More Than a Statistic

Marisa Mathews | THE SPECTRUM Activists during the "Take Back the Night" gathering.
Marisa Mathews | THE SPECTRUM
Activists during the “Take Back the Night” gathering.

One in four women will be sexually assaulted by the time she graduates.

When my brother went to college, the talk my parents had with him was about drinking and doing well in school. I had the same talk with my parents. However, there was another component my parents had to address before they sent me off.

Never walk alone at night. Never walk with headphones in. Be on the phone with someone while you are walking. Keep your keys in between your fingers as you walk. Travel in packs. Watch your drink at parties. If you see someone following you, run. Be smart, be vigilant, be cautious 24/7. Never. Let. Your. Guard. Down.

Since feminists like myself have been working to eradicate the stigma of speaking up about sexual assault and rape, I find it easier to count the friends and family that I know that haven’t been sexually assaulted in one way or another.

This is a problem. Many people debunk this statistic as if that even matters. The fact of the matter is that I know far too many people (women, men, gay, straight, trans, of every race) that have been subjected to violation and assault.

I recently attended a powerful and life changing event called Take Back the Night here at North Dakota State. I listened to victims tell their stories and we marched around campus with signs illustrating that consent is mandatory and that no matter how anyone is dressed, their body is their own and they get to choose themselves who is allowed to touch it.

I’m angry that this is controversial topic. I’m angry that we have to march to illustrate that yes means yes and no means no. I’m angry that people in positions of power can use that to take ownership of other people’s bodies and can use that power to get away with it. I’m angry that almost all of the stories told that night involved the assaulter being a close friend, extended family member, or even parental figure. I’m angry that even despite all this, people still choose to make “jokes” about rape and assault.

But I am also full of hope.

Full of hope that things are changing. Full of hope that more people are speaking up about sexual assault. Full of hope that universities and big institutions are not tolerating instances of sexual assault. Full of hope that the justice system will finally serve the justice needed in these cases. Full of hope that outdated gender roles are finally being phased out of society so that men don’t feel the need to be sexually aggressive and that the stigma of men coming forward as victims doesn’t hold back from justice.

I hope to live in a world where my daughter feels safe when she walks at night, where she can spend her money on books instead of pepper spray, where she can trust her friends not to violate what she deems appropriate to happen in her body.

You don’t have to be a feminist to recognize that sexual assault is something we need to keep talking about and educating ourselves on topics like consent and prevention.

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