September 6, 2006

Ignoring Sexual Assault

This opinion columnist recounts a night during which she and four female friends received catcalls and lewd verbal assaults while getting their car towed near the Downtown Mall. She asserts that misogyny is an ongoing problem at the University, in the form of lewd gestures and verbal assaults, and calls for UVA to adopt a no-tolerance policy for perpetrators of sexual crimes.
Tags ,
Subject College student newspapers and periodicals, Feminism and higher education, College discipline, Universities and colleges--Complaints against
URL http://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2006/09/ignoring-sexual-assault, Ignoring Sexual Assault
By Marta Cook
MANY YOUNG women today grow weary of their chronic victim status, constantly told to be on guard against the ubiquitous male predator. These women believe the world is theirs to conquer, and indeed they should. Sexism, they respond, is a thing of the past. Although they occupy the same space, women and men still live in vastly different worlds. Women will forever be relegated to second-class status until they aggressively demand not only sex equity but a safer society in which to live. The University needs to commit itself to enforcing a much stricter policy towards those found guilty of sexual harassment andassault.
I had not learned what it meant to be a woman until this past Saturday night. Upon learning that our car had been towed after an evening on the Downtown Mall, four young women and I went to retrieve our vehicle. On the way, a group of men got out of their trucks and started urinating and whistling at us as we walked by. When we reached the towing company, the only sign of life was a distant light behind a wire fence. No one was there to meet these young women at midnight on a dimly lit side street.
The man at Collier's Towing, and even the policeman whom we flagged down, shrugged off our fear and outrage. According to the tower, nothing was going to happen to a group of women. Let's ignore the possibility of an armed man, or even the reality that one strong man could easily overwhelm a group of young women. The most frightening thought was the possibility that the 5'3" owner of the car could easily have been alone. A woman waiting alone for fifteen minutes on a dark side street is an invitation for unspeakable horror.
The hellish night didn't end there. In then less than quarter mile stretch from the Dovecote apartment complex to Chancellor Street, I was subjected to suggestive, vile comments four separate times by men. Is this the type of community the University settles for? Just because there have not been recent reports of assault in no way means they do not occur every single night.
Some men seem to believe they have a right to verbally assault women. They say it's harmless, that it's a way of showing an appreciation for a woman's beauty. But there is nothing harmless about darkanonymous encounters on a street. There's nothing worse than the feeling when a man undresses you with his eyes. All women know that look.
This world, even our beloved Charlottesville, still suffers from the tyranny of misogyny. According to a study done by the Women's Center, 58 University women were sexually assaulted or raped in 2005. One shudders to think of the countless women who never report these crimes, out of shame or denial. And what's more frustrating is that the University does little to show it cares. In 2004, the University openly admitted that no one found guilty of sexual assault had been expelled or even suspended from the University. This seems bizarre when contrasted with the University's much-lauded Honor Code. Apparently lying or cheating is forbidden, but sexual assault can be smoothed over with a slap on the wrist.
The University needs to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault. Already the University does a decent job of educating first-years about sexual assault awareness with a mandatory program sponsored by One in Four. But there needs to be a corresponding penalty for those students found guilty, one as severe as that levied against students who lie. Anything less is a message to University women that assault really isn't that big of a deal. A student who cheats deserves to be expelled from the University because he has violated our community of trust. Doesn't a student who sexually assaults another do the exact same thing?
Claire Kaplan, Sexual Assault Coordinator of the Women's Center, says that the greatest issue is not punishment but the "standard of evidence" required to convict. Federal policy states that only a "preponderance of evidence" is necessary, but the University continues to need evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt". With such a tough standard of evidence necessary for events that often occur in the shadows of fraternities, this discourages women from filing a case.
In addition to a tougher punishment policy on sexual assault, the University needs to better educate its students about what constitutes harassment. Most students know rape is wrong, but some young men may not know where to draw the line about verbal harassment.
A town is only outraged when one of their own women is raped or found dead in a trash bin. People need to have more outrage, more resolve to see greater security enforced, without the compelling reminder of the danger faced by women in the form of a mangled, lifeless body.
Marta Cook's columns appears on Wednedays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at mcook@cavalierdaily.com.

Collection

Item Relations

This item has no relations.