“So what ‘affects’ you?”

I’ve been hearing this question over and over again, every year around April, when it’s time for me to take out my “It Affects Me” T-shirt and rock it proudly all week. Well, that’s an excellent question. That’s exactly what I want you to ask me. I’m sure by now you’ve all heard the blurb about how these shirts are meant to ignite educational dialogue on how sexual assault affects everyone in the community… but do you really know what we mean by that? A lot of people will just stare blankly at me for a second, and then come to the conclusion that, since they have never been raped, they are not affected by sexual violence at all.

Well, there are plenty of ways we are all directly and indirectly affected by sexual assault, whether you’re consciously thinking about it or not. How about being scared of walking alone in Isla Vista on a Saturday night? You have been conditioned to believe wearing a mini-skirt and not carrying pepper spray makes you a vulnerable target for scary sexual predators jumping out of bushes and attacking you in a dark alley. But if your attacker happens to be that hot, athletic star every girl wants instead of the “typical-looking” person we tend to associate with the word “rapist,” your ordeal is more likely to be ignored and you might even be blamed.

How about that terrifying statistic that one in four women will be raped or experience an attempted rape by the time they graduate from college? This basically implies that a fourth of us have survived rape or attempted rape. Next time you’re in a Campbell Hall class, take a look around. Divide the classroom in your mind, and picture the horrendous number of survivors sitting next to you…. Now multiply it by everyone at UCSB! How about the nation? In other words – in case this is getting too mathematical – you most likely do know a survivor of sexual assault. Chances are, you probably know more than one, whether you’re aware of it or not. This could be your sister, your friend, your mother, your daughter, your girlfriend… even your boyfriend! Men are definitely assaulted, too. Males can be affected through the inability to establish trust with the person they care about. Since most rape cases are performed by acquaintances, your partner might find it difficult to let his or her guard down around you, and he or she might even proceed to judge you unfairly. Rape not only destroys the life of the survivor, but also the lives of those around her or him, as well as the lives of those who cannot escape the permanent fear of experiencing assault.

Finally, if this hasn’t troubled you enough, think about the fact that numerous forms of sexual violence are happening right this very second, as I write this. And what can we do to stop it? Well, for starters, we can educate ourselves on this very serious and important issue and try to spread awareness among our peers. There are plenty of workshops, lectures, activities and other resources all around campus open to everyone free of cost. You can also volunteer at your local Rape Crisis Center or Rape Prevention Education Program, or stop by the Women’s Center to find out more about doing your part. Also, talk to your friends and families about sexual violence and gender inequality. Don’t let it get brushed under the carpet, because, unfortunately, it won’t go away any time soon. Last but not least, start by believing survivors! We can’t stress enough how important and valuable this is.