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Create safe spaces for survivors of sexual assault

By Nicole Porter

Section: Opinions

November 13, 2015

Over Halloween weekend, having no idea what it was about, I went to see “The Love of the Nightingale.” I had just heard that it was well performed and a friend of a friend was in it, so I went. What I wasn’t expecting was a play that touched upon so many controversial topics, from the horrors of raising children around war to the difference between a life of violence and one of wisdom. However, one topic caught me off guard and stuck out more than others: the silencing of sexual assault survivors. This was a topic that I had heard of many times before, both from the news and other media outlets, but I had never experienced it in a live discussion. Yet, it is something we all need to talk about.

We have all heard statistics and have all been forewarned. We have seen the presentations, read the pamphlets and learned about consent. But nothing can prepare us for the reality of sexual assault. It is not some scary fictional monster that hides in your closet. It is real and it happens, even here at Brandeis.

The “Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct” from the spring of 2015 found that five percent of responding Brandeis undergraduate men and 22 percent of responding Brandeis undergraduate women have been sexually assaulted. Yet only 39.2 percent of those men and 60.4 percent of those women actually reported these assaults. Some survivors are too scared of the social and emotional consequences of speaking up about the crimes committed against them. It is our job to help lift these people up and let their voices be heard.

If survivors want to stand up and tell their story, which would hold the person who hurt them accountable, they will need support in doing so. It is hard to talk about sexual assault when society frames it as something to hide and be ashamed of. People blame the survivors for dressing too promiscuously or “asking for it.” This type of ignorance and boorishness is the reason sexual assault is such a controversial topic. Survivors have a hard enough time gathering the courage to speak without people telling them they should be silent or that it was their fault. It is our duty to them to create an environment where they can speak freely about their feelings and stories and stand up against their attackers.

To do this there must be open dialogue about sexual assault in more casual settings. We can’t just talk about the statistics in a lecture or read about it in a pamphlet. We need to have honest and upfront conversations about it. Tearing down the idea that sexual assault is a taboo topic must be done.

We also must destroy the idea that sexual assault is somehow the survivor’s fault. The survivor is never to blame. Finally, we must stand with the survivor and protect them and their right to face to their attacker. Standing with the survivor not only gives them someone to back them up, but also someone to help them along if they need support. We must stand with the survivors of sexual assault and amplify their voices.

For any change to occur, a first step must be taken. The survey proves that Brandeis needs to dramatically improve when it comes to eliminating sexual assault. However, we can take a big step by making it easy for survivors to speak out and by creating a climate of understanding and maturity surrounding sexual assault. If we all stand behind the survivor and speak up, then change is bound to follow.

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