It is completely unacceptable that Campus Security’s only publicized response to a sexual assault case near campus is to tell students be aware of their surroundings.
Gendered violence is a complex issue, too valuable to cheapen with a hastily-assembled email.
The words we choose in speaking about sexual assault and other violent crimes ought to take into consideration the nuances of deeply-rooted cultural mindsets that are at the heart of such attacks.
Poorly chosen phrases such as the ones contained in the email entitled “Timely Notice,” sent to all of campus on Wednesday by Kevin Graham, director of Security, reinforce a skewed perspective used all too often when discussing sexual violence.
The email briefly stated that a sexual assault had occurred near campus, providing only two details: the location of the crime and the victim’s appearance. The message went on to provide safety tips to students, including commonsense ideas such as “be alert” and “walk in groups.”
How is emphasizing a victim’s appearance or behavior even a remotely appropriate way to begin a discussion about sexual violence?
Are headphones the real issue? Is the fact that this week’s victim was walking alone the real issue?
Of course not.
Sexual assault is a violent crime, and like any other crime, is a direct result of a choice actively made the the assailant. No victim’s appearance, behavior, or any other factor is to blame.
It is unacceptable for anyone to sexually assault another person, regardless of the victim’s level of situational awareness or physical vulnerability.
Sending an email that emphasizes a victim’s physical appearance instead of these important truths about why sexual violence happens is an inappropriate reaction to the crime, and it is unreasonable for Graham to assume that his words can stand alone.
Whether he recognizes it or not, placing emphasis on only one aspect of a problem sends a message that other parts are unimportant or not worth discussing.
Women everywhere grow up hearing and living according to messages about self-preservation, as if preventing sexual assault is a one-way street, or a burden belonging only to the women and the potential victims of the world.
Students have been reminded not to wear headphones, even in daylight. As if listening to music is equivalent to asking to be sexually assaulted, not simply another way of moving through a public space as a human whom no one is justified in attacking.
We are told that the way we dress ought to determine our level of safety. As if wearing what you prefer means that an attacker’s decision to rape is acceptable.
It’s often said that a woman should never leave her drink unguarded at a bar or party. As if telling women to always be on the defensive is enough, when the true solution is instructing children from a young age that preying on someone weaker than them is wrong, and that no truly means no.
Would our safety leaders rather talk heartlessly about how our more vulnerable students can better shoulder the burden of preventing assault, than emphasize how wrong it is that the assault happened in the first place?
It may be difficult for some men to fully appreciate the privilege they possess of moving safely through public spaces.
Similarly, it seems like it’s difficult for Kevin Graham to realize how problematic his recent email is.
Ignorance is no excuse. Not in 2016.
This week’s “timely notice” would have benefited from including a statement emphasizing how unacceptable the assault was, and how no victim’s appearance is a relevant factor in their assault.
Florida Tech Campus Safety owes it to students to be a strong, vocal presence at the forefront of our battle to prevent sexual assault at the source.