I’m writing in response to the confused and hateful column in Tuesday’s Daily Nexus by Alec Mouhibian (“The Deception Behind Gender Studies,” April 19). I’m writing this for readers who may be interested in an assessment of the accuracy of his accusations. I’m also writing on behalf of all the survivors of sexual violence that I’ve had the honor of working with. And finally, I’m writing this for Andrea Dworkin.
I want to address the disdainful comments about the statistic that one in four women survive sexual assault by the time they graduate from college. This statistic comes from a survey of 32 college campuses conducted in 1986. The study was conducted by Dr. Mary Koss, a respected researcher and faculty member at Arizona State University. That study was the first large-scale attempt to get a picture of sexual violence on college campuses. Other researchers generally consider it to be a well-designed and appropriately conducted study. It has been replicated by others, and the results have been validated.
But, set all that aside. Let’s conjecture that it’s not one in four; let’s say that it’s one in 10, or one in 20. Would you believe it then, and on what are you basing your belief? If you stop 40 women on campus and ask them if they have ever been sexually assaulted and they all say no, what would you have learned about rates of sexual assault? The answer is: nothing. They’re not going to tell you. Is this a surprise to anybody? The only way we can hope to learn about this is by offering people complete anonymity. This is a horribly stigmatized crime in our society. Many survivors tell no one, ever. Many don’t talk about it for weeks, months or years. Sometimes survivors tell friends — and sometimes those friends turn out to be like Alec Mouhibian. Imagine telling him about a traumatic, incredibly personal, confusing incident in which someone you trusted violated you. After his reaction, you probably wouldn’t tell anyone else.
In those anonymous surveys, respondents are asked why they didn’t tell anyone or report to the police and they give the following answers: not sure what to call what happened, fear of being blamed, fear of not being believed, fear of being ostracized in some way and partially blaming themselves for what happened. All of these reasons are direct results of the misinformation about sexual assault that still runs rampant in our world. None of them indicate that an assault didn’t happen.
Dworkin was a brilliant and brave writer. She died last week. It is somehow fitting that the week of her death she would yet again be vilified by a small-minded, very threatened man. In a column this week in The New York Times, Catherine MacKinnon wrote about Dworkin: “How she was treated is how women are treated who tell the truth about male power without compromise or apology. It is why few do.”
I am so proud to be on a campus with students who have read her writing and used her words to raise awareness. During Fall Quarters for the past two years, Students Stopping Rape and Men Against Rape have campaigned under the banner “I Want a Truce,” the title of one of Dworkin’s essays in which she begs for male violence against women to stop, even temporarily. The students who do this education are women – and men. Neither Dworkin, Gloria Steinem nor I, think or have ever thought that men are evil or are the problem. The problem is male power and specifically how that power is used against those who aren’t male, or aren’t male enough or aren’t the right kind of male. Which is most of us, actually.
The author of the column, Alec Mouhibian, did come into the Women’s Center before he wrote this column. He asked questions about the budget, which we answered. He did not ask about sexual assault statistics or engage anyone in a discussion of sexual assault research. I’d like to let him and you readers know that information is available if you want to know more. And yes, we provide services to all those who are affected by sexual violence, no matter how many there are.
Carol Mosely is the coordinator of the Rape Prevention Education Program.