Recently we have been seeing more coverage than usual in the local Knoxville media about sexual harassment, stalking and sexual assault. I have also noticed an increase in women on campus speaking up and sharing their experiences with stalking and sexual assault, especially around campus.
While it is a great thing to bring more light to these issues and discuss them further, one aspect of the coverage has really struck a nerve for me.
At the end of all the articles and news stories, there is usually some sort of list of “tips” from local law enforcement or from the university. And they are always directly speaking to women, explaining how to prevent being sexually assaulted, stalked, harassed, etc.
But here is the thing: Women should not have to try and prevent men from taking advantage of them or harming them. Men should just flat out control themselves.
Instead of reminding women to avoid walking alone at night, let’s remind men to leave a woman alone who is walking home at night. Or maybe, if we are to believe men are so out of control that they cannot humanize a woman at night compared to daylight, let’s remind men to avoid walking home alone just in case they can’t control themselves and need a friend to help them not sexually assault a woman.
Instead of reminding women not to drink too much and watch their cups carefully, let’s remind men to not drink so much that they want to take advantage of women and to not drug someone’s drink.
I am in no way trying to condemn the many anti-rape and self-defense programs offered around campus. It is important as a human being, not just as a woman, to know how to defend yourself in all situations. But obviously, this narrative of defense and tactic of women protecting themselves is not curbing the instances of sexual assault around campus.
This idea that women must work to protect themselves has a term; it’s called safety work. The phrase refers to the measures taken by women — either purposefully or unconsciously — to try to prevent sexual harassment or violence. Some examples include taking particular routes while walking, watching their drinks being poured and avoiding large groups of men.
For women, this safety work has become second nature. Like breathing or walking, we do it as if our survival depends on it.
But personally, I’m tired of it. I am tired of being afraid to walk home from the library alone while my male counterparts have no fears of the college campus we pay the same price of tuition to attend.
I’m tired of hearing story after story of the same individuals harassing my female friends with no consequence. This narrative around sexual assault, of blaming women for not taking steps to combat it, must change.
Kaylee Sheppard is a senior majoring in American Studies and Political Science. She can be reached email@example.com.
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