Let's Talk About SAAM

Trigger Warning: This article contains descriptive content regarding sexual assault. 

This month of April represents Sexual Assault Awareness Month, also known as SAAM. 

This month in particular has been challenging for Emmanuel students, especially survivors of sexual assault. 

Rape culture has been and continues to encourage sexual assault, no matter the degree and therefore, it’s a conversation that needs to be facilitated and conitnued. 

Whether it’s a catcall, a grope, a grab, rape, etc. it’s not okay. No means no. Whatever your expereince is or has been, no matter how minor it may seem, sexual assault is sexual assault. It’s not minor. Sexual assault of any kind is not minor. Anything that makes you feel violated is not minor, it’s wrong. There are no exceptions, sexual assault is not normal, it’s not “fine,” and it is absolutely not in any way possible something a victim asks for. 

We live in a culture where we’ve all said the words “me too” and where sexual assault is sadly a common and shared experience and it’s not okay. So, let’s talk about it. 

Shame, Shame, I know Your Name

For victims of sexual assault, shame is unfortunately a feeling that most know all too well and it stems from rape culture. 

Rape culture facilitates the toxic idea that saying no, refusing a sexual advance or standing up for your dignity makes you a “prude” or a “bitch.” There is no shame in saying no. 

You are not a  “prude,” a “tease,” a “bitch,” or any other homogeneous term that encourages rape culture, for saying no. 

Standing up for your dignity is not something you should be made to feel shameful. The shame belongs to the individuals who choose to be assailants. That shame belongs to rape culture and those who continue to encourage it. 

According to Dr. Brianne Jacobs, Assistant Professor for Theology and Religious Studies at Emmanuel College, too often, sexuality stems from trying to instrumentalize other people and instrumentalizing yourself to try and meet other people's expectations, which consequently causes shame.

“You should never feel bad for standing up for your dignity,”  said Jacobs. 

Dr. Linda Lin, Professor of Psychology at Emmanuel, explains that especially for women, sex is something that has been so stigmatized and considered such a taboo topic. 

That this toxic stigma around sex, “doesn’t allow women to feel comfortable and empowered with their own sexual agency” said Lin. 

That men are free to explore this and women are not. 

“I think we are fighting against all of these stigmas in society at this time that are telling young women that sex is something that is only something not for your pleasure but it’s almost like a duty and a responsibility that you have to your male partner for his pleasure,” said Lin. 

Rape culture encourages assaliants to not only objectify and abuse their victims bodies but to act as if it is their god given right to have their sexual advances, upon whoever they desire, reciprocated. 

In their minds it is your “duty” and “responsibility” to fulfill their sexual desires. In their minds, they own the “right” to your body. In their minds you “shouldn’t” possess the agency and confidence to say no.  

No one, I repeat, no one has a “right” to objectify and violate your body. It is not your “duty” or your “responsibility” to fulfill anyone’s sexual desires if you don’t want to. And you do possess the agency and confidence to say no. 

You should never be made to feel shame for standing up for your dignity—for standing up against the abusers who act like they have a right to your body because they don’t have that right. 

Rape culture is twisted and demonic and completely ignorant. It could not be further from the actual truth. 

Drinks & Clothing are NOT Consent

Rape culture also tells us that if we decide to wear a short skirt or a bra top on our night out than we are “clearly asking for it.” 

It doesn’t matter what you decide to wear, no matter how much of your body you decide to flaunt, your outfit is NOT your consent to any type of sexual advance. Just as it does not matter how much you decided to drink, being drunk is NOT your consent. 

You are NOT “asking for it” when you wear a short skirt or a dress that shows cleavage. That’s rape culture telling you that your body exists soley to be used and abused. It could not be further from the truth. Your body does not exist to be used and abused. No means no.

#MeToo

We live in a culture where we’ve all said the words “me too.” As a young woman, I like many of my fellow survivors have been a victim of sexual assault. 

To all the victims out there, I am so sorry for what has happened to you. Whatever your experience has been, you didn’t deserve it. You didn’t ask for this to happen. 

I became a victim when I slapped the grabby guy on the train who wouldn’t back off and I was called a “bitch.” I became a victim when the creepy Tinder guy wouldn’t stop trying to put his hands down my pants after I pushed him off and told him to stop. I became a victim when one of my exes tried to force me to have sex with him when I didn’t want to. 

None of these things that happened were my fault. Just because I was wearing shorts on the train doesn’t mean I was asking to be touched and it didn’t make me a “bitch” for fighting back. Just because I let the Tinder guy buy me dinner doesn’t mean I was consenting to his sexual advances and it didn’t make me a “prude” for saying no. Just because my ex and I were dating at the time doesn’t mean my “no” to sex was a suggestion. No means no. I didn’t ask for any of it to happen to me and I certainly didn’t deserve it.

You didn’t ask for this to happen to you and you sure as hell didn’t deserve it. Anyone who tells you differently is only encouraging the evils of rape culture and they could not be more wrong.  Every inappropriate touch, comment, grab or rape— attempted or completed—is not okay. Anything that makes you feel gut-wrenching discomfort, violated and abused is not okay.

Silent No More 

A huge part of fighting against rape culture is the conversation. Victory lies in our ability to talk about it because when we start talking about it, we open the door for change. Enough is enough. It’s 2020 for God sake. We need to do better. 

“People don’t realize how common this is sexual assault is. It’s a terrible thing and there needs to be a conversation to prevent assaults and better laws to protect the victims,” said Emmanuel senior Caroline Ferrari. 

According to RAINN, 23 percent of female undergraduate students experience sexual assault. College campuses have essentially become a hub for sexual assault. To the college age women who are already three times as likely to experience sexual assault, this is not okay. 

Even with the resources now available, college campuses need to do better. No student should feel like they are alone and unsupported. 

“No one should have to go through that alone. Bringing awareness starts a conversation and hopefully one day this conversation will bring sexual assault to an end,” said Ferrari. “Until then, we all have to do our part and make sure victims have all the help and resources they need and the assailant is brought to justice.” 

Providing this support is more than just sending the company line about what resources are available, it’s about facilitating a genuine and honest conversation. 

There’s no denying progress has been made by adding more resources and facilitating more conversations. There’s also no denying that most college campuses have handled sexual assault cases very poorly often resulting in the victim being forced to leave their community so that they will not be forced to see their rapists face everyday. 

Every case is different, but the bottom line is that college campuses need to do better at supporting their students who, too often, are becoming victims of sexual assault. 

“As a society we need to start de stigmatizing the topic of sexual assault in order to stop the cycle of shame felt by victims. It’s important that we respect people who come forward and acknowledge how heinous an act it is,”  said UMass Amherst senior Sofia Malinn. “Sexual assault is a vicious cycle and it can only start to be broken if we prioritize education of the topic for everyone.”

You are not alone 

In the time of #MeToo, it’s important to remember that we are not alone. Together we stand against rape culture. 

“We bring awareness and put a stop to it so hopefully one day we will no longer need it,” said Ferrari. 

Wherever you are in your journey of recovery, know that you are not alone. I stand with you. Your true friends stand with you. Your family stands with you. Your fellow women who support other women stand with you. Your fellow warriors stand with you. 

We are all fighting this fight together and someday, we are going to win. 

For more resources and information visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).  For anonymous support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.