What People Need to Hear About Sexual Assault

Liz Fetzner

The topic of sexual assault has been recently pushed onto center stage here at Colgate, and I believe it is important that we do not let it slip back into the shadows. Amazing individuals have put so much effort into leading marches and facilitating conversations about sexual assault on campus, and I only hope that we as a student body continue on this path of recognizing that sexual assault occurs but is absolutely unacceptable. That being said, I feel some groups have been treated unfairly as the conversations about sexual assault take place, while others have been wrongfully ignored when their experiences are just as valid. Due to these observations and in support of the conversation as a whole, I have compiled a list of things I believe people need to hear about sexual assault. I can only hope this list further encourages conversation and keeps sexual assault from being swept back under the rug of things ignored at Colgate.

1. Conversation is a good thing and facilitates intervention.

Though conversations about sexual assault have definitely been gaining momentum on campus, it is important to remember to keep it up over time. Sexual assault on college campuses is unacceptable, and keeping that fact in public conversation may encourage people to step in when they see something happening.

2. It’s hard to ask for help, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

Conversation isn’t only important for prevention, but it’s important for healing, too. I think people have a common misconception that if they aren’t hearing about something, then it isn’t happening. What people need to understand is that asking for help is hard. It can be terrifying to come forward, and this demonstrates another reason conversation is so important. Maybe if we talk enough about sexual assault, and make it clear that it happens, is unacceptable and is in no way the victim’s fault, then those suffering will be more willing to share their secrets and begin the process of healing.

3. Males can be victims of sexual assault, too.

“Yeah, I know.

”I know you “know.” But knowing something and acting on that knowledge are two completely different things. It seems to me that males are often forgotten in conversations about sexual assault. During orientation, when we discussed sexual assault, males were given a fraction of the slides dedicated to females. That is not okay. Just because it happens to females more often in no way lessens the importance of the incidence of assaults on males. All types of assault are unacceptable and deserve to be recognized with equal attention, period. Sweeping assault towards males under the rug or letting their pain pale next to that of females only adds to the stigma keeping them from coming forward.

4. Not all people in fraternities are supporters of sexual assault.

This is another one people claim to know but forget to tailor their actions because of. It is easy to assume that since many assaults happen at fraternities, all people within that fraternity are going to “cover up for their brothers” and be okay with the idea of sexual assault. I don’t think I’m overstepping any boundaries, however, to suggest this isn’t the case, at least not for all members. It also shouldn’t be overlooked that someone outside of a fraternity could commit sexual assault. Fraternity member does not equal advocate of sexual assault, but that is the feel I get from this campus every single time sexual assault is brought up. Let’s consider something for a moment. Fraternities are a hub of social activity here at Colgate. This means many people outside fraternities go to them. Therefore, the occurrence of assaults at fraternities is also contributed to by other members of the Colgate community. Assaults are going to occur where the social scene is located. Lo and behold, that location happens to be fraternities. I am not saying members of fraternities are innocent, but they are not all guilty, nor are they the only ones to point fingers at. In some cases, they may even be the ones being subjected to the assault. That part is particularly important.

5. Generalizing fraternity members as such only polarizes the situation.

Making a member of a fraternity feel as though he is being targeted as an assailant will only push him away from the effort to speak out against assault. Polarizing a situation by generalizing an entire group as victims (females) or assailants (males in fraternities) creates sides that only hinder progress in truly addressing the problem of sexual assault. Also, it could be argued that characterizing all males in fraternities as assailants will just force them to stick together, facilitating that “brother mentality” people love to point to as a reason assault goes unnoticed. Maybe if we allowed those in the fraternities who want to speak out to do so, such as allowing them to partake in protests rather than dismissing them as a trigger warning, we could break down the divide and facilitate a more cohesive student body where sexual assault is addressed and accepted as something that is intolerable, rather than polarizing that student body into groups we label “for” and “against” assault.

6. There are plenty of resources for those looking for help, and time is very important.

If you are a survivor, know that there are resources ready to help you through the healing process. Haven (located at the back of Curtis) and the Conant House (located past the Bryan complex) are wonderful resources here on campus. Friends are an amazing resource as well. Remember, however, that no one is going to know what will help you unless you tell them. Whether you are the type to need space but want someone to be aware of what you’re going through, or the type to want a shoulder to cry on and arms to hold you, or the type to need someone who will listen to you vent, you need to explain that to the person you choose to go to. Tell them the way they can help, and I’m sure they’d be more than willing to help or guide you to someone who can.

You are not alone, and time heals wounds. It’s been many years since my own experience with sexual abuse, and though there are days where it is hard, and some thoughts stick with you for a long time, giving yourself time is incredibly important. Eventually, your demons are much easier to keep under control. You are not alone, and that is probably the most important thing to remember when it comes to sexual assault.