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College Newspaper Responds to Letter to Students About How Not to Get Raped

28 November 2014 No Comment


From Eckerd College’s The Current

An open letter to the Eckerd community: The Current’s response to President Eastman’s “An Open Letter to Students”

In “An Open Letter to Students,” President Donald Eastman sent an email on Nov. 23 to Eckerd students and faculty discussing two steps that students could take to mitigate sexual assault and harassment on Eckerd’s campus: drinking less and refraining from casual sex.

Read the full e-mail HERE.

We believe that President Eastman’s intentions were written in the spirit of genuine concern. Ensuring safety for all through the awareness campaign mentioned in the beginning of the email is a worthy goal. However, the subsequent message did not accomplish that goal.

The president has an absolute right to his opinions and the freedom to voice them, regardless of whether they differ from those of EC students. However, the message of a college official like the president has an elevated authority in our community; his actions and words represent not only himself, but the college as a whole. As liberal arts students, we must evaluate the utility and practicality of his advice in our modern world. As a newspaper, we must hold him accountable, as we would with any other public figure in a position of power.

The Current’s editorial board is addressing this letter because we feel that it is not inclusive and, both through language and important data omissions, runs the risk of victim-blaming. The complexities and consequences of sexual assault cannot be fully understood or mitigated in the 300 words of Eastman’s email. Eckerd claims to be an inclusive, progressive liberal arts college, yet the president’s letter seems to pair a modern-day problem with archaic and ineffective solutions.

The first of these solutions is “limiting your own consumption of alcohol, and encouraging your friends to do the same.” Though both sexual assault and excessive alcohol consumption are important discussions, they should occur separately.

Tying sexual assault to alcohol consumption runs the risk of victim-blaming, regardless of intentions. What the president may be referencing is research from numerous sources, such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which estimates that alcohol was involved in 30 to 75 percent of sexual assault cases (exact numbers are difficult for researchers to obtain). Researchers and news sources alike, such as the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and USA Today, have devoted attention to the concept of limiting alcohol consumption as a precautionary measure.

Though precautions are beneficial, we must remember that sober victims also exist. Correlation and causation differ greatly; this correlation between the two factors — alcohol consumption and sexual assault — does not mean that one causes the other. Addressing it alongside sexual misconduct without explicitly underscoring this distinction runs the risk of victim-blaming by insinuating that these atrocities would not have happened had they been sober.

We would do well to remember that students’ levels of drunkenness at the time of an assault does not make them any more or less responsible for what happens to them. Regardless of who you are, what you wear or how much you drank, any violation that occurs is absolutely and solely the perpetrator’s fault. Though the president did not insinuate otherwise, glossing over this essential fact can have negative effects.

Self-blame is a serious enough struggle for survivors of assault without being further perpetuated. If we wish to convey our “true, deep and lasting concern” mentioned at the end of Eastman’s letter, we should avoid using language that could deter survivors from reporting, and thus inhibiting their access to resources, support and justice.

Read the rest of the story at The Current.

By: Contributing Author

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