Sexual violence and assault is a topic I do not discuss regularly. Or rather, I have the privilege of not needing to think about sexual violence on a daily basis. I was part of the Orientation Week crowd 18 months ago, sitting on wet grass amongst thousands of other sweaty first years as we watched a man discuss his sister’s rape through a handheld microphone on the stage. Once Orientation Week ended, though, so did the anti-rape culture propaganda, and I hadn’t thought about it or discussed it until today, in my second year SASAH class, on what happens to be International Women’s Day.
We were able to discuss uncomfortable situations, and to address the gender stereotypes portrayed by the media surrounding romantic relationships, which is pretty amazing because any other setting in my life would not have allowed for the open minded and understanding responses presented by the individuals in class today.
Today, I learned something new. The role that intersectionality plays in the narratives surrounding sexual violence is one that I haven’t previously explored, which I attribute to my white, upper-middle class privilege that more often than not leaves me naïve and blind. When I think about sexual assault I think about three things: stereotyped older white men in their forties acting as predators, drunk teenage girls, and little boys. When I think about why only 33 out of 1000 victims bring their stories to the police I think about two things: uncomfortable conversations, and shame. This is based in my personal experiences – not personal experiences of being a victim, but of people I know who are victims. I do not think about people with disabilities being targeted and not believed. I do not think about people of color or indigenous people feeling victimized by the police and treated unjustly. I do not think about trans women being ten times more at risk of being murdered. I do not think about these facts or, more importantly, these stories because they exist outside of my own life – they exist outside of my own story.
But that does not mean that I can’t learn and I can’t listen. I think part of the larger systematic issue of ignoring these claims of sexual violence and dismissing them as being invalid is that people are naturally selfish and only care when they start to become part of the narrative. If more people could have the opportunity to participate in a session like the one we had in class today, the more intimate the topic of sexual violence would become, and the more people would start taking action. We can’t wait until someone close to us is sexually assaulted before we get involved. But what we can do is be open, not afraid, and we can be willing to listen to stories outside of our own.