When Rihanna went on Good Morning America on November 5th to talk about her relationship with Chris Brown and the infamous night he beat her, televisions across America were filled with messages to teenage girls about protecting themselves. But these messages lacked important questions like, “What if it’s the girlfriend who’s abusive?” or “What if someone isn’t in a heterosexual relationship? What about that kind of abuse?” It is from the lack of these kinds of questions that the idea for our Women’s Studies Activism Project was born. We wanted to investigate sexual violence on our campus — including rape, sexual assault, verbal and physical abuse and sexual harassment.
We initially sought to critique the inclusiveness of resources on campus, but we discovered that — contrary to our expectations — many of the resources are actively seeking to be inclusive of all kinds of sexual violence: men against women, men against men, queer, straight, trans, etc. While investigating campus resources, we interviewed two campus organizations, Counseling and Psychological Services and Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, both of which we felt dealt directly with sexual violence and its consequences. We found that both use gender neutral language when talking to victims and that their staff members are trained to handle violence in same-sex partnerships and heterosexual couples. Our University is not lacking in resources for victims of sexual violence outside the perceived “norm.” Rather it is we, the students, who need to be more open-minded when discussing this sensitive topic.
After discovering this, we sought to understand why the resources on campus were so different from our expectations. Drawing on our personal experiences as individuals in various student organizations, social groups and classes, we realized that although the institutional resources are adopting a more inclusive view of sexual violence, the conversations we have in our day-to-day lives reinforce normative narratives about sexuality and gender. As a campus, we need to engage in conversations about non-normative sexual violence. By ignoring the fact that sexual violence occurs in queer relationships or at the hands of a girl against her boyfriend, we are assuming that our campus is made up of pairings in which the man always possesses physical dominance over his female significant other. Assumptions like these fuel a sexist culture.
While we were happy to learn that our campus resources can accommodate and help survivors of sexual violence regardless of sexual orientation and gender, we were saddened to realize just how little attention these issues receive in our daily lives. The University is a diverse place and it is up to the students to make sure that conversations, especially those about something as sensitive as sexual violence, include all identities and people.
If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual violence, there are many resources on campus. The SAPAC website has a comprehensive list of many resources on campus, locally, statewide and nationally: http://www.umich.edu/~sapac/. Additionally, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network Crisis Hotline is available: 1-800-656-HOPE.
This viewpoint was written by LSA sophomore Abigail Barnard, LSA freshman Alex Kulick, LSA freshman Holly Stehlin and LSA sophomore Chloe Zhang.