To stop assault, confront it

Larisa Manescu

National Sexual Assault Awareness Month is over. Within the month of April, a female American tourist in Rio de Janeiro was raped and robbed on a minibus. Two girls under the age of 10 were raped in India, one of whom died from her injuries. In Canada, a 17-year-old hanged herself after enduring over a year of bullying since she was gang-raped at a friend’s house in 2011.

To see these incidents in the news and feel helpless to stop their repetition is frustrating. In a disaster situation, money and donations can be delivered, but it appears as if little but condolences can be sent to a rape survivor or his or her family. The world feels pity, but what’s done is done.

Although it manifests itself in different forms and under different circumstances, rape has no preference. It doesn’t prefer developed or developing nations or discriminate against a certain race or identity. Rape happens, and I certainly don’t claim to have a simple answer on how to prevent it. But rape culture — the way in which our societies view and often judge survivors of sexual assault — can be reformed through education about common misconceptions. 

On the University of Texas campus, the Voices against Violence organization plans frequent campaigns, theater productions, dialogues and events to engage the entire campus and community about issues of interpersonal violence and sexual assault. One of its goals is to solidify the message that rape is not merely a women’s issue, but one of concern to society as a whole. Dialogue is not restricted to feminists; any humanist has a responsibility to initiate it. VAV staff even provide training to UTPD officers each semester on how to appropriately communicate with survivors of interpersonal violence and sexual assault.

Unlike other crimes, rape often results in the blaming of the victim. Instead of highlighting the wrongful actions of the rapist, the survivor is often questioned about his or her actions at the time of the crime, told to be more careful when walking at night or in dangerous areas and equipped with pepper spray or self-defense classes in case of future occurrences. 

After speaking to James Shaw, the founder of the Resist Attack Foundation, I understand the appeal of protective measures against rape. Resist Attack is a nonprofit organization that aspires to provide every woman in America with a bottle of pepper spray. The organization has given out 4,600 pepper sprays in Austin to date. Shaw often organizes meet-up locations on the UT campus for women to distribute free spray. 

Shaw said that he decided to focus his efforts on pepper spray because he felt it was most practical to emphasize one main aspect (self-defense) and that his natural choice was pepper spray. However, Shaw said that he maintains communication with groups such as Step Up, which focuses on preventative rather than protective measures against rape by working to change the attitudes of young men regarding violence against women. 

“Our hope is, of course, that one day our mission is unnecessary. Until then, we’d rather do what we can to help this way,” Shaw said. 

Shaw’s comments illustrate how the preventative approach cannot stand alone in confronting the issue of rape and its side effects. Rather, prevention must collaborate with the message that the responsibility of preventing rape doesn’t fall solely on the targeted person. 

I didn’t understand how misunderstood rape is when I first stepped foot onto this campus. Of course, I thought rape was an awful thing, but I didn’t see how I could personally work to stop it. I didn’t know the meaning of the term “victim-blaming” and didn’t realize that substituting “survivor” for “victim” can help empower those affected by
sexual assault.

My initial ignorance, however, wasn’t the result of a lack of interest, but a lack of exposure. The dismantling of misconceptions surrounding sexual assault is a powerful force on our campus, but it can only work if students confront the ideas promoted by organizations like VAV in their daily lives. 

Sometimes, although not always, all it takes to prevent a rape from occurring is a concerned stranger acknowledging that rape culture shouldn’t be the status quo. National Sexual Assault Awareness Month is over, but its message shouldn’t stop being spread. 

Manescu is an international relations and global studies sophomore from Ploiesti, Romania.