Rolling Stone magazine recently published an article about the gang rape in 2012 of a freshman at the University of Virginia. After the brutal incident, Jackie turned, as most of us would, to her friends for help. Rather than sympathy and compassion, she was met with doubt, derision and concern for her social reputation. To call rape, one of her friends said according to an article in Rolling Stone magazine, would be social suicide. This, as she stood there battered, from the people who supposedly cared for her.
When she went to the administration for help, she encountered a similar reaction: more doubt, coupled with passivity and ambivalence as to whether she should file a police report and seek justice. This from the school that supposedly cared for her.
Yet as bloodcurdling as these responses may be, we must not dismiss Jackie’s friends and the UVA administration as mere monsters. To do so would ignore the fact that, while few of us would aim to harm another as viciously as Jackie’s assailants did, we are all capable of wreaking severe damage without intention.
In all likelihood, Jackie’s friends did not intend to isolate her in a crushing depression that nearly drove her to suicide. They reacted out of genuine concern for her social status. This is not to excuse their callous responses, but merely to illustrate that even concern, when misplaced, can prove as devastating as physical violence.
But they are, to an extent, correct. A lot more rape cases would be reported if victims weren’t forever labeled as “the girl who got raped.” Still, the instinct oftentimes is to assume she put herself into the situation – that she was somehow “asking for it” – or even that she made it up.
Simply condemning her friends, and the administration, and then moving on, hides our own portion of guilt. When we turn a blind eye to issues that unsettle our stomachs, we reinforce the idea that shame and guilt are justified reactions to violent sexual crimes. None of us do as much as he or she could to make victims feel welcome to speak up.
Certain organizations exist to help open this dialogue, including bystander education programs such as UM’s Haven. Also, UM has acted firmly in response to recent sexual assault cases, expelling two football players charged with raping another student.
Unfortunately, though, it is not enough to trust that somebody else will deal with issues you may not feel like handling. One in four women survived rape or attempted rape in 2014, according to a nonprofit called One in Four. We must all be prepared for sexual violence to impinge onto our own lives.
If one of your friends ever shows up on your doorstep battered and bruised, make sure your concern is in the right place: for her health. Otherwise, do what you can to make sure that concern for a woman’s reputation following a sexual assault will never be warranted even in the slightest.
Damage doesn’t only come from violent criminals and directly harmful action – when it comes from friends, from administrators, or from inaction, it can prove just as destructive.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.