At the beginning of fall semester, all freshmen were asked to attend Relationship Remix, a workshop designed for first-year students where the main goals were to discuss how to lead healthy and happy relationships in college, focusing particularly on sexual assault. While there were things about it I would have changed, it’s a very important topic, and I commend the University for making this a priority.
Only a few days ago, I got a message in my inbox. The subject read: “Help improve Relationship Remix by taking this short survey!” Before I go further, I want to say it’s not my intention to criticize the survey as a whole. It’s commendable that there was a follow-up to the workshop to allow for feedback. However, I do want to point out something within the survey that points to a larger society issue.
I began filling it out, ready to give feedback as to what could make it better. The first few questions I answered in a heartbeat, confident in my answers. Then I got to questions 10 through 20 that asked me to “indicate my level of agreement with this statement.” The first few I answered quickly. Yes, I am confident I “express my own needs and desires in relationships”; yes I strongly agree I know “what a healthy relationship looks like for me.” But nine statements in, I paused, admittedly horrified. The ninth statement read, “I intentionally make choices that reduce the risk I will experience sexual violence.”
This statement struck a deep chord. Although it was part of a survey intended to only take a short time and to be forgotten soon after, the survey left a horrible taste in my mouth and it echoes a problem faced across the country. It perpetuates the idea that it’s the survivors’ fault that they experience sexual violence because of the choices that they make. It isn’t clear enough, and it isn’t emphasized enough in society that no decision that anyone makes can implicate them in their own sexual assault. Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, and by portraying it as such through statements like these, we simply make the problem of victim blaming worse. While it’s true we may privately make choices, knowing that they could put us in situations where we increase the risk of sexual assault (which is disheartening in and of itself), it should never be in the public discourse that it is up to potential victims to make choices to lower their risks of experiencing sexual assault.
One of the largest problems we face when it comes to sexual assault is how we handle it. Recently, lawmakers proposed to arm students on college campuses to combat sexual assault. We need to reassess the discourse around sexual assault. We need to focus our efforts on preventing sexual violence. And for victims of sexual assault, nations need to develop and fund campaigns and organizations that emphasize that survivors cannot and should not be blamed.
We must change our systems in ways that don’t allow for victim blaming, and instead focus on prosecuting the perpetrators. We cannot blame the victim any longer. It will only isolate and create an environment where victims are scared to speak out and get support. Ending victim blaming starts with removing statements like these from our University surveys. This isn’t just a national issue perpetrated by lawmakers and law enforcers; this is an issue that must be addressed at local levels such as the University.
Anna Polumbo-Levy is an LSA Freshman.