The NIU Police Department should place greater accountability on those who are accused of sexually assaulting others by examining the Safety Tips and Resources section in its safety bulletins.
There was a reported attempted sexual assault Sept. 5 on West Lincoln Highway, according to an NIU safety bulletin. At the bottom of the Safety Bulletin released to all students after the incident, there was a section that provided victim advocacy service contact information and medical treatment and counseling options. This type of information is helpful and informative. Providing victim advocacy services to victims of sexual assault is vital to ensuring their recovery.
However, also included within the tips section are some suggestions to help “keep yourself and others safe.” A suggestion in the Safety Tips and Resources section reads, “When walking at night, walk in well-lit areas with companions or take advantage of the Huskie Safe Line Service or Huskie Patrol escorts.” This suggestion doesn’t take into account the reason behind the need for these extra precautions, which is the actions of those who sexually assault others.
Particularly offensive is the “Make wise decisions regarding alcohol use and other risky behaviors,” suggestion. This suggestion gives off the impression that if one is not making wise decisions, they are more likely to become sexually assaulted. No amount of alcohol intoxication is equivalent to consent. No matter what amount of alcohol someone has consumed, you still cannot sexually assault them. Tips like this are what should be included at the end of safety bulletins.
Perhaps most alarming is that there are no suggestions to simply not assault others, nor are there any potential consequences of sexually assaulting someone.
Almost three-fourths of rapists said a reason for rape was sexual entitlement, according to a 2011 United Nations study. Including “avoiding assault” types of tips not only further victimizes survivors of sexual assault, but encourages the idea to attackers that an assault is justified in certain situations, or that attackers are entitled to sex in certain situations.
NIU Chief of Police Tom Phillips said he likes the idea of changing the narrative behind safety tips.
“I’ve been reading a lot about changing those narratives,” Phillips said. “I believe it should be a trauma-centered response, but instead of saying, ‘Hey, you should not walk at night,’ it should say ‘You should not bother [people] at night.’”
We will hold Phillips to his word.