Trigger Warning: This post deals with themes of rape, sexual assault, women, men, and colleges.
A movie that has a scene showing a sexual assault is assigned for a college course. Before the class is supposed to watch the movie, the professor makes an announcement. He nonchalantly says that when he assigned this movie last semester, a student came up to him later to inform him that she had been sexually assaulted and the scene in the movie was a trigger for her. Based on this, he thought he should warn his students beforehand this time around, though he assures them that in the scene, the rape is not fully completed. Seemingly in agreement with the professor that the scene lacks severity, a student who has seen the movie before says that the scene “really isn’t that bad.”
1 in 4 college women have been raped or sexually assaulted. If you are a woman and you happen to be sitting other women, look to your left and right. Think about what 1 in 4 really means. At any four year university, that means that a group equal to an entire class year of women is made up of survivors. The other 3 in 4 know someone who is a survivor, even if they are not aware of it. (42% of college women told no one.)
I attend a women’s college. Statistically, in my community, survivors are literally the equivalent of an entire class year, one whole quarter of my school. In a seminar of 12, that’s 3 students. In a lecture hall of 100, that’s 25 students. In the dining hall at lunch that has 14 tables, that’s 3.5 tables full of survivors. The rest of that classroom or dining hall, whether they know it, are aware of it, or are completely oblivious, are sitting next to survivors. Are friends of survivors. And they might not even know it.
It “isn’t that bad”? It IS that bad. Whether it’s a “completed” rape, an “attempted” rape, or other sexual assault, movie scenes, discussions, advertisements, and conversations can be triggers for survivors. If it’s bad enough to trigger anyone, it’s enough to warrant a PSA, enough to keep you from saying something, enough to make sure “jokes” aren’t made. How many times have you heard something similar to these lines?
“I was just raped by that exam.”
“This class makes me want to kill myself.”
“She’s such a slut, she deserves to be taken advantage of.”
“I’m going to murder that professor.”
“She’s such a whore.”
“That kid is retarded.”
“You’re so gay!”
The examples go on and on.
Surviving a tough exam will never equate surviving a sexual assault. A difficult class usually doesn’t make someone so depressed that they contemplate suicide. No one ever deserves being taken advantage of, and calling someone a “slut” or other degrading names is never the way to help them out of any bad situation they might be in. Murder should never be taken lightly, never tossed around as a joke of exaggerated revenge against a challenging professor. Is she really a “whore”? Even if she is a sex worker, no one should ever use that against her to hurt her or make her feel less worthy. “Retarded” and “gay” should never be used as insults, ways to degrade others, as synonyms of words like “stupid” or “ignorant.”
“This class makes me want to kill myself.” How would that make a survivor of attempted suicide feel? The family member or friend of someone who had committed suicide? Someone contemplating it themselves?
“She’s such a slut, she deserves to be taken advantage of.” How does that make herself? Does anyone ever “deserve” violence and other abuse?
“I’m going to murder that professor.” Are you really?
“She’s such a whore.” Is she?
“That kid is retarded.” How would that make someone of varying mental abilities feel? Or a parent of a mentally retarded child?
“You’re so gay!” How would that make an LGBTQ individual feel?
We’ve all been told at some point or another to think before we speak. How often do we truly do it? What would we change about what we say if we knew the full stories of all those we were talking to?
There’s no way to ever know anyone’s full story; only they’ve lived it, only they could possibly know and understand. Instead of assuming that since we don’t know, we need not worry about it, we ought to be doing our best not to throw around words like “rape” and “murder” like they’re a joke.
1 in 4. Next time you’re in a room with a group of people, look around. Count. Think about it.
To the professor and the student who “didn’t think it was that bad,” it seems you aren’t aware of any survivors that may be in your friend groups, classrooms, and workplaces, but they are there. If by some chance they aren’t there, their friends, sisters, cousins, girlfriends, boyfriends, or daughters are. If it has any chance to trigger any one of these people, it IS that bad. It requires a warning. I would also recommend considering very seriously if any required course material that involves violence is completely necessary. I am not suggesting that everyone revert to Disney to fill in their lesson plans. Instead, I ask people to be fully aware of who might be in the room and what could be triggered. If the material is necessary, so is a warning; it isn’t fair to force survivors to be subjected to triggers to participate in class. If they need to sit out of that day, they need the space and opportunity to do so without penalty. All of the above is paramount in women’s colleges, where survivors are 25% percent of the student body.
PSAs need to be made and taken seriously both by those announcing them and those hearing them. We owe it to one another, especially in communities of women. Furthermore, as frightening as these statistics are, violence against men is barely even considered in the same way. 3% of college men report having survived sexual assault, but given our societal and cultural views around men, violence, and “manliness,” I would assume the real number to be higher. The numbers of survivors in co-ed institutions may be even higher because in addition to 1 in 4 women, there are likely some men who are survivors. So don’t say that exam raped you. Don’t assume that an assault scene in a movie “isn’t that bad.” We don’t know what we don’t know, and what we do know should be enough to make us think before we speak.