The Gustavian Weekly

It’s time to start believing survivors | The Gustavian Weekly

By Emily Seppelt - Opinion Columnist | October 3, 2018 | Opinion

Notice: This article discusses themes such as sexual assault and harassment. 

It has been a tense few weeks. If the Kavanagh confirmation hearings weren’t stressful enough for everyone, our campus was struck with fights and stress due to the College Republican’s homecoming window. 

The fact that people on our own campus and within our community would write such extreme and problematic messages in the caf undeniably hurt many students. And while I do believe that everyone has a right to their own opinion, writing #confirmkavanaugh in such a public and unescapable place was harmful to people who are sensitive to topics such as sexual assault. 

“The College Republican’s window was harmful because it’s specifically targeting victims of sexual assault. It’s harmful to survivors to feel like they are surrounded by people who don’t support them and instead support a man who has been accused of sexual assault,” Sophomore Signe Jeremiason said. 

There is also a deeper issue at hand here. While people such as the painters of the window are one problem, the general sense of disbelief or brushing off Kavanaugh’s accusers are much more prevalent. Around campus, it is almost impossible to not hear  someone discussing the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. One of the common themes that I have heard among various students are thoughts such as “Why didn’t she come forward sooner?” or “It’s way to late for this to mean anything or for anyone to be punished.” 

“…be conscious of the survivor’s trauma and to empathize with their situation.”

These are valid, understandable questions and thoughts to have, and they are actually quite complex questions to answer. But thing to keep in mind among all of this is to always be conscious of the survivor’s trauma and to empathize with their situation. America needs to stop prioritizing the careers and feelings of men over women’s trauma and stories.  

“When I found out about the window, I immediately knew that I wanted to get involved. I just want to do whatever makes people feel okay and safe,” First-year Riley Wentick said, who was protesting the window along with others. 

But why don’t survivors come forward earlier? There are a few reasons. Oftentimes, survivors feel shame or embarrassment after they have been assaulted. This is due to the fact that survivors are made to feel that they are at fault for what has happened to them. People say things such as “Maybe they were dressed too promiscuously? They must have actually wanted it.” In reality, sexual assault is never anyone’s fault except the abusers. 

Another reason that survivors do not always come forward immediately is due to denial or the desire to forget the event. Their memories can be so horrible and upsetting that they need to be blocked out completely in order to move on with their life. This is also why sometimes trigger warnings need to be used. If constantly surrounded by reminders of a terrible time in their life, survivors can have a very difficult time moving on from the event or even being mentally healthy.  

“When time and time again women see that they will be denied, blamed, and even ridiculed for speaking about what happened to them, it makes them a lot less likely to come forward.”

The last reason is one that we are all witnessing now–the fear of being shunned, shamed, or denied if one were to come forward. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is going through this experience right now. When time and time again survivors see that they will be denied, blamed, and even ridiculed for speaking about what happened to them, it makes them a lot less likely to come forward. 

Accepting this fear and coming out with what happened to you can take a long time for many survivors of sexual assault. This is why people don’t always immediately communicate what happened to them to a large amount of people. According to the Sexual Assault Response Team(SART) here on campus, the best way to react when someone tells you that they were sexually assaulted is to “…believe your friend. It is difficult to disclose a sexual assault, especially if people don’t believe you. Trust your friend.”

This is also why I am so inspired by people who come forward and share their story. It takes so much courage to stand up for yourself even when you know some people won’t believe you. And to sit in front of members of the Senate and be grilled–yet still stand your ground–is truly remarkable.

So, criticizing people who come forward is just plain disrespectful. Even though the statute of limitations may have long passed, we still need to listen to these women’s stories and respect their trauma. Just because the event happened a long time ago, we still need to consider what these things say about the accused. We can no longer simply default to defending a man in power and dismissing women. 

On campus, there a variety of resources that survivors can turn to if or when they are ready to come forward or if they would like assistance in healing. One such resource is SART. This a great asset to have on campus and they support all survivors of assault who need any kind of help surrounding sexual assault. They can be reached at 507-933-6868 or at gustavus.edu/sart. 

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