Looking at “Portraits of Reconciliation”

Amidst the intense horror of genocide is a painful truth: the pain and suffering doesn’t end when the violence stops. Especially in the case of Rwanda, where fighting was very personal and direct, the implications for reconciliation are slim and difficult to envision. Between the flaws in the reconciliation and punitive measures as well as the fact that many women were forced into relationships with their perpetrators, there is seemingly insurmountable suffering that impedes the society’s ability to move forward.

The New York Times Magazine recently featured a story entitled “Portraits of Reconciliation” in which Pieter Hugo, a photographer, captured images of survivors with their perpetrators. Underneath each photo, there is a short explanation from both the perpetrator and the survivor about the violence committed in the past and their path to forgiveness. All of the images capture a Hutu perpetrator and a Tutsi survivor, so this limiting of information must be noted – while this is how most of the crimes were performed, there were also Tutsi perpetrators and Hutu victims whose stories were silenced in this project.

The medium of photography allows for an emotional window into the lives of these individuals and the complexities of their relationships. While some of the pairs seem distanced, there were many who were sitting closely and some who were even touching each other. Some of them could ha been mistaken for a family photo if taken out of the context of this article. These images are definitely shocking, but there is something eerily touching about them as well. Despite the greatest of odds, these two individuals – former enemies, even – have reconciled on their own terms to begin to re-form the backbone of Rwandan society.

The individuals in these pictures are participating in a national effort towards reconciliation. The AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent) offers a program to council small groups of Rwandans over many months, which concludes in the perpetrator’s request for forgiveness. Usually the perpetrator will bring offerings to their victim to accompany their verbal appeal. Through this project, it is clear that these efforts are making an impact, even if it’s only on a small scale. The magnitude of these apologies is profound; while each of these examples only includes two people, each person who is able to forgive lifts some of the burden of the genocide off of their shoulders and the bitterness out of their hearts. This is a strong move in the right direction for Rwanda’s recovery from such a disaster and their positive development in the future.

Many of the perpetrators have taken it on themselves not only to apologize, but to make up for their malicious actions by supporting and protecting their former victims long-term. A strong example of such is the case of Juvenal Nzabamwita (perpetrator) and Cansilde Kampundu (victim). Nzabamwita explains in his section how he looted Kampundu’s property and how his father was also involved in the killing of her children. Because of the education he received in jail, he recognized the importance of forgiveness as an avenue towards reconciliation and moral peace. When he came to apologize, he “told her that I would stand by her, with all the means at my disposal.” Kampundu herself explains why she forgave a man who damaged her life so greatly: “The reason I granted pardon is because I realized that I would never get back the beloved ones I had lost. I could not live a lonely life – I wondered, if I was ill, who was going to stay by my bedside, and if I was in trouble and cried for help, who was going to rescue me?” In this instance, Kampundu chooses to forgive out of a need for security, something which she lost during the genocide. In the case of Godefroid Mudaheranwa and Evasta Mukanyandwi, there is a similar connection. When Mudaheranwa asked for forgiveness, Mukanyandwi “was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him.” While these connections are motivated by exterior factors – a need for security – they attempt to replace this feeling of safety that was lost during the genocide. Even if these relationships are not entirely amicable, there is a positive impact for both sides, where the victim receives protection and the perpetrator can find peace in the forgiveness of those he hurt.

Not all of the perpetrators promise lifelong support, but in all of these selected instances the act of forgiveness seems to lift a barrier on society and between individuals. As Karorero, a survivor, explains, “Sometimes justice does not give someone a satisfactory answer – cases are subject to corruption. But when it comes to forgiveness willingly granted, one is satisfied once and for all. When someone is full of anger, he can lose his mind. But when I granted forgiveness, I felt my mind at rest.” Perhaps, in line with this quotation, individual forgiveness can be more powerful and more effective in certain instances than formal punitive measures. As we can see from the interactions between these pairs, whether or not they feel a closeness between them, they all seem to feel “at rest” again to a degree. The AMI seems to be making large strides towards a reunited Rwanda and perhaps are offering a strong alternative to truth commissions and other more formal modes of reconciliation after large-scale tragedy and violence.


To see the pictures and for further reading on the project, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=MG_POR_20140404&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1388552400000&bicmet=1420088400000&_r=3

Tagged , , , ,

Fighting Rape on College Campuses

            Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, has recently come under fire by its students regarding its “underreporting [of] sexual violence on campus” and its discouragement of victims from reporting their assaults. These disgruntled students not only brought up the issue with the leading bodies of the school, but also publicized it through a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the school violated the Clery Act and that it attempted to intimidate the students attempting to bring light to this issue.

One of the leaders of this student group, Mia Ferguson, is an old friend of mine from middle school; I heard of her personal experience and her fight with Swarthmore through Facebook. At first, it shocked me that someone I knew was not only a rape-survivor, but was brave enough to confront the issue publicly. While she is not the only person I know who has suffered from sexual assault, she is the first person I know that has taken action against her perpetrator.

Through this course, I have learned more about the atrocities of rape and its overwhelming prevalence in society than I had formerly realized. According to Winerip’s article ‘Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault,’ one out of every five women in college has been the victim of sexual assault. Currently, I can think of four friends who have opened up to me about experiencing this form of violence either in college or in high school – while this already seems to be far too many, the implications of such statistics mean far more people I know have been impacted but have kept quiet. For example, my sorority has about 150 members. If this statistic is true, that means that 30 of my sisters have been or will be victims of sexual assault before they graduate. In terms of Emory, we have roughly 5,000 undergraduates, almost 60% of which is female. Of the female population of roughly 3,000, according to these statistics, about 600 will be victims of sexual assault. Considering that, according to Winerip, 3% percent of college men constitute 90-95% of assaults, how many of these girls will have been victimized by the same men?

While many victims of assault remain silent due to shame or fear of social stigma, many of those who do still do not have access to the healthcare and justice outlets they need to support a prosecution against their attackers. If just one of these girls was successful in seeking justice against her perpetrator, odds are she would have removed one of the men accounting for the small percentage of serial rapists that account for the overwhelming majority of campus rapes. The rate of success in persecuting these rapists on college campuses, though, is overwhelming low. Schools do not want to sully their name or be publicized as harboring rapists, and so they tend to try and deal with these issues through student conduct boards, which keeps the issue internal, rather than drawing in the police and other formal justice systems. Unfortunately, many of these student conduct boards are not equipped to deal with these issues, and the situation boils down to a “he said-she said” where there is no way to know enough to punish someone.

Even if, somehow, a victim had the evidence to persecute her rapist, there are many other forms of mistreatment she may go through in a college setting to amplify the damage her rape has caused. Mia Ferguson, the Swarthmore student fighting against her school’s unjust treatment of rape cases, struggled with the administration after bringing her case against the school. In her formerly elected position of Resident Advisor for her sophomore year, she struggled with fair treatment yet again. The administration attempted to pressure her into sharing information about a rape of a third party, which she learned about before she began performing her duties as an RA. The school removed her from the position, stating, “she’s considered by law a responsible employee of the college.” Ferguson, though, viewed her removal as “an issue of retaliation” caused by her legal action against the school. The fact that she even had to consider the possibility of the school wanting to retaliate against her because of her attempts to seek justice and fairness – not only for her but for every student at Swarthmore– is absurd.

This story is just one example of the perpetual injustices that college campuses, and perhaps even society, create regarding sexual assault crimes. It is undeniable that the system must be changed; a victim of assault should not be forced into silence because of additional obstacles in their search for justice against their perpetrator. As Winerip claims, ‘bystander training’ and other actions must be taken by campuses to take a more proactive role in this dilemma. While federal laws are beginning to demand more transparency in reporting these attacks, college campuses must find a way to provide more support to their students victimized by rapists. Instead, though, many victims feel further demeaned and attacked by the treatment they receive through seeking justice because of the menial punishments given (if any) and because of the way the campus and others may perceive them for being strong enough to fight for their rights.

Tagged , , , , ,

Trauma: The Question of Representation and Memorialization

After reading Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda for class, I found myself thinking about representation and memorialization of the genocide in Rwanda and other tragic events. What makes a successful representation and how do they work to memorialize what happened in Rwanda for the victims and for future genocide prevention? I hope to explore that idea here.

We have read much on the complexity of the idea of telling and issues of whether it helps or hurts in victims’ search for justice and closure. While truth-telling can be incredibly therapeutic to victims, helping them to feel liberated (to at least a certain extent) from the holds of their traumatic pasts, sharing one’s memories is a very hard thing to do, both emotionally and logistically. How does one transmit memories (especially those as awful as what happened in Rwanda) in a way that doesn’t reduce, decontextualize, or otherwise alter them? Perfect transmission is impossible. Victim’s memories deteriorate over time and, more importantly, interpretation of victims’ narratives by outsiders is inevitably altered by their unique analytical lenses. Such was the problem for Yvonne Khutwane and many others who testified at the South African TRC. Despite her diverse experience of harm during apartheid, Khutwane’s experience was reduced by the setup of the testimony interview to the point that it was only analyzed under the frame of sexual violation, an aspect of her experience she did not even intend to discuss. This reduced and decontextualized her narrative, presenting important implications for the efficacy of storytelling. Additionally, sharing one’s story can also have undesirable effects in that it often appears to consign the events to the past. Storytelling has adopted a certain character of finality, a sense that sharing stories puts the traumatic events of the past into a box that can be locked away. In this way the act of storytelling seems to imply both that victims and society have moved past the trauma and that it no longer can have an effect on the present, implications that are both problematic.

Representing a tragedy like Rwanda, as a form of such truth-telling, is hard. How does one adequately describe or portray the enormity of the horrific crimes against humanity that occurred? The only way, it seems to me, after much mulling of my thoughts on my plane ride home for break, is to present the memories of victims and the events that occurred across a wide variety of mediums and through the experiences of a wide variety of victims and onlookers. Each individual memorialization will inevitably be inadequate to the weight of what occurred, but only by creating a diverse presentation of voices and approaches can we do our best to capture and understand the broad magnitude of what happened.  Having a variety of experiences and a variety of approaches, from interviews to songs and films to paintings and murals and statues to graphic novels like Deogratias, best encourages active interpretation of the past. By challenging ourselves to think of the tragedy through a myriad of lenses in a myriad of non-reducing ways, we can best gain a nuanced understanding of the events that occurred in a way that hopefully encourages active participation in their prevention in future. With such a broad approach to memorialization, we can hope to best present the stories of victims in a non-reducing, non-finalizing way that helps them achieve justice and closure and prevents future trauma.


Works Cited

Ross, Fiona. “Narrative Threads.” Bearing Witness: Women and the Truth and Reconcliation Commission in South Africa. London: Pluto, 2003. 82-102. 

Stassen, John-Phillippe. Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda. Macmillan, 2006.




Tagged , , , , ,

The Rwandan Genocide in Comics

Many consider comics a childhood distraction, corrupting youth towards a world of violence and superheroes. This specificity excludes a large selection of works that transcend such a narrow description, but which can still be defined as a comic. In Scott McCloud’s comic Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art, he seeks to expand the definition of comics to include Egyptian heiroglyphics, graphic novels, sequential artwork and many other sub-genres among this realm. He stresses a scholarly definition of comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (9). The author intends to provoke certain reactions based on how he or she expresses the characters’ emotions and which senses are called forth from the readers.
However, comics lack objectivity and fail to produce only one clear-cut aesthetic response. Each image can elicit a variety of interpretations based on an individual reader’s background knowledge and personal opinions, as one’s culture shapes him or her to see the world in certain ways and to draw meaning from physical stimuli. As McCloud states, this phenomenon of “observing the parts but perceiving the whole” (63) is called closure. One’s social context and background heavily influence this learned process; “a single image can serve a multitude of purposes, appear in a range of settings, and mean different things to different people” (Sturken 10) based on how the reader constructs meaning from the material world.
The graphic novel Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Phillippe Stassen depicts the traumatic effects of the Rwandan genocide on a teenage Hutu boy, also named Deogratias. Deogratias’ sober thoughts are plagued by nightmares and hallucinations about his actions during the genocide. Throughout the graphic novel, Deogratias’ flashbacks touch upon the terror and cruelty synonymous with the time, although the author does not lay out exactly what happened. It is evident that Deogratias was complicit in the murders of his Tutsi friends and the rape of their mother, but the full extent of his role remains ambiguous. Thus, the reader also undergoes closure to take away meaning from the various images.
The cultural bias inherent in closure is perhaps even more severe when focusing on a subject like the Rwandan genocide, because it is such a personally tragic and polarized historical event. Moderates became radicalized, neighbors murdered neighbors and the lines were blurred between victims and perpetrators. The graphic also depicts the Western powers’ roles in the tragedy. Thus, every reader of this graphic novel has some connection to the genocide. Objectivity is not, nor should be, possible when describing such a historical event; merely observing the facts and figures cannot bring justice to the victims because they reduce individuals to numbers on a page.
Deogratias sheds light on the complexities by addressing the conflict through the eyes of a perpetrator. Thus, the reader can gain some insight into the mind of a moderate Hutu when his or her own experiences likely differ dramatically. The comic’s form and depiction of Deogratias further contribute to this effect because it allows the reader to analyze the story’s content from another lens by reducing the identification between the reader and the graphically-depicted character. The drastic difference in subject portrayal creates the sense that it is a new story, despite plenty of media attention on the Rwandan genocide and publicized stories of survival. Although the vast majority of people recognize the cruelty and horror that characterizes the Rwandan genocide, Stassen’s use of different subjects and contexts is somewhat shocking to the reader and causes him or her to follow the storyline closely, rather than assuming the events will be similar to those told in other genocide testimonies.
The complex emotions and thoughts that a reader experiences when reading Deogratias merely touch upon the complexities involved in the entire conflict. However, they certainly challenge the notion that there is an objective, black-and-white way to view and process the historical event. The graphic novel highlights the devastation that plagued the entire nation, not just the Tutsis, and the variety of different roles that factored in to create such a tragic event in world history.

Works Cited

Stassen, John-Phillippe. Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda. (Macmillan, 2006).
McCloud, Scott. Understanding comics: The invisible art. (Massachusetts: 1993).Sturken, Marita, Lisa Cartwright, and Marta Sturken. Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
Tagged , , , ,

“Deogratias” and the Portrayal of Rwandan Women During the Genocide

Deogratias tells the story of a young man whose life is devastated and ultimately destroyed by the genocide in Rwanda. The pain and suffering so clearly illustrated on the pages of the graphic novel allow readers to catch a glimpse of life during a horrific period in Rwanda’s history. The story centers around Deogratias, a Hutu boy who experiences flashbacks to a time before the outbreak of violence. Part of the story is light, giving the reader an idea of everyday life in Rwanda. Although prejudice is present prior to the genocide, it is somewhat controlled and does not cause insurmountable barriers until the President, Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu is assassinated. This event spurs a bloody one-sided battle, in which the Hutu majority attempts to completely obliterate the Tutsi ethnic group.

Deogratias’ story reveals the terror that the Interahamwe strike into the hearts of not only the Tutsis, but also those Hutus who resist the movement. Deogratias, who has a special relationship with two Tutsi sisters, Apollinaria and Benina, is one of those Hutus. The story makes a number of sexual references, with part of Deogratias romantic life being a central plot. He engages in romance with both Apollinaria and Benina, something that comes back to haunt him when the Interahamwe gain power.

Although the text sheds a dark light on Rwanda’s past, it sheds an even darker light on the treatment of Rwandan women. Throughout the text, women’s roles are clearly defined as inferior to those of men. The women are viewed as sexual objects from the very first pages. Apollinaria and Benina are, primarily, just love interests for Deogratias. Similarly, their mother, Venetia is depicted as an overtly sexual woman with loose morals. The female characters Stassen picks to portray in his graphic novel tarnishes it, perpetuating stereotypes about women. He shows Venetia using her sexuality to earn favors and grossly highlights the gender differences in Rwandan society. Although this may be an accurate portrayal of the way women were (and are) treated in many parts of the world, Stassen makes a point of sexualizing the women.

When the Interahamwe begin murdering the Tutsi, Stassen demonstrates the way women were treated in the course of the mass killing. Based on the graphic drawings, it can be assumed that Venetia is brutally raped and murdered by the Hutu. The Hutus heckle Apollinaria and Benina, calling them “little whores,” and taunting Deogratias about his relationship with the two girls. Contrary to what Meredeth Turshen argues in her article, “The Political Economy of Rape,” the Interahamwe do not seem to target the women for their productive or reproductive purposes. Rape is a method in which the Hutu humiliate not only the women themselves, but also Deogratias, who is reluctant to join the Interahamwe. Rape is simply another means for the Interahamwe to show their strength and power. The Hutu are not trying to wrest personal assets from the women they rape. The brutal way in which the men rape and kill women seems to be solely rooted in an intense anger against and hatred for the Tutsi.

Deogratias explains and demonstrates the growth and culmination of the ethnic conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsis. Although rape and sexual violence was common during the genocide, it was not used in the same way as other conflicts. Rape was used to humiliate the women, not to take away their capabilities. It was used as a way to cruelly torture them; a way to exact revenge on a group they blamed for their troubles.


Works Cited


Stassen, Jean-Philippe. Deogratias, a Tale of Rwanda. New York: First Second, 2006. Print.

Tagged , ,

Rape as a War Tactic

After more than ten years of civil war in Sudan and a two-state solution, sexual violence is still an ongoing and pervasive problem. Women live in constant fear of being attacked. Originally, systematic rape was used as a means to “eliminate the Nuba identity,” in Sudan. Rape terrorized women and tore families apart; women were forced into marriage with Arab tribesmen in order to further destroy the Nuba identity. Meredeth Turshen notes that rape is a way for men to, “wrest personal assets from women,” both economic and political, which includes their productive and reproductive capacity as well as their possessions. But, in a country suffering through brutal and unrelenting conflict, rape may also be a way of humiliating not just women, but also their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Although Turshen touches on the rippling effect rape has on the husbands of women, she fails to acknowledge the impact rape has on entire families. Rape is a way in which rebels can prove their dominance over their enemy. Men may feel similar emotions to women, including shame, anger and fear. The total disregard for the integrity of the women in their communities also shows disrespect to the men themselves. The rebels wish to prove to their enemies that they can neither protect themselves nor their families. They want the men to feel just as powerless as the women. In civil war, any tactic that can bring dishonor and consequentially, intimidation, will be used.  

Civil war and genocide breed violence, destruction and death. It is generally accepted that casualties are by-products of war. However, within the last century, systematic rape has been added to the long list of tactics used by aggressors to weaken their enemies. Thus, systematic rape has become not only a by-product of war, but also a weapon. This form of total warfare, a relatively new concept in the history of war, has evolved over the last century. In the past, civilians, and women especially, were spared the horrors of war. In modern times, the line between combatants and civilians has become blurred. Through systematic rape, combatants oppress women by hindering their ability to provide for themselves and their family. When women are threatened when leaving the home, their independence and power are diminished. However, this powerlessness and independence is transferred to the men too. Men may feel that they failed their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters by virtue of not being able to protect them from rape. Through rape, rebels are sending a resounding message to those they consider their enemies. They are telling them that their integrity, independence and power are of great unimportance in the scheme of war.  

Today, women in Sudan continue to live in fear as gangs of men regularly rape women as they do their daily jobs. Gender inequality and unfair laws further complicate the issue of sexual violence. Even when rapes are reported, the accused rarely face consequences. For the most part, Sudan turns a blind eye to sexual violence and rape, with President Omar Al-Bashir going so far as to publicly deny its existence. Rape survivors are made to jump through hoops in order to convict their attackers in a process that seems to protect criminals while shaming their victims. Given the extent of sexual violence in Sudan, there should be many more resources for the women that live there. However, “women are silenced,” due to the failures of the Sudanese legal system. The shame that rape brings to women and their families makes it even more difficult to come forward. Without reform of the Sudanese legal system, the oppression of both women and effected families will continue.


Works Cited


Survivors Speak Out: Sexual Violence in Sudan. Publication. Ottawa: Nobel Women’s Initiative, 2013. http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/stoprapeinconflict/pages/292/attachments/original/1386282207/Survivors-Speak-Out-Sudan_web.pdf?1386282207.


Turshen, Meredeth. The Political Economy of Rape.

MicroGenocides:from micro to Macro, should we look away


Should the violence being perpetrated by the radical islamicist Boko Haram in northern Nigeria be labelled genocide?  This is a much more complex question to answer than it might appear. The international world addresses human rights and social justice issues, through frameworks which are developed and constantly revised. The question is, when do we label killings as genocide, by what indices do we quantify the lives taken, lives destroyed, violations and atrocities as genocidal in order to justify its naming as such? Who decides this, who should act? How does the “micro” become “Macro” to gain international attention? Nations have been birthed through genocide ,for example, states have sponsored genocidesstructural and systemic genocides .When then, do the key descriptors of genocide begin to make meaning? The Boko haram insurgency in Nigeria did not start overnight. Nigeria has a long pre-dated history of “micro- genocides”. There have been several sectarian killings going on in the northern part of Nigeria for long before now. The last terrible ones were in the 1990s there were massive killings in various northern cities; Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Bauchi to mention a few.

This article is premised on the everyday news of mass killings and sectarian violence that occur in Nigeria with a specific focus on the “Boko Haram” insurgencies. These sort of bloody insurgencies have and are also occurring in different places across the world daily. I have chosen to qualify the term genocide by using the prefix “micro” and “Macro” to help underscore the differences, its spatial and linguistic context and draw attention to how these prefixes change in the space of time, historically and in the political contexts in which they occur. The aim of this blog is to open up discussions to a critical examination of the term “Genocide” and what its use propagates or serves. The title Micro-genocides: from micro to Macro, calls to question the use of words in defining human impact activities and actions ,what it means locally and internationally and how these terminologies elude the very cause for which they were created and institutionalized, or perhaps obscure the gravity of  human actions. In this blog, I argue that often times “Macro-genocide = genocide” as defined in today’s contemporary world  are as a result of “micro genocides”  such as any killings premeditated by hate & detesting; racial, ethnic, clan or religious inclinations leading to the mass killings of specific populations ; often defined as “massacre” (massacre- micro genocide) in order to differentiate it from “genocides= Macro genocide” and that these “micro genocides  that occur every day can also be, in-fact macro genocides= genocides in themselves and are as such worthy of attention, locally and internationally.

It is also worth noting that at local or international levels historically, that the bodies on which these genocides occur have been the basis for defining “what is or is not a genocide” in today’s contemporarily. Thus, this goes to say that the current definition of genocide is politically inscribed on bodies, dependent on identity, class, race, locality, visibility and is based on the magnitude of the numbers or degree of atrocity or violence as perceived by the international world. The question of if these standards are just, in themselves or justified is persistently raised now, as has in past contentions. This therefore calls for the need to provide a critical appraisal of the word in view of recent world events and natures of conflicts and human losses.

Tagged , , , ,

Theory and Practice: The Predatory Nature of Rape on College Campuses

Rape. Why is this term, formally recognized to encapsulate a range of situations, violations and perpetrators, so often thought of in a different context on college campuses? Many consider rape in a college setting to be perpetrated by ‘nice boys,’ who made poor judgement calls but should not suffer for the rest of their lives. It is often viewed as an ambiguous example of he-said-she-said, when the use of intoxicating substances blurs the line between yes and no. The academic David Lisak’s published study in Violence and Victims certainly challenge the notion that perpetrators on college campuses simply misjudge a situation and should be dealt with in a less serious manner. He found shocking parallels between male rapists on a college campus and incarcerated rapists, suggesting that the majority of college perpetrators are predators and often rape more than once. However, despite the growing evidence and changing mindsets among scholars, it is shocking how widespread and deeply-entrenched the assumptions and stigmas about rape have permeated into college society.

As an undergraduate student at Emory University, I have overheard and engaged in conversations about crimes that occur in our immediate community. The administration can pride itself on remaining transparent during the chaotic times when acts of violence have been reported. Title IX, a policy implemented by the US Department of Education, guarantees this response and ensures that school’s receiving Federal financial assistance properly investigate and resolve claims of alleged sexual discrimination. These colleges respond to instances of sexual violence with campus-wide announcements that state the location and approximate time of the reported crime. However, there are certainly repercussions when email alerts with vague descriptions are sent out to the entire student body. Rumors or misinformed facts spread about the incident, often making the healing and legal processes even more difficult for the survivor.

The seemingly obvious reaction for college students to discuss the incident occurring on or around their campus to try to learn what actually happened was not what surprised me about the email blasts that Emory students received on February 12, 2014. Rather, it was the way in which students discussed the emails. Although the rapes occurred only about two hours apart on the same night, they occurred in drastically different contexts and sparked various reactions among the student body.

The first email describes an incident in which a female student was raped in a wooded area at 11:15 PM. The perpetrator was said to be a “white male, mid-to-late 50’s” who was last seen running from campus. The second email involved “forcible fondling” at a campus fraternity house at 1:15 AM, perpetrated by an alleged Emory student. The female student then kicked the perpetrator and left the premises.
    Both occurrences demonstrate that sexual assault is most certainly an issue on college campuses. However, ‘stranger rapes,’ when the perpetrator is not an acquaintance of the victim, occur less often than ‘date rapes’ or non-stranger rapes, and are thus more shocking for many students to hear about. The conversations that took place after the emails were received took on decidedly different tones, with stronger and more fearful reactions involved in the dialogue about the stranger rape.

Sexual assault is defined by the Department of Justice as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Why should one example of sexual assault be taken more seriously than another? I believe many Emory students’ emotional and fearful reactions to the stranger rape are the indirect effects of a subtle and socially constructed “rape culture,” including a sense of victim-blaming that diminishes the guilt that should be placed on the perpetrator. However, victims of date rape and sexual assault by acquaintances are in no means responsible for their experiences and their trauma should not be trivialized.

The conversations I overheard following the email blasts support Lisak’s claim about the “continuing perception, both generally and within the criminal justice system, that rapes committed by undetected rapists – rape of acquaintances that typically go unreported – are somehow less serious than stranger rapes” (Lisak 74). Giving justice to the survivors of sexual assault, whether perpetrated by an acquaintance or a stranger, requires a changing mentality among the general public and legal administrators. Public discourse must recognize that non-stranger assaults are just as serious and traumatic for the survivors, and must be dealt with in the same manner.


Works Cited

Lisak, David. “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists.” Violence and Victims 17, no. 1 (2002). Accessed February 17, 2014. http://www.wcsap.org/sites/www.wcsap.org/files/uploads/webinars/SV%20on%20Campus/Repeat%20Rape.pdf.

“Title IX and Sex Discrimination.” Policy Guidance, June 18, 2012. Accessed February 17, 2014. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html.

“USDOJ: Office on Violence Against Women: Crimes of Focus: Sexual Assault.” Accessed February 19, 2014. http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/sexassault.htm.

Tagged , ,