Sexual Assault and #metoo

By JUSTINE LOOKENOTT

KENNESAW, Ga. – A college aged girl attended a get together at a friend’s house. They hung out upstairs in one of the bedrooms where there was a TV and video games. After a while, the group started to get hungry. They decided to go out and get a pizza. The girl decided to stay behind, and one of the guys in the group offered to stay with her. What was originally seen as a kind gesture soon changed when he shut and locked the door when they were alone. The girl left the party a victim of rape.

Like most victims of rape or sexual assault who live in fear of a negative response or distrust the judicial system, the girl has not reported the crime to the police. The rapist has not been brought to justice.

While sexual assault has always been a popular topic in the news, the topic was thrown into the spotlight in 2017 when a massive wave of accusations was brought against several well-known people such as movie director Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of sexual misconduct towards several actresses spanning over a few decades.

In October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet the hashtag phrase “metoo” to inform the world of the slew of sexual misconduct occurring today. The phrase was originally used by social activist Tarana Burke to let victims know they are not alone.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while attending college and in eight out of ten cases of rape, the victim knows the attacker. More than 90 percent of victims do not report the assault.

“People are more likely to be sexually assaulted by people they know…so you don’t want to sort of get off the good graces of the group,” said Shameka Wilson, Director of the Kennesaw State Women’s Resource Center. “Also, the person may feel like it’s their fault, maybe they did something to sort of lead that person on or people are not going to believe them because this person has such a good reputation out in the community or you know they have a high position.”

Campus organizations such as the Kennesaw State Women’s Resource Center and the VOICE program at the Georgia Institute of Technology seek to create an environment where sexual assault victims feel safe coming forward and receiving help.

The #metoo movement has received mostly good reviews, but recent controversy has developed over some of the negative aspects of the trend and the possibility of false rape and sexual assault accusations. According to the National Violence Resource Center, the rate of false rape reports is between two percent and 10 percent.

Tori Thompson, Chairman of the KSU College Republicans, does think #metoo is a good campaign to get society to understand how prevalent rape is, however, she agrees with some of the concerns shared by others.

“I think people need to stop accusing men and women of it [rape] if it didn’t happen and stop being embarrassed of something they did the night before,” Thompson said. “But at the same time, I think that people need to take it [rape] more seriously.”

Thompson also believes that the judicial system needs to take rape cases more seriously and that the punishment for sexual assault crimes should be harsher, noting that a lot of victims do not want their attacker to be arrested for fear of retribution when the attacker is released from jail. Thompson’s mother is a lobbyist for Marcy’s Law in Georgia. Marcy’s Law is a bill of rights that seeks to protect a victim and a victim’s family and perhaps lessen the fears of violence from a released attacker. The law was named after Marsalee (Marcy) Nicholas, a college student who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. The murderer was released a week later on bail.

However, the leaders of sexual assault prevention programs at certain universities have their own critiques of the backlash itself.

“I personally thought that the backlash articles that came out were full of the same victim blaming statements and attitudes that sexual assault victims have been facing forever,” said Amanda Plackard, a VOICE advocate at GA Tech. “Why did you go there? Why didn’t you leave? Why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you do that? No one was talking about his behavior in any of those backlash articles.”

Other articles calling out #metoo worry that while the movement may be highlighting the number of assaults, it does not bring criminals to justice and is, therefore, lacking merit in fighting sexual assault.

“Naming particular perpetrators and sending people to jail isn’t necessarily going to stop sexual assault either,” Plackard said, “so we really have to change how our culture views sex, relationships, gender, all those things, and make sure people understand content clearly instead of these messages that we send males about trying to work a ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’”

“I think that if more people focused on the aspect of what the #metoo campaign is supposed to do,” Thompson said, “rather than just saying it and moving on, then I think that the rape statistics will go down significantly once more people are put behind bars.”

While it is too early to see the exact outcome of the #metoo movement and the wave of high profile sexual assault cases, many see the movement as the beginning of something that can lead to positive change, including providing a safe outlet for victims to come forward and share their stories.

“For me, I don’t get #metoo as this big thing, I look at it as a movement,” said Wilson, “I look at it as awareness building, like yes these things are still happening and we have to do something about it. I think it’s going to take, like I said, other groups to kind of come in and figure out the what and the how, but I see the hashtag as a conversation starter.”

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