Maya Dusenbery, editor of the blog Feministing, says that in order to solve the issue of sexual assault we need to change “rape culture” through open conversations. She tried to open students up to talking about sexual assault at an event Thursday at the Ford School.
Dusenbery spoke to about 50 people in an event sponsored by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. She focused on sexual assault and the media coverage it receives, centering the discussion on the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, in which several high-school football players took advantage of a teenage girl after she was passed out drunk. The case garnered the attention of global media after photos of the perpetrators were posted on social media.
Dusenbery said she was frustrated that the news coverage addressed the failings of the accused rather than the damage to the survivor.
“The coverage basically expressed sort-of empathy,” Dusenbery said in an interview after the lecture. “The way that they were doing it was in this way that was completely ignoring the fact that the reason they were convicted was because they committed this crime.”
Dusenbery also expressed her specific concerns about the case, noting her surprise about the accused’s clear misunderstanding of consent. She said the current conception of rape conveys a “no-means-no” culture, allowing the accused to claim lack of a denial as valid sexual consent. She said that this needs to be changed.
“When we’re talking about rape culture, we’re talking about the culture that we live in every day,” Dusenbery said. “To completely reach the goal would be to completely transform the culture.”
Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of SAPAC, said she has been a long-time fan of Feministing and that both SAPAC and Feministing share similar strategies and goals in dealing with sexual assault. She added that SAPAC uses posts from Feministing to help achieve their mutual goals.
“Definitely, I want to broaden the audience,” Rider-Milkovich said. “On issues of sexual violence prevention, issues of power and control, and also to be talking in real roles with each other about these issues.”
Rider-Milkovich said that Dusenbery echoed many of SAPAC’s hopes to deal with the issue of social power as it relates to sexual assault and its role within different social groups.
“When we make it not OK to commit violence against anyone, then that social power becomes vacated. It doesn’t have the same resonance,” Rider-Milkovich said “So one of the things that we can do to identify and erode the power and control that happens when one commits violence against another is to not give people props, not reward them by talking about the behavior…”
LSA freshman Celina Romano, who attended the event, said she was happy to hear an open discussion about rape in society and how it’s handled. Still, Romano said that as a woman and a freshman at a large university, she needs to be cautious.
“While I think that the University does a lot to try and keep women safe, there are a lot of things that, obviously, things happen, and they aren’t brought to light,” Romano said, “And there are plenty of situations on this campus that create unsafe environments for women.”