By Alex Pinsk || Editor-in-Chief
On October 23rd, the Sexual Assault & Violence Elimination (SAVE) club on campus welcomed Brittany Piper, professional speaker and sexual assault prevention expert to F&M. Brittany Piper speaks about her own experience as a victim of sexual violence, about rape culture on college campuses, and about how pain can actually transform people’s lives. Her talk at F&M was entitled “Rape Culture: A Survivor’s Perspective.”
Piper began by identifying the population affected by sexual assault and violence and defining rape culture. According to Piper, before stepping foot on a college campus, one of four women and one of six men will have already experienced sexual assault. When students were asked to stand if they knew of someone who had been the victim of sexual violence, almost the entire room stood up; when asked in how many of these cases incidents were reported, about half the room sat down. This is telling of how rape is viewed on college campuses. Rape culture is the message that rape and sexual assault are just a part of life and that that is okay. Because it is so commonplace on college campuses, many do not see it as an issue, nor do they act as allies. Much of this comes from a lack of understanding of consent. Consent is “permission that is verbal, conscious, willingly given, enthusiastic, and revocable,” it is something that is “voluntary and mutual and can be withdrawn at any point; consent is mandatory” (Piper). If someone does not consent to a given sexual activity or cannot consent to that activity, it is rape.
Sex education in schools does not help the issue. Only 24 states require sex education. 70% of those states promote abstinence, and even schools that talk about sex, focus on safe sex measures including STI prevention, the reproductive process, and contraceptive options. They do not teach about the nature of interpersonal sexual relationships, pleasure, or consent. We tend to get all of that information from the media—from TV shows which often glamorize rape scenes, video games which often go unmonitored by parents, music which uses language that indicates that sexual assault is okay and is normal. With today’s technology, we have access to all of this information from a young age and are desensitized to issues such as sexual violence. There is a level of dehumanization that goes on and leads to rape culture on college campuses.
Piper explains that we should not have to know a survivor of sexual assault—although most of us do even if we don’t know it—to care about the issue and be an ally. Sexual assault should not be the only crime for which we should have to prove we are victims (Piper). Sexual assault is an issue that needs to be addressed regularly and thoroughly because of its pervasive nature. In fact, resensitizing people to the issue may be the first step. Piper discusses the importance of empathy and of believing people’s stories. Too often the victims of rape and sexual assault are blamed because of how much they were drinking or what they were wearing, or their poor judgment. People have this skewed vision of sexual assault that the assailant is always a stranger from a dark alleyway.
When in reality, usually cases of rape are not initiated by a stranger. It is usually a friend or a partner—someone well-known to the victim.
Piper told her own story and explains how all of the pain that she has experienced has driven her to act and change lives. She says that “[w]hen we allow our pain to [transform] us, that empathy and compassion that are rooted from our experiences become profound weapons of SO-MUCH-GOOD. Now, for the past eight years, [she has] found that [her] greatest purposes have been rooted in [her] deepest pains” (brittanypiper.com). She believes that others may feel the same.
In order to change the persistent rape culture that is ever-present on all college campuses, F&M included, it is essential that every single student create a safe environment and educate themselves on how to be an ally. This comes from teaching each other, learning from each other, and exercising empathy. If we are silent, we are complicit (Piper).
In order to get involved directly, students may join SAVE which hosts biweekly meetings with the purpose of addressing major issues surrounding sexual violence and assault. Information for SAVE can be found on the F&M website: https://www.fandm.edu/campus-life/clubs/save and Instagram: @fandm_save. Feel free to also reach out to Katherine Coble, firstname.lastname@example.org and Riley Belden, email@example.com, co-presidents of the club for more information. Additionally, the Title IX Office and Title IX Coordinator, Kate Snider are located in College Square in the Office of Student Affairs. Find more information on reporting and available resources here: https://www.fandm.edu/campus-life/title-ix.
Finally, if you are interested in engaging with Brittany Piper directly, you can find information on her website: http://brittanypiper.com/ and Instagram @thebrittpiper.
We would like to sincerely thank Brittany Piper for her visit to F&M and the thoughtful story she told and advice she gave. If anyone has any further opinions or thoughts you would like to share, please do not hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to contribute to the conversation.
Senior Alex Pinsk is the Editor-in-Chief. Her email is email@example.com.