While on campus this week, many of you may have noticed the little purple flags lining the bike paths and walkways. Right now there are 500 flags stuck in the lawns of UCSB, and each one represents the 500 sexual assaults that happen in our community every year.
Are you shocked? Outraged? Saddened? If none of those emotions seem to be overwhelming you right now, then I ask you to take a moment and imagine 500 people lining the bike paths and walkways of campus. You recognize many of them from class, work, student organizations and your personal life. They are your acquaintances, co-workers, best friends and significant others. How do you feel now?
My point: It is often easy to forget appalling statistics like 500 sexual assaults a year are not just numbers, but records of the traumatic experiences 500 real people suffered, endured and – hopefully – survived. And, in reality, there are most likely more than 500 people in our communities who have experienced sexual violence. Given that one in four women will be survivors of rape or attempted rape by the time they graduate and that sexual assault is the most underreported crime with less than five percent of cases ever reported, it is obvious that sexual violence is much more common in our community than most of us realize. The overwhelming silence in our community surrounding this issue is even more common.
Why so much silence? First, try and remember a time when you heard or had a conversation about someone being sexually assaulted. Did questions like, “What were they wearing?” or “How drunk were they?” or “Well, why was she there so late?” come up during the course of the conversation? Perhaps there were even statements like “Come on, when you’re that drunk, you’re just asking for it,” or “Well, when you put yourself in ‘those’ situations this kind of thing happens.” All of these examples place accountability and blame upon the survivor instead of the perpetrator. When we hear accounts of sexual violence, we immediately want to know what the survivor was doing, wearing, drinking, thinking and acting, in an attempt to answer the question of why they were assaulted. We never seem to ask the only important – and far more logical, I might add – question of why the perpetrator was raping. This kind of thinking keeps survivors from coming forward for fear they will be blamed and not believed. This silencing is what allows perpetrators to continue raping and the rest of us to keep believing that sexual violence is not an issue needing to be addressed in our community.
Take Back the Night marches began in Europe with women demanding their right to be safe on the streets at night. While this movement originally started to combat the fear of being out alone at night, and here at UCSB almost 98 percent of assaults are committed by someone the survivor already knows. Our UCSB chapter of Take Back the Night works to protest the sexual violence experienced by all people day or night by aligning ourselves with survivors and refusing to stay silent about this issue. Our week of events, April 14 to 18, began Monday with a spoken word performance of our community’s experiences of survival, working towards social justice and empowerment. On Tuesday, there was a Sexual Assault Responses Awareness panel, where we had a discussion with community members who deal with this issue on a professional level, such as an Isla Vista Foot Patrol officer and the Director of the Rape Prevention Education Program. On Wednesday, guest speaker Elaine Brown, the first and only woman to lead the Black Panther Party, spoke on Women’s Liberation. On Thursday, we held a rally in Anisq’ Oyo’ Park followed by a march through the streets of Isla Vista and ended with a space for survivor testimonials. There were also survivor safe spaces Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
As we learned last week, sexual violence affects us all. Therefore, we should all have an interest and responsibility in ending it.