The start of the semester is upon us Dukes of JMU. While we dive into our vigorous school shopping and roommate bonding, we must not let the happenings and discoveries the summer have brought to the forefront disappear.
There has been a media war between the students of JMU, past, and present, and the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices (OSARP). Eyes have been opened and there is much to discuss in order to keep it that way.
Sexual Assault has walked our campus for years, now, with little attention brought forth on the matter. Students are hurting, lives are changing, mental states are being corrupted, and the ability to call James Madison University 'home' has been taken away from far too many. It is clear, from those reasons alone, that the handling of situations brought to the higher-ups of our esteemed University have not been acted upon in a manner in which a sense of security and justice can ring free.
Let's start with some hard-hitting facts, courtesy of www.rainn.org/statistics:
Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted
On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
Of all victims under the age of 18, 2 out of 3 are ages 12-17
34% under the age 12
66% under the age 12-17
One in nine girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
82% of all victims under 18 are female
About 3% of American men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime
Millions of men in the United States have been victims of rape.
As of 1998, 2.78 million men in the U.S. had been victims of attempted or completed rape.
1 out of every 10 rape victims is male.
Transgender students are at high risk for sexual violence
21% of transgender, queer and nonconforming college students have been sexually assaulted
1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape.
82% of all juvenile victims are female
90% of adult rape victims are female
Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.
The majority of sexual assault victims are under the age of 30
Where does sexual assault occur?
55% at or near the victims home
15% in an open public place
12% at or near a relative's home
10% in an enclosed but public areas, such as a parking lot or garage
8% on school property
What was the survivor doing when the crime occurred?
48% were sleeping or performing another activity at home
29% were traveling to and from work or school or traveling to shop or run errands
12% were working
7% were attending school
5% were doing an unknown or other activity
Now, take these statistics and make them fit the population of James Madison University.
The reason behind these facts, beyond the obvious, is to show that sexual assault is all around you. Yes, you, a student at James Madison University. Whether you would like to open your eyes to it or not, you have walked passed, worked in groups with, studied and even roomed with perpetrators and victims of sexual assault. You may even be one.
I know that this is not something many want to hear, especially when it comes to a college they take great pride in. It taints the image in your head that is JMU. While understandable, yes, this is an image that must be tainted. JMU is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are issues bigger than dining halls being reconstructed and causing a reroute to your 10 a.m. class.
Dukes, look around you. Look at the contacts in your phone, followers on social media, and faces in the background of your school spirited photographs. Most likely, you just encountered someone with an attachment to sexual assault. What are you going to do about that?
I'll tell you what has been done in the past, while you contemplate. These accounts were told in confidence and all involved shall remain anonymous.
In 2014, JMU found three fraternity brothers "responsible" for a forceful sexual assault of another student. The three were sentenced to "expulsion after graduation."
In a more recent occurrence, a JMU student stated during a sexual assault case that consent was not given, "no" was said multiple times, yet, the interaction still occurred. To make this more clear and said shortly, the perpetrator and the victim both made these statements, yet the pursuer was not punished to a full extent. For example, this student was allowed to be an Orientation Peer Adviser (OPA) for the incoming class of '22. OPAs are knowledgeable members of the James Madison Community. They are some of the first to bond with new students, share the rules and regulations of the school, and be a shoulder to lean on during a difficult transition. The bond has the ability to carry on throughout the school year, with the help of each OPA having business cards with their school emails on them given to each member of their orientation groups, as a way to get in contact. I will state again, this student, in my opinion, was not punished to the full extent, if at all, because they were allowed to hold such an honorable title, become close with the youngest class of James Madison University, give out cards for the group members to contact them at their free will, without sharing the fact that they are a person with a sexual assault case on their back. They allowed this perpetrator to be a face of the University to new Duke families and build multiple relationships without important information being shared as if it never happened.
These are only two of the many events taking place on our campus or while abroad, representing our University, and these are only two examples of how these cases were handled behind closed doors, during the trial.
There is more wrong involving sexual assault at JMU that does not have to do with OSARP, Deans, and trials. Socially, sexual assault is not being taken as seriously as it should be by the students. Far too many times have victims kept the events hidden, because of social hierarchies, and being blamed for something they did not cause. The student population has defended the wrong side of sexual assault for too long. It is time that we become aware, learn, educate, step into the shoes of victims, and think about the long-term, instead of focusing on the little things that matter today that we won't remember 20 years from now when we are confronted with sexual assault.
We have failed our fellow Dukes. No one takes the time to think about how the survivor is coping. No one is checking in on them and understanding that a life-altering event has taken place and they may need someone to help keep them on their feet. No one realizes what sexual assault does to a human being.
It's time we find out.
(courtesy of www.rainn.org/statistics)
Think of this the next time you guard a door while someone is being taken advantage of. Think of this the next time you try to introduce your friends to someone with known intentions of victimizing them. Think of this the next time your precious Greek agenda is at-risk due to actions were taken by your own "brother" or "sister" and you try to intimidate and belittle a person in order for yourself to continue having a great time. Remember this when you are telling someone to keep the violence they've experienced on the D.L. Remember this when you're on your way to do something vicious. Remember this when you look at your younger siblings at the dinner table with eyes full of hope and wonder. Think of this before you side with the more popular social crowd over the truth. Think of this. Remember this. Learn from this.
This is what survivors deal with every day, on and off campus. When reports are made, many survivors stop before the final steps are taken, due to the feeling of embarrassment brought on by the authorities, the people around them, and the perpetrator themselves.
Have you ever felt like a stone cold object unable to speak or even fight anymore after an attack has been going on for more than 0.2 seconds? Do you know the feeling of confusion, memory loss, and hatred for oneself following the events? Have you stood in your room changing outfit after outfit to ensure you don't look "rape-able," overly sexy, unattractive (but not too attractive), noticeable, etc. only to end up breaking down in tears while flashbacks fly in and out of your head? Have you ever felt triggered by law enforcement due to the way you were treated during your sexual assault case? Do you know what it's like to hear your friend arguing to get to you as a barricade keeps you locked in an unforgettable moment? Do you feel the stares and hear the whispers that may or may not actually be present. Are your memories tainted? Do you feel as if nothing you say, think, or do matters?
Survivors do. Every. Single. Day.
They walk around the same campus that flipped their lives upside down every week to pursue an education. They risk running into their attackers as they make their way to the nearest coffee shop. They are seen as liars, attention seekers, less than. On a daily basis, there are people all around you with an unjust trial in the works, a stain on their body that no amount of soap and water can wash off, and a voice in their head telling them to give up and end it all.
While all of this is happening, you stand quietly in the shadows, surrounded by your fellow Dukes that in no way have any connection to a sexual assault and don't care to deal with it. News flash: someone in that corner is hiding their pain and trying to make what happened to them go away by pretending to be "normal."
Dukes, we are allowing ourselves to be victimized by not recognizing and taking action to what's going on right in front of our faces. You see it at parties, tailgates, on the walk back to the dorm, in the Quad, at sports events. You see it and you turn the other way. Some of you, whether you want to accept it or not, encourage it. Knowing someone's intentions and not sharing the information with the proper authorities, because they are your friend is encouraging it. Living by the motto "that's none of my business" is encouraging it.
That is what we have done in the past. The past; let's keep it that way. As the fall semester creeps closer, it is time for each and every person that calls themselves a James Madison University Duke, fan, alumni, etc to take a hard look in the mirror and an even harder look at the University. Take action. No one should experience the pain that is sexual assault. No one should get a free pass to be an attacker. This is our school, our campus, our reputation, our experience and it is our job to step up, acknowledge the truth and stay involved in the solving of the problem. We can't step to the side and leave it all up to OSARP. We can't turn a blind eye when we see something suspicious.
Survivors are calling and they need you to pick up. They need you to stand with them, because, a lot of the time, the justice system doesn't do enough to bring peace to the lives around us.
"Fight for glory. Honors won. Brighten the lights of Madison." These are lyrics from our fight song for a reason. This song goes beyond football games and pep rallies. Live up to the words you sing. The fighting Dukes of JMU? It's time to start fighting for the survivors we live among today and so there will be no victims in the future. Fight, so that, one day, we can say loud and proud "Madison, James Madison, We ARE the Dukes of JMU."
Did you know that I blamed myself for what happened for 9 years of my life? I truly thought it was my fault that you molested me. Except that's bullshit, and I'm thankful I realized that now. No one else would think of blaming an 8 year old for not pushing away someone they trusted. How dare you sit across from me at this table and talk to me like nothing happened. I guess you hope that I don't remember what you did. Except that's not how trauma works; my body remembers everything. I cringe when our younger cousin talks about going to the water park with you. I cringe when mom talks excitedly about that you're thinking of having children now. So many memories of growing up now trigger me, I can barely look at pictures of us growing up. You ruined my childhood and you've gotten away with it. If it was possible I would happily never see you again in my life. Lucky for you, I don't like having this hate inside of me. I'm working on that. I'm working on loving and trusting my body again.
I guess you didn't get the memo that big brothers are supposed to protect their little sisters.
Next time Dad comments on how expensive my therapy is, maybe I'll tell him you should be paying for it."
An excerpt from OUR lives. THIS is our reality.
Now you know.
What are you going to do about it?