Editorial: Community needs transparency
Those who commit rape are not often locked away. Victims do not stop feeling its aftermath after the case is closed. Rape disrupts. It changes people. It causes deterioration in victims’ mental health – depression, severe anxiety, new phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and other examples. Rape sometimes affects an individual for a lifetime.
A red shirt with smudgy letters that read, “What they said to me, ‘I thought you were asleep,’ ‘You were drunk,’ ‘You never said no before,’ Three different men, three different excuses,” fluttered in the breeze as it hung from a clothesline in Shoemaker Square on March 20.
Sixty-two similar shirts of various size and color accompanied the red shirt; each represented a person – a survivor of sexual or domestic abuse. Out in the breeze greeting passing students, the victims’ words and family members’ memorials to those whose lives ended in violence resounded in the spring sunlight.
Last week, for the third annual It’s On Us week, The Student Government Association partnered with several campus organizations to remind students that sexual assault is a prevalent issue on college campuses nationwide. In January 2017, within the first 21 days, two sexual assaults occurred on Southern Miss’ campus, resulting in one arrest and the other pending a decision from a grand jury.
However, the conversation about sexual assault awareness and prevention should not take precedence one week a year. It should not take an assault at a fraternity party to have students demand the university change its policy regarding clarity in sexual assault cases.
One sexual assault on campus is too many.
The Student Printz staff is a group of diverse individuals, Greek and non-Greek. Some have experienced sexual assault first hand, while others have friends who have experienced it.
When you see or hear someone defending rapists, remember: That person is sympathizing. That person is validating sexual assault. That person is asserting that a victim is at fault for a violating act he or she did not commit.
Victims on the Hattiesburg campus continue to feel the words and actions of their rapists. The University of Southern Mississippi’s Greek Life system has attempted to silence Greek Life women who were affected at the SAE party and those who spoke out about it by allegedly threatening them with fines or disciplinary actions if they do not remove related statements from social media. Let us presume this is to preserve Greek Life’s public image that has already been tarnished by all manner of toxic behavior. The Office would be met with less backlash if it admitted sexual assault is a danger students face on college campuses.
One interviewee recently pointed out that our university had more to do and say about the famed fraternity-related flamingo death in 2014. Officials hit the kid with a felony charge. What results have we seen from the SAE rape case? The fraternity was suspended from participating in Greek Life events, but they remained on campus and no arrests were made, a proverbial slap on the wrist for the assailants.
When the university fails to pursue appropriate actions against assailants and withholds information from the campus community, it affects us all.
Rape is not a simple crime. Rape robs people of their humanity and self-worth. After everything, people still blame the victims. People still ask for evidence. People still decide that “boys will be boys” and that men who are raped are no longer men. Victims begin to second guess themselves, not wanting to call it rape or not wanting to believe it happened to them – some of us of the Printz editorial staff know this too, because we live it every day.
Rape does not happen to someone once. Rape happens to a victim for months, years or a lifetime, depending on how fortunate or unfortunate they are. Their assailants are able to jettison their actions as if they never committed them because institutions and, more importantly, individuals have created a culture in which being a victim is somehow less dignified than being a rapist.
Admit that students are not safe on campus. Teach your children not to violate others. Deny rapists your friendship if you once called them friends. Listen to victims when they say something awful has happened. Realize your public image is not sacred, especially when the health and safety of actual walking, talking, breathing human beings is at risk. Redirect the broader conversation about sexual assault. Be critical of yourself and your community and realize what is valid and what is not.
The Student Printz editorial staff stands with the campus community, particularly those whom SAE fraternity members reportedly assaulted, drugged and barred in their fraternity house in October 2016. We will refuse all requests to back away.
The Student Printz Editorial Staff
Editor’s note: This article was edited for clarity. It originally stated the Greek Life office allegedly silenced “victims.” However, the Greek Life office reportedly silenced those affected by allegedly drugged drinks at the SAE party and those who spoke out about the incident on social media.