I was first faced with the terrible reality that sexual assault can, and does, occur on campus last quarter, while writing an article on the vandalism of several fraternity booths near Dexter Lawn. The booths were egged, defaced and one carried the slogan “Rapist scum your time will come,” according to English freshman Alison Gyepes, who saw the booths before being removed.
I spoke with campus police, Michael Franceschi of the Intrafraternity Council (IFC) and Student Life and Leadership Assistant Director Stephan Lamb. All were tight-lipped on the subject of sexual assault. When asked why someone would graffiti such a slogan on the fraternity booth, Lamb said only, “I don’t have any knowledge of why that group was singled out. I don’t know.”
The booths were taken off campus before many students saw the vandalism, and the brothers of any fraternity in the IFC were forbidden to speak with me. The system, I felt, had closed itself off to the prying eyes of the press in order to maintain a pristine image. In doing so, they also covered up a topic that desperately needs to be addressed: sexual assault.
In speaking with a friend who works in health and counseling services at Cal Poly, I mentioned my frustrations in writing about the accusation of rape on the fraternity booth. My friend informed me that sexual assaults at Cal Poly are more common than reported, with many victims afraid or embarrassed to seek justice.
As my friend spoke, I thought of another friend of mine, a young woman who was sexually assaulted two years ago at a party. She never reported it because she still blames herself for the attack.
Sadly, this guilty mindset is what keeps many victims from coming forward, often stemming from what people are told to prevent getting raped: “Don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t dress provocatively.”
If a woman or man breaks one of these guidelines and is later attacked, it’s easy for victim to believe the attack was their entire fault.
But it wasn’t.
It was the attacker who chose to violate the rights of another human being, to harm them in a way that is hard to overcome and impossible to forget.
Until we stop telling the victims that it’s up to them to prevent the attack, and stand up as a community instead, to say, “This is wrong. We won’t allow it anymore,” then sexual assaults will continue, many without the attacker being brought to justice for their crimes.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said it best in his email to the campus in response to the two reported rapes last week. He announced the creation of a task force to “create a culture that does not tolerate sexual assault, that never blames the victim of sexual assault, and that works to minimize alcohol and drug abuse.”
As a student who loves her school, and a human being who believes that sexual assault is a horrendous crime that should never be tolerated, I am given hope by Armstrong’s message. Hope that these incidents will help open the community’s eyes to what we have been ignoring for so long: sexual assault does happen, and it happens more than is reported; and unless we stand together to prevent it, it will continue to happen.
I believe this very dark cloud may have a silver lining. I deeply, deeply believe we can band together to offer more support to those who have been victimized, whether they have reported it or not, and I believe we can act to prevent these assaults in the future. But only if we act together.