Saturday, November 26

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Men taking back the night

I am awakened early by someone on my apartment balcony banging on a can; painters trying to open a container. "Just bitch-slap it!" bellows one man on the ground below. His colleagues outside my window guffaw approvingly. I wonder if their wives or girlfriends can attest to the effectiveness of this method. If not, clearly it is not because these men fear the censure of their peers.

It is tempting to assume that sexual violence does not touch us in the ivory tower of academia. Statistics prove otherwise: surveys of college men find that from a quarter to over a half report that they have forced women to engage in sex against their will. In another study, 27.5 percent of college women reported being victims of rape or attempted rape. Personal stories told by both women and men at Princeton's last Take Back the Night rally unveil the pain behind the numbers.


Most compelling for me is the fact that a horrifyingly high percentage of my female friends, all of them university-educated, have revealed that they have suffered sexual violence firsthand. It is virtually assured that so have some of your own friends, though none may have chosen to make this known to you. These are the same women with whom you study and hang out and fall in love. This is not only a problem for victims; repeated studies confirm that sexual violence damages women's existing and future relationships with men.

We men are not used to discussing the issue of violence against women amongst ourselves – at least, not in a serious way. The idea of rape or partner abuse makes most of us so uncomfortable that, if the subject does come up, we are likely either to change the topic or to break the tension with a joke. Does this mean that we are all potential rapists and batterers? Emphatically, no. By our silence or attempts at humor, however, we lend tacit approval to the men who do assault women. Abusive men may dismiss the protests of women, but they are likely to pay attention if we, their peers, voice strongly our disapproval of sexual violence. Also, to regain trust in the opposite sex, assault survivors need to see men speaking out against such violence.

This is why I am asking the men on campus to make a statement against sexual violence. Not being aggressive is not enough. Walk in the Take Back the Night march this Thursday, April 9. Traditionally, Take Back the Night marches do not include men, a main purpose being to assert that women should not need male protection to be safe walking at night. On our campus, however, women are at greater risk of abuse on a date than walking alone after dark. Consequently, a priority for Princeton's Take Back the Night event is to promote healthier intimate relations between men and women, and the march organizers actively encourage men to attend.

If marching just isn't your thing, attend the pre-march rally in Firestone Plaza, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wear a purple ribbon on your jacket or backpack, tie one to your car's antenna or hang one from your window. Most importantly, do not remain silent. Let the world know that you won't stand for sexual violence.