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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, December 11, 2023

Whose fault is it, anyway?

This past summer, The New York Times ran a story about Anna, a freshman at Hobart and William Smith College who was raped at a party in October 2012.After reluctantly reporting the case to her school’s administration, Anna lost many of her friends, was forced to deal with an insensitive, biased investigation undertaken by the administration and ultimately received no justice.

My mom read this article and informed me of Anna’s horrible ordeal. Though she was highly critical of everyone involved in the case -- the panel of administrators that oversaw it, the rapists themselves, and the other students who defended the rapists -- she concluded that Anna was “very unlucky,” and that I should be extremely careful not to let something like this happen to me.

Around the same time, I spoke with a friend about the Title IX fiasco at Tufts last spring and the ensuing campus protest. He said that while it was unfortunate that so many sexual assault survivors at Tufts had not received justice, there was little the administration could do about this. In many cases, he insisted, it’s impossible to prove that alleged rapists are guilty. How, he asked, could the school be “doing better?"

First off, there was clearly much more that Tufts needed to be doing about sexual assault. Last April, the Federal Office of Civil Rights found Tufts in violation Title IX, a federal law that addresses sexual discrimination, for inadequately investigating sexual assault reports, among other grievances. Obviously, Tufts should’ve actually been fully investigating each report.

Fortunately, Tufts has made important changes this year to its sexual assault policy, hiring a sexual assault specialist who is hopefully more sensitive to the issue than the untrained, unprofessional employees to whom victims were previously assigned. But even with improved policies of justice, it will take years for ingrained rape culture to be eliminated from campuses and society at large.

Moreover, by saying that there are virtually no other ways for Tufts to address and prevent sexual assault, my friend implied that this problem should be left to students -- sort of like how my mom implied that it’s ultimately up to me to prevent myself from being assaulted.Implicit in this view is the idea that victims -- disproportionately, but not exclusively, women -- must modify their drinking habits, how they dress, who they spend time with and how they interact with others verbally and sexually, in order to “protect themselves.”

Furthermore, this view supported by my mom and my friend suggests that if someone is sexually assaulted, then it is because they didn’t take the necessary precautionary measures to protect themselves.

Neither my friend nor my mom said that students who have experienced assault “deserved” it. But they did imply that only potential victims can stop assault from happening; they did not emphasize the responsibilities of bystanders, the university and actual rapists. My mom has never spoken to my brother about sexual assault, consent or limiting alcohol consumption to prevent assault from happening. I firmly believe that my brother would never harm anyone in any way, but the parents and siblings of Anna’s rapists made this claim about their sons and brothers, too.

It is therefore unfair and ineffective to treat sexual assault as something that can be prevented by scaring potential victims rather than by educating everyone(because anyone, regardless of gender, can be either a victim or an abuser). Moreover, saying that potential victims must modify their behavior to “prevent” sexual assault (in place of actual education about assault and its demonstrated consequences) is a form of victim blaming, and I can’t agree with my mom or my friend on this point.