Columns, Opinion

Dear Men: Sexual assault allegations should be taken seriously

About this column:

Too many conversations are maintained by cis men. Although I feel incredibly unqualified to start a conversation about anything that is remotely societally significant, I have a feeling that many other minorities might share my sentiments. 

I hope that “Dear Men” doesn’t feel like an attack on a significant portion of the world’s population. In actuality, it is a plea for men to listen to what the drowned-out voices have to say.

Dear men, to you, it’s natural to disregard experiences that you’ve never gone through. Commonly, you get to be the ones playing devil’s advocate or saying “give me proof” in a conversation. To many people, not just other cisgender women, our health and wellbeing is dependent on whether we can convince you that our experiences are valid.

I implore you to practice habits that transcend the privilege you have received. You could live your life never having to listen, but subsequently, we will have to live our lives begging you to.

There is no world where a sexual assault survivor wins. The #MeToo movement is not about winning. It’s an effort to stop playing the game. 

Society, and college campuses in particular, do not have a place for sexual assault survivors. More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on a college campus do not report their assault, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Additionally, survivors often don’t press charges because it is easier to try to move on than to relive their trauma in an apathetic courtroom.

Boston University had 18 reported cases of sexual assault in 2016, according to The Daily Free Press. The University’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center, however, reported very different numbers. 

SARP provides confidential and free services to students who experience traumatic events such as sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. They reported 173 individuals visiting them in the 2015-2016 academic year alone — 74 of those instances were for new sexual assault cases. 

Statistics show it is nearly impossible for sexual assault survivors to come out with their stories. In a sample study done by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, only 1.6 percent of cases reported to the police made it to court. Meanwhile, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reports that only 0.5 percent of offenders will be convicted on felony charges. 

With these numbers calculated, the odds are that a very small percentage of rape cases lead to a felony charge. Under this system, victims aren’t believed and their stories aren’t valued.

In 2015, Chanel Miller was 22 years old when she woke up in a hospital without memory of the previous night. She went viral as the girl found naked behind a dumpster — raped by Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer. Turner’s infamous case should have been simple, but it wasn’t. Miller found herself in the middle of national news and years full of trials, and she still did not win.

Turner became a part of the small percentage of assailants who were found guilty. Yet, he spent only three months in jail before walking free again. He did not match the assumed profile of a rapist because he was a rich, white student-athlete who had a good record and promising future. As the judge said, “obviously, a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.”

Meanwhile, photos of Miller’s bruised genitals were posted publicly. Miller quit her full-time job after stressing about last-minute court dates and facing strain to her mental health. 

“Sitting in the driveway, I didn’t know this little yes [to press charges] would reopen my body, would rub the cuts raw, would pry my legs open for the public,” Miller wrote in her memoir “Know My Name.” “My sister and I would be instructed to stop speaking to each other because the defense would accuse us of conspiring.”

By pressing charges, Miller gave up three years of her life to the courtroom.

Turner’s attitude toward the case was that he was the victim.

“I want to show that people’s lives can be destroyed by drinking and making poor decisions while doing so,” Turner said in his apology letter, turning the attention toward the fact that his life was seemingly ruined. “I’ve lost my ability to obtain a Stanford degree. I’ve lost employment opportunity, my reputation, and most of all, my life.”

The system wronged Miller because it set her up to live a life with her keys between her knuckles, regardless of whether she ever met Turner. The system wronged Turner because it let him, and even the President of the United States, believe he was privileged enough to finger an unconscious woman in broad daylight and get away with it. 

“Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything,” President Donald Trump said in an Access Hollywood recording from 2005. 

Survivors have to fight against an established system in which our president encourages the kind of behavior Miller’s rapist exhibited.

It seems the world is more comfortable with the existence of rapists than the existence of rape survivors. So, it’s easier to say we don’t believe them when survivors speak out. It’s easier to blame them for another’s actions. In doing this, we sweep the issue under the rug, and the game keeps being played.

In a way, women are all Chanel Miller. Sexual assault isn’t a hypothetical or a thought experiment to me — it feels like an inevitability I have to prepare for.

#MeToo is revolutionary in the fact that it can be the first step to changing the tide. A survivor’s voice needs to be validated because they are choosing to fight against the innumerable odds placed against them.

Society is historically framed through the “male experience,” BU School of Law student Kaela Dunn, who has researched sexual assault law, wrote in an email.

“As a society, we have historically framed everything in terms of the male experience, so the real harms of rape and even sometimes consensual sex often go unnoticed,” Dunn wrote. “We need to shift discussions away from ‘rape is harmful if it causes bleeding, bruising, swelling, etc.’ to ‘rape is harmful if a survivor says it is.’”

One Comment

  1. I would have been interested to see the article address BU’s own failure to carry out justice. When Kevin Rivlin (Questrom ‘19) assaulted a roommate’s guest, BUPD illegally denied her access to information on the case (on the grounds that she wasn’t a student). Is sexual assault a general problem? Yes. But it’s also very much a BU-specific problem.