On Monday, October 31st, a masked man raped a female student at gunpoint in the parking lot outside of the Merrill Engineering building, at the University of Utah. The time was 12:50 PM. The suspect has yet to be apprehended for this crime.
The victim reported the incident to campus police. She will continue to be haunted by this incident for many years to come, not just psychologically or emotionally, but because of the legal consequences that accompany a tragedy such as this. It is amazing that she was brave enough to report her assault to the police—over half of sexual assault victims stay silent. She will undergo a forensic examination at a hospital in order to gather evidence for the police search. If the police ever identify her rapist, she can take him to court, where intimate details of her assault will be picked apart on trial in front of a jury. This can be an agonizing process. It could take years for the attacker to be brought to justice and put behind bars. And that’s if she’s lucky enough to bring her attacker to justice—in the United States, only 3% of rapists are ever convicted.
But the victim isn’t the only one who suffers from rape on a college campus. This wasn’t just one woman in one horrible incident. This is all of us now, haunches poised in fear. This is my roommate, afraid to go to her dance class just three miles away. This is my next door neighbors, hesitant to walk to the gym alone, even though it is maybe 600 feet away from our building. This is me, studying in my room for the first time in several weeks because I’m too afraid to walk down to the library.
Just like my male counterparts, as a student I feel like I should have the right to focus on my studies while attending college. I shouldn’t have to be worried about whether I will be sexually assaulted on my way to class or to the library or to an exam.
Rape culture creates an environment where women must prime themselves against the effects of sexual assault. We are dehumanized in this environment. We become prey on dark street corners, when walking alone, even when getting into our cars in broad daylight. When a woman walks alone in the dark, it doesn’t matter if she’s a lawyer, a doctor, or a politician. In rape culture, a woman alone in the dark is a potential victim of sexual assault—no matter who she is. This a curse of womanhood that we cannot escape until we change the culture. There is no growing out of it, moving out of it, or negotiating with it. Our only hope as women is to create a society where people look out for each other—not just women looking out for women, but men and women both looking out for anyone who might be a victim. Together, we can stop sexual assault. Together, we can end rape culture.