Letter to the editor: Responsibility in the Case of Sexual Assault

Anthony Clemons

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On January 8th, like many of you, I woke up to an email from GVSU Police Chief Renee Freeman outlining a few details of a recent alleged sexual assault. Though I cannot comment on Chief Freeman’s intentions, I can comment on the consequences of such sentiments made throughout the email. Throughout the email Chief Freeman, and I assume members her staff, describe in minimal detail some events of the evening in which the young woman was allegedly sexually assaulted. These events included, according to the email, people “becoming acquainted after meeting at a downtown establishment,” and that “alcohol was a factor.” These are sentiments made all too often in discussions following rape and sexual assault. Why must we place shame on individuals choosing to meet people at a bar, a club, a restaurant, or other “downtown establishment?” This not only alleviates some of the responsibility of the perpetrator in the event, but also makes it seem as if the victim placed themselves in such a situation willingly. The acknowledgement that alcohol was a factor, and then the later call to “practice situational awareness and only stay with people well known to you” also sends a message to young females, who statistically are sexually assaulted and/or raped at a much higher rate, that they shouldn’t go out and drink, because if they do they may fall victim to such an act as sexual assault or rape. Chief Freeman’s piece highlighting “only stay with people you know” also fails to acknowledge that the vast majority of victims of sexual assault and rape know the perpetrator.

As previously stated, I cannot comment on Chief Freeman’s intention, she’s new to Grand Valley and I am sure that her heart is in the right place; however, we have to get away from these all too common conceptualizations of rape and sexual assault. Current discourses surrounding rape prevention focus heavily on telling women and girls how to keep themselves from getting raped, very similar to Chief Freeman’s assertions that we need to practice “situational awareness.” While I do believe being safer can never hurt, I have to say I wish there was another piece to that sentence. A call for men, and boys, myself included, to stop and practice safer dating habits, including, but clearly not limited to , ASKING FOR CONSENT. We cannot treat this as a “victim only problem.” Rape and sexual assault are everyone’s problem and we need to start acting like it. We need to stop telling women and girls when and what they need to do, and we need to focus more heavily on the problem itself, those who rape and sexual assault. The consequences of Chief Freeman’s email add to the common dialogue that tell women and girls that if they only hang out with their friends, don’t drink, and don’t wear small skirts to prod men, then that won’t be sexually assaulted or raped. That is just not true. So please, do understand that a Laker in our community may be a victim to sexual assault, but also know that it in no way, shape, or form was her fault. These things happen to even the most cautious of women, but it’s how we choose to prevent it as a society, and how we choose to react when it does happen that shapes the outlook of such tragic events for future generations of women and girls.

Anthony Clemons
Vice President of Diversity Affairs, Student Senate