimization and experiences. If we don’t call sexual assault what it is in official reports, it makes it that much harder for victims/survivors validate their own experiences.
Yes, even something as simple as a Public Safety email can reinforce to readers that their experience isn’t valid, that it won’t be called what it is, that coming forward isn’t worth it.
As a writer, I can tell you that the words and the language we choose has an impact.
I’m going to close out this post on a tough topic with some resources. If you’d like to find a counseling center near you, a hotline, or learn how to support a survivor, click here. If you’d like to find out about your reporting rights on campus and right to an education free from gender-based violence, click here to learn about Title IX.