“When I was in college, a teacher once said that all women live by a ‘rape schedule.’ I was baffled by the term, but as she went on to explain, I got really freaked out. Because I realized that I knew exactly what she was talking about. And you do too. Because of their constant fear of rape (conscious or not), women do things throughout the day to protect themselves. Whether it’s carrying our keys in our hands as we walk home, locking our car doors as soon as we get in, or not walking down certain streets, we take precautions. While taking precautions is certainly not a bad idea, the fact that certain things women do are so ingrained into our daily routines is truly disturbing. It’s essentially like living in a prison – all the time. We can’t assume that we’re safe anywhere: not on the streets, not in our homes. And we’re so used to feeling unsafe that we don’t even see that there’s something seriously fucked up about it.” – Jessica Valenti
I feel there is no better way to start this article than to preface it with the above quote. As terrible and unsettling of a reality as it is, it cannot be ignored that this, in fact, is a reality for 100% of women. Sadly, the threat of this reality is more probable for college aged women.
We have heard the precautionary steps one can take to avoid being assaulted, raped, or harassed: never walking alone, locking your car/apartment/dorm room, carrying pepper spray, etc. However, regardless of all the things women (and men too!) can do to prevent rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, it still happens every day and most likely either already has happened to someone we love or even to ourselves. In the three years I’ve been in college, I already know of at least half a dozen friends that have been affected by these crimes. We all know at least one.
In any potentially hazardous situation, we have all heard the saying: “If you see something, say something.” This same concept translates to situations involving sexual abuse, harassment, and rape. When and if a friend comes to you with their own personal story, encourage them to seek out the help they undoubtedly need. Most, if not all, schools offer free counseling services and health services. Be an ally to your friends – encourage them to go to the authorities and make people aware of the perpetrator. Justice is the most important gift victims can give themselves.
Safety exceeds locking your car and apartment and not walking alone late at night – safety also encompasses making sure that those that have been affected by such crimes get the help and support they need. The biggest struggle for an affected young women is mental health. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, and other mental and emotional instabilities are all common results of abuse and the sooner they are dealt with, the easier it will be for victims to move forward on a path of healing. As friends, classmates, and women I consider to be a responsibility to ensure that safe and comfortable environments are created for these women to share their stories and find comfort and healing in their struggle.
The greatest thing you can ever do is be a great listener. Insensitivity and comments such as, “Oh, you’re just being dramatic” are counter-productive and ultimately cause more hurt. Give support by offering to accompany them when they tell someone in authority, be a shoulder to cry on, and most importantly, always point them in the direction of seeking out health professionals.
Ladies (and gentlemen), the point of this article is simply to be aware. Not just simply of your surroundings, but of the emotional needs of those you know that have been sexually assaulted, raped, or harassed. As friends and responsible human beings, stand up for those who have been affected, encourage them to speak up and stand for justice. As an ally, be willing to listen and offer support or even just uplifting words. These unfortunate acts of violence against women do happen and when they do ensure that as a student body, we create an environment where these women can share their stories, get the help they need, and bring awareness to these injustices.