One in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. One in five women will be raped while in college. As the details of the sexual assault that occurred in West Quad Residence Hall last weekend become clearer, it’s important to remember two things: First, rape can take many forms, but none are acceptable. Second, there are ways to be as safe as possible by being alert at all times.
Let’s establish that rape, sexual assault and unwanted touching of any kind is never the fault of the victim. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing — women are never “asking for it.” Sexual assault can take many forms. Anytime a woman leaves a sexual encounter feeling uncomfortable because she didn’t want it or felt confused or coerced, this constitutes sexual assault. Many consider rape to be “real” only when a stranger violates another stranger. This is false. Sexual assault and rape happen all the time between established couples or friends with benefits. Since lines between friendships and casual sexual relationships are drawn so thin in college, throw a little alcohol in the mix and you may have the perfect circumstance for a sexual assault to occur.
For men: If she says no or acts like she doesn’t want a sexual advance — through body language or lack of control — stop pursuing. It doesn’t matter how inebriated she is. You might think your harmless butt-grab or walk-by-breast-graze is okay, but it’s not. That is considered sexual assault, and no matter how funny or innocent it seems can make anyone uncomfortable. Only make sexual overtures on someone when it’s obviously mutual.
If that means you have to ask before you put your arm around her, do so. You won’t look stupid. It will be refreshing and appreciated.
For women: Have a plan in mind. Of course it’s never your fault if you are sexually assaulted, but you can take proactive steps to prevent being harmed.
First, before a sexual encounter with someone set your boundaries clearly. You‘re allowed to go as far as you want with someone in a consensual sexual encounter without being considered a “tease” when you choose to stop. Decide what you will and won’t do. State your boundaries clearly, no matter how odd it sounds. As an Ann Arbor self-defense instructor told me, never let 30 seconds of potential awkwardness and embarrassment stand between you and your safety. If you feel your red flags go up, do everything and anything in your power to leave before it’s too late. Of course, there may be extenuating circumstances where it is not possible to run or flee the situation. But if it’s an option and you feel even the slightest hint of “weirdness,” trust your gut and remove yourself from the situation. Again, a minute of awkwardness and embarrassment is never worth the pain that may ensue.
The sexual assault that recently occurred in West Quad is one of many. Sexual assaults go unreported for various reasons including embarrassment, confusion and emotional distress. If you or a friend has been raped, sexually assaulted in any manner or is confused about a sexual encounter, there are places on campus you can seek help. The Sexual Assault and Prevention Awareness Center is a great resource. Never feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek help. Sexual assault is a pressing issue on a college campus and we must look out for each other. No matter if you know her or not, if you see a woman in trouble, don’t let it slide. Get help immediately.
Maura Levine is an LSA sophomore.