Op-ed: Sexual assault ‘allies.’ Quit the bullshit. Tell us where you really stand.

Support for sexual assault survivors is passive. People are generally supportive of organizations such as PASA on campus because it would be frowned upon to be against victims of sexual assault. But how much are people that publicly support PASA doing? How much is the campus doing? 

I was sexually assaulted; the details do not matter. What matters is what happened after. I confided in a friend. That friend did not do much to attempt to empathize with me, in fact I felt dismissed.  I excused my friend as I was pretty fragile during this time. Then one day in a heated argument with her she threw it in my face. She said to me: “I am also dealing with things in my life, and we don’t all have time to go and put ourselves in danger.”

I never mentioned it again to anyone after that. 

Last week on campus PASA hosted Take Back the Night week to stand in solidarity with sexual assault survivors. There was a clothesline project in which participants decorated T-shirts to show their support or their story about sexual assault. There was a 5K run with the goal of being in “solidarity with survivors and ending sexual assault”. Then there was a candlelit vigil to ‘Take Back the Night,’ but it didn’t address how to take back the rest of the nights. I have seen a lot of support for TBTN on social media, and I think the majority of people posting about it are doing it for a theoretical sexual assault survivor. The issue is that supporters remain friends with others who say misogynistic or sexist things that perpetuate rape culture, making them the worst kind of allies: those that say they are with you and then turn around and actively participate in rape culture. I don’t think the current approach the campus has towards solidarity has had any positive effects on sexual assault survivors. 

This is what I am proposing we can do instead, in no particular order. First, donate to an organization in your community that helps and/or provides shelter for survivors of sexual assault such as Third Street Alliance or the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Volunteer with the Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley to help survivors of sexual assault. If a survivor confides in you, listen and do not gaslight them. Intervene if you see it or if your friends are saying misogynistic things. If you are participating on behalf of a survivor you know or know of, ask them how to be a more effective ally or look up other ways to extend your outreach. Allow survivors to navigate their experiences how they see fit. Everyone processes trauma differently.

Written by Liz Arriaga ’21

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