Re: “Alumna on sexual assault”
In last week’s edition of The Colby Echo, alumna Nancy Nivison Daley ’82 enumerated her thoughts regarding sexual assault issues at the College. While I appreciate her concern and the time she took to write her response, I must respectfully disagree with several of her points (for the sake of clarity and brevity, I will refer to sexual assault against women, although men certainly suffer from such attacks as well).
As we are all aware, sexual assault has been a major topic of discussion on campus this year. Although a difficult subject to address, I am happy that our awareness of the issue has increased. That being said, certain mentalities are antithetical to positive change. Not to beat a dead horse, but we need to stop using language and arguments that seem to burden the victims of sexual assault with blame. In her article, Ms. Daley focuses upon “preventative measures” that women should employ in order to avoid rape and sexual assault. While I agree that women should take precautions to remain safe, it is NEVER a woman’s fault for getting assaulted, no matter how she dresses or acts. Rather than focus on what women need to do—especially as sexual assault is often “acquaintance-based” and can occur even when a woman has taken every precaution imaginable—we should emphasize the idea of consent. Furthermore, young adults need to be educated to counter the objectification of women, and schools like Colby should alter their policies to prevent the effect of silencing.
Beyond this broad complaint, I take offense to several other aspects of Ms. Daley’s letter. In her third point, she states, “Forced oral sex won’t last very long if those perfectly straightened teeth of the Colby female population suddenly remember to bite.” I’m not sure how Ms. Daley thinks a man would react to a woman biting him during oral sex, but I’m fairly certain he would not take kindly to the action. If he is already forcing her to perform oral sex, it seems likely that he would be inclined to hit her, or worse, if she literally tried to bite back. Therefore, rather than free herself from his power, her action would cause even more harm. In these cases, men must learn to ask for consent. For their part, women must speak up if they are uncomfortable performing a sexual act. If a man still insists upon forcing a woman into a compromising position without her consent, it is important to report the case to school officials and the police.
Later in her letter, Ms. Daley states, “[Colby] is also a somewhat difficult institution for a woman without good looks or a tough boyfriend.” In light of this claim, I sincerely hope—and believe—that Colby is not an institution where only “pretty” girls are respected and helped. Furthermore, violent revenge enacted by a “tough boyfriend” should not be the recourse pursued when dealing with a sexual assault case. Violence only begets more violence and does not solve the underlying issues behind sexual assault.
Continuing along the same vein, Ms. Daley says, “don’t be afraid to be mean to the big, bad athletes on campus, or their friends. It sounds like too many girls decide to starve themselves instead of confronting men.” Although Ms. Daley found success in confronting and embarrassing a man who lied about their sexual relationship, it is rarely that simple. A woman who survives a case of sexual assault is often frightened into silence. The process of directly confronting a man may cause him to act even more aggressively, which is a frightening thought. Rather than blame traumatized women for their anorexia, depression and other diseases, we should empathize with their pain and realize how difficult it can be to stand up for oneself. Providing these victims with a support system—counselors, administrators, friends, etc.—is the best way to break the cycle of assault.
While there are several smaller points that I could also discuss, I don’t wish to totally attack Ms. Daley’s argument. I value her perspective because she clearly cares to help the Colby community, but I hope my thoughts have been constructive. In the end, although our ideas are different, we share the same goal of stopping sexual assault, and that is what truly matters.