So if someone forces sexual intercourse from you despite the fact that you’ve said no and most likely used force to stop this person, these aspects could constitute a bad hook-up. I get it. These were the words told to Angie Epifano, a former student at Amherst, who wrote a gut-wrenching article about her rape and neglect by the administration. The last thing any sexual assault survivor would want anyone to question is that that maybe he or she wasn’t raped. Or even worse — maybe the victim caused the rape to happen. For a woman’s case, maybe her skirt was too short, she showed a little bit too much skin or she was insinuating that she wanted more from someone else than just to “hang out.” This sort of psychologically cruel and unjust interrogation is what causes victims like Epifano to remain quiet, to allow a criminal to walk free without even a slap on a wrist and most of all, to maintain the pristine, utopia-like images of elite institutions.
No one wants to go to a school where crimes are rampant. But the important factors as to why schools like Princeton, Amherst and other esteemed institutions receive record-breaking numbers of applications with so few spots are their prestige, faculty, money, connections and other qualities of this nature. Imagine just how a rape scandal would adversely affect such a seemingly-safe institution. So instead of encouraging the victim to fight this crime as much as he or she could until justice is served, the opposite happens: “There is something seriously wrong with you; you’re not healthy and normal right now.” The administrators and counselors at Amherst were completely blindsided by the fact that maybe, just maybe the reason why Ms. Epifano was hurting was because someone else had hurt her to begin with. But alas, to add insult to injury, this young woman’s tough childhood was brought up in order to strengthen the claim that Amherst is the ideal and without it she would be nothing: “Amherst is the only place that matters, and, really you don’t have a family, so where else would you go?” By mentioning someone’s rough past so that person feels like he or she is hopeless completely eradicates the power and strength from within to carry on. From that perspective, one human being cannot change a system. But in this case, Epifano did. The New York Times recently reported that the counselor Epifano anonymously mentioned in her article resigned. These steps lead to bigger change. I commend Epifano for taking a stand and I hope that more victims will speak up.
But at the same time, it is difficult to be in the midst of an environment that trivializes rape. A little over two years ago, the Columbia University all-male a cappella group Kingsmen plastered posters around campus on which the words “rape me” were written under a picture of a member. Shortly before this incident, Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon marched to Old Campus, where freshmen live, and yelled “No means yes, yes means anal!” This was in the middle of pledge week and blindfolded pledges were instructed to bark like soldiers. Now, rape can happen to anyone, both male and female. No one can deny this fact. However, something must be said about this Yale chant exemplifies the lack of a women’s agency to make her own decisions and to stop a situation whenever she feels uncomfortable. But then again, according to the reasoning underlying the fraternity’s chant, in matters of sex, women have no idea what they’re talking about; men are in control of the situation because they know our bodies better than women do.
Aside from these situations, Miami University of Ohio and University of Vermont reported similar situations. On the former’s campus, there were posters that listed ways to get away with rape. On the latter’s campus, prospective fraternity members were asked whom would they rape. All of these instances happened within the past one or two years. But can we entirely blame certain organizations like fraternities at the aforementioned colleges, a cappella groups or just dimwitted boys? While these people should be held accountable for their actions, we must also think about their college environments and society as a whole. I don’t have substantial proof that stories similar to Epifano’s recount are happening on college campuses. But what I do know is that the silence of victims is ongoing and that their silences are not necessarily based on desire alone, but because the victims are being stripped of their worth and made to believe that they, not the ones who actually placed hands on them, were the cause of their misfortunes.
Morgan Jerkins is a comparative literature major from Williamstown, N. J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org