By Angela Kong (’17)
In “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” Sabrina Rubin Erdely explores sexual assault on the University of Virginia (UVA) campus from Jackie’s perspective and experience and examines how it illustrates the ways in which sexual assault is handled across universities and college campuses in America.
Jackie was gang raped at a fraternity party and when she sought help from her friends, they were not supportive, and were more concerned with her and their social reputation rather than taking Jackie to a hospital. When Erdely interviewed UVA president Teresa Sullivan “about sexual assault handling,” she usually responded, “I don’t know.” As Erdely writes, “UVA’s emphasis on honor is so pronounced that since 1998, 183 people have been expelled for honor-code violations such as cheating on exams. And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.” Having administration unfamiliar with sexual assault but fully aware of academic misconducts such as plagiarism, cheating, etc., shows a lack of moral engagement, and there needs to be a redefinition of what an “honor code” should incorporate in order to change the discussion and policies.
In order to change the discourse surrounding sexual assaults on college campuses, colleges need to reassess what issues and concerns need to be prioritized and brought to light. As Attorney Wendy Murphy claims, “In these situations, the one who gets the most protection is either a wealthy kid, a legacy kid or an athlete. The more privileged he is, the more likely the woman has to die before he’s held accountable.” The responsibility of the actions performed should not be attributed the victims; it should be expected that those accountable for such inappropriate actions, regardless of their background, are facing the consequences for their actions. Women in society are not being treated properly, and perpetuating gender expectations in relationships often results in dismissing these harmful actions, as they would be seen as men being unable to “control themselves” in the heat of the moment, and women feeling as though it’s their responsibility to fulfill a man’s needs.
As Janice Radway writes in “Women Read the Romance,” “When asked why they [Smithton women] read romances, the Smithton women overwhelmingly cite escape or relaxation as their goal” (59). These women are resorting to reading romances in order to escape from their unfulfilling lives. Expecting women to serve men reinforces the issue of gender inequality and prioritizing men’s opinions and privileged positions over women’s causes rape and sexual assault cases to become less important and significant since it results in creating a “bad reputation” for men being accused. Media perpetuation of these paradoxical expectations make it even more difficult for women to be heard and recognized for being victims of an unjust and unequal society that privileges men and those in positions of power. Erdely writes, “Victims should be encouraged to come forward as an act of civic good that could potentially spare future victims.” In order for this to happen, the discourse around victim blaming needs to change to allow rape victims to have the courage to come forward and know that they will be taken seriously and their rapists will be held accountable for their actions.