Society reinforces sexual assault

By Ariel Owens

Self-defense skills are good for women to have, but this would be better: Teaching men and boys not to attack, instead of teaching women and girls how not to be attacked.

If you’ve never thought about sexual attacks in this way, you need to start. Sexual violence is a common occurrence on college campuses. In a 2006 study by Sage Publications, an independent publishing company, 27 percent of a sample of 903 women experienced some form of a sexual assault since enrolling in college.

“I agree that we should not need to teach women and men — people tend to avoid men — to defend themselves … but there is a reality to it, so I asked myself what I could do to try and promote safety,” said Wayne Finley, assistant professor at University Libraries and certified Rape Aggression Defense instructor. Rape Aggression Defense is a program that teaches self-defense techniques for women. “We know that there is a problem on campus — I just do what I can.”

Finley, along with Lesley Rigg, geography professor and a member of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, will lead a self-defense seminar from 6:30 to 8 p.m. today at Founders Memorial Library as part of a series of events for Women’s History Month.

You may not assume from looking at NIU’s Annual Safety and Security Report that sexual assaults are common. According to the report, in 2010 there were seven forcible sex offenses at NIU and in DeKalb. The number dropped to six in 2011 and rose to 11 in 2012.

I take these statistics’ accuracy with a grain of salt; it’s no secret many assaults go unreported. Survivors may be afraid to speak up due to shame and blame, and they sometimes don’t consider what happened to them to be wrong.

So, what do I mean by teaching women and girls how not to get attacked? Think about the things society tells women: Be careful what you wear. Don’t look too provocative. Pay attention to how you carry yourself, especially at night. Carry pepper spray. Pretend you know where you’re going even if you don’t. Don’t drink too much. The list goes on and on.

Being safe and aware of your surroundings is important, but women should not have to follow these rules simply so they won’t be attacked.

After something terrible has happened to a woman, have you ever heard anyone say, “Well, she shouldn’t have been dressed like that,” or “What was she doing walking alone, anyway?”

The way our society blames the victim instead of focusing on the attack is horrific. Something equally horrific is the way society paints a false picture of who is an assailant. People who commit sexual assaults don’t always have psychological issues; they’re your average citizens.

Between 2005 and 2010, “78 percent of sexual violence involved an offender who was a family member, intimate partner, friend or [an] acquaintance” of the victim, according to a March 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Justice. There are always exceptions, but it’s unlikely someone will jump from the bushes and attack you.

We live in a culture where violence against women has been shown as acceptable, and that won’t change until men and women are both demand a culture of equality.

Jennifer Kirker-Priest, director of the Museum of Anthropology and a Rape Aggression Defense instructor, said tonight’s seminar is just a tease of the full programs Rape Aggression Defense offers students.

“It’s really important these issues become an institutional priority,” Kirker-Priest said. “I don’t know what the solution is, but I sure hope to be a part of it.”

Changing the ways of a culture where sexual violence is the norm cannot be achieved overnight. We need to demand basic respect and equality for all genders.