A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER
As the host of the radio show, The Authentic Woman – Perspectives on the Female Experience in America, the co-founder and past Director of Unite Against Rape and a member of the Board of Directors of UniteWomen.org – a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to end discrimination towards women – I feel it is my duty to respond to your June 6 opinion piece in the Washington Post, Colleges Become the Victims of Progressivism.
First, I would like to annotate that rape is not a political issue. To hurl the label of “progressivism” at policies that clear the way for a victim of rape to report a crime, and to avoid having this report whitewashed by administrators whose primary concern is protecting an institution’s reputation, significantly diminishes the significance of the crime. Supposing that only a progressive would support the punishment of perpetrators of this heinous crime suggests that a conservative would revel in having these crimes masked – and that is simply not the case. Most humans with a developed sense of empathy would like to see those who violated their loved ones – mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, sons, brothers, fathers – brought to justice.
Rape knows no gender. Rape knows no socio-economic status. Rape knows no political party, nor any religion or ideology. Rape is indeed ubiquitous, possibly the most ubiquitous human rights violation worldwide today. It would stand to reason that, regardless of one’s political leaning, every ethical person would applaud ubiquitous reporting of such violations. It appears your disdain for the rise in reports of sexual violence on college campuses is based on a contempt for progressive policies. While I respect disdain for any political ideology and relish diversity of opinion, I take great issue with your implied correlation between political ideology and response to sexual assault.
Have you considered that what you describe as the proliferation of victims of sexual assault might, in fact, be the proliferation of reports of such incidents that were heretofore unreported in such a high volume? Precedence has been repeatedly set that reports of rape are futile or, in many cases, immensely socially and psychologically detrimental to the victim.
Thankfully, there has indeed been a recent proliferation of collegiate environments in which rape victims feel safe in coming forward to report the crime. And this is likely, as you suggest, due to significant public attention having been directed toward the deluge of Title IX violations as they relate to the handling of sexual assault cases on college campuses. To suggest that this has anything to do with “progressivism,” though, is ludicrous. In what way could shedding a bright light on the epidemic of rape possibly be a bad thing? The ultimate outcome is sure to be a reduction in the instance of sexual assault. Students are now much more informed of their rights – and subsequently empowered to publicly address issues that have been ignored or suppressed by the administrations of colleges and universities for decades.
If there were no systemic problem, casting a scrutinous eye on the manner in which rape is handled by colleges and universities would do little more than to reveal the success of the status quo of sexual assault policy. Instead, the research shows that there are widespread issues in this arena that require immediate attention.
The statistics in the report of the White House Council on Women and Girls and the report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault were no surprise to me. I co-founded, and led for nearly a year, the Unite Against Rape campaign for UniteWomen.org. We worked with RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) to gather and and share information about the staggering number of sexual assault cases – not only on college campuses, but on the streets, in domestic situations and in the military.
You convey the story of one “ambiguity of the hookup culture” – an anecdote taken from an article that focuses largely on the predicament that a “peaceful resolution of conflicts” is a problematic “remnant of [a] school’s Quaker legacy,” indicating that their deferral of difficult decisions has led to multiple complaints of Title IX violations (several of which, far less ambiguous, were detailed later in the article you referenced). In the next sentence, you disdainfully infer that sexual assault victims are being “rescued” by policies issued in response to the findings of the task force – and later refer to the task force findings as “pesky arithemetic.” This suggests that you believe these findings and policies are dubious, unnecessary and politically motivated. That could not be farther from the truth – on all counts.
You were the commencement speaker at my graduation from The College of William and Mary in 1994. Among the graduating members of my class was Katie Koestner, who became an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual assault following her much publicized rape on campus in 1990. After Katie revealed her story, the school changed its policy to require suspension for students found guilty of sexual assault. This was a strong step forward for the college, but the hostility Ms. Koestner faced after courageously sharing the intimate details of her rape in a public forum was far more abundant than the support she received. Even strangers who knew nothing of her story joined forces to jump on the victim-shaming bandwagon that often follows the reporting of a sexual assault.
The price she paid for reporting the crime was high, and many of my classmates – having seen the way Ms. Koestner was treated by her peers – did not report their own cases of sexual assault for fear that they would face the same ridicule, anger and ostracizing they witnessed in Katie’s case. In fact, I was one of the students raped on campus during this period – and I did not report it to any authorities. I did share the situation with some of my peers, and I sometimes received the same vitriol (on a much smaller scale) as Ms. Koestner. The choice between being a silent victim or a ridiculed one is a no-win situation. And, I assure you, Mr. Will, there is no privilege or coveted status in being a victim of rape under either circumstance.
The flippant and pompous tone of your piece, and the blatant allegation that there is a tangible (or intangible) benefit to having been sexually victimized, belittles the genuine suffering of the millions of women (and men) who have been raped. I would like to invite you to sit in a room with a sexual assault victim and, to his or her face, dismiss that person’s suffering as having been a means to attain a “coveted status.”
You suggest that colleges are getting what they deserve by asking for progressivism. I would argue that the perpetrators of sexual violence are getting what they deserve by, at long last, being held accountable for their crimes. If that diminishes the comity and autonomy of a collegiate administration, so be it. These perpetrators did not have comity in mind when they violated their fellow students.
While I have not always agreed with your opinions, I have always respected your intellect and your ability to understand a situation in its entirety before crafting an opinion on the matter. Unfortunately, I must borrow your own words in reference to your recent opinion piece in the Washington Post and say that, in this case, your perspective is that of a bloviating ignoramus.
Host of The Authentic Woman – Perspectives on the Female Experience in America
Co-founder and past Director of Unite Against Rape
Board of Directors, UniteWomen.Org – a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
This piece was also published in Blue Virginia.