Who are the Perpetrators? Part II

By: Shyama Appareddy

(Continued from Part I, Posted on 4/27 at 10:40PM)

Time and again, violent crimes on our campus seem to continue to occur. Rather than reporting on institutional action or initiatives to identify and prosecute these individuals or to prevent perpetrators from committing these actions, we, as members of the Emory community, are continually offered the following, futile recommendations:

“Use the safety escort service…. After dark, walk with a partner or in a group whenever possible… Avoid poorly lit areas… Know where you are and be aware of your surroundings… Report suspicious activity immediately to the police… Lock your doors.”

“Be respectful of yourself and others.  Make sure that any sexual act is OK with your partner, and remember that consent is an active process, not the absence of a “no.”

How many perpetrators are likely to read these e-mails and think to themselves “OK, now that I know that much… I guess I’ll be respectful next time.” This recommendation is helpful in reinforcing one definition of consent and in supporting the validity of the reports of those who have been violated. However, this does not pass as an effective safety recommendation.

“Stay alert and if you feel uneasy, go to a safe location and call a friend, the Emory Police Department, or local police… Know where you are, be aware of your surroundings, trust your instincts, and let friends know where you are going… If you notice a situation that seems unsafe for another student, intervene if it’s safe to do so or call for support…”

Am I to report to the police the activity of any man looking at me the wrong way? Am I to be taken seriously if I run to the police every time I feel “uneasy”, when few survivors of sexual assault are actually able to see their attackers go to prison? Am I to be blamed for my own violation if I fail to “stay alert”? Can I really, truly fend off the advance of a man twice my size and weight even if I do “stay alert?”

While 1 in 4 college-aged women have experienced rape or attempted rape, almost every woman has experienced some degree of sexual harassment, whether its a seemingly harmless “hey baby” or cat call on the street, being physically pinched or smacked on the ass, or being in other ways groped on a crowded bus, street or large event. We, as women, have all had those moments when, in the words of my Professor, Dr. Pamela Scully, “we know that something is off, but what exactly do we do?”

“Remember that the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows.”

So… now I need to be wary of all of my acquaintances? Their exact behaviors, body language, seemingly harmless offers to walk me back from a party or from the library late at night? Am I to live in fear, mistrust and skepticism for every man who meets the description from the safety reports… or every man that I meet in general?

The suggestion that I should walk in a group in well-lit areas and call the police to report if I have been attacked is inadequate in terms of institutional action. While these suggestions may seem logical, perhaps empowering, or maybe even “better than nothing,” the institution’s provision of these tips as the sole tools for curbing the rate of sexual assault borders on victim-blaming. The suggestion that these safety tips ALONE represent adequate action from the university to avoid violent crime is inadequate and places on the onus on those finding themselves at risk rather than on the perpetrators and those responsible for keeping community members safe. I want to see follow-up. I want to see justice. How many of these individuals have been identified and sent before justice? How many of these crimes could be prevented or at least witnessed by law enforcement in time to intervene with structural change? How long must I spend looking over my shoulder, expecting the rapist to appear in my life?

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