What would you do?
Warning: This piece contains material about sexual assault that might be upsetting to some readers.
What would you do if you found out someone you knew had definitively sexually assaulted someone?
Individually, as well as within our smaller communities here at Columbia, we need to figure out how to address sexual assault on this personal level. These are the questions that every individual needs to consider and decide upon.
Would you still say hello? Would you still let him or her pour you a drink at a party? Would you tell a friend, a roommate, a counselor, or keep it to yourself? Would you still vote for him or her for a leadership role in your club or group? Would you ask him or her to leave if they showed up at a party you were hosting?
What if it was your friend? What if it was someone you lived with? What if it was someone you really liked? Would you still get lunch? Would you text them back?
Is condoning and socially accepting someone known to have committed assault something we do on campus? Do we trust the word of someone who tells you they did not consent or should we place more value on the court’s decision? Are we just as obligated to socially reject a rapist as we are to protect potential victims and support survivors?
Does the student body have a responsibility to exclude those among us who have committed irrevocable acts of harm to individuals in our community? Is the fear of making a false accusation really greater than the fear of allowing someone to become a repeat offender? Is false accusation even an issue when it comes down to the fact that consent is as simple as “yes” or “no”?
What if the victim had pressed charges but university policy had failed her? What if the police didn’t believe her? What if she didn’t press charges at all? What if alcohol had been involved? Would you care less? What if you heard someone say that he was creepy and watch part of the room go quiet? Would you be the first to name his offense? Would you be complicit if you weren’t?
And what if you found out that you aren’t the only one who knows and she wasn’t the only one who he attacked?
Would you judge those who knew but still allowed him to stay in their group? Would you stay friends with those people who knew and invited the person to parties or on trips or downtown? Would you trust anyone who could sit in the same room as a rapist and his victim and smile?
These are the questions that we need to face honestly and openly. These are the questions that have to be discussed along with questions of how the university can change its policies and better support survivors. These are the questions that aren’t being asked.
The power is vested in all of us to shape our cultural perceptions of rape. By not excluding those who we know have committed sexual violence, we fail to make rape socially unacceptable. Changing the policy of an inefficient administration is not enough; we need to cultivate a community that is hostile to perpetrators of sexual violence. Rape culture loses power when we transform our campus into a culture of consent.