Some things are so intrinsic to our culture they are no longer spoken.
For years, as we have sent our young women off to college, we have given them advice. We told them:
- Don’t run around after dark
- Don’t leave your drink unattended
- Don’t walk across campus alone
- Don’t dress like that
- Don’t leave a party alone
- Don’t leave your friend alone at a party
- Don’t be stupid
While said with the best of intentions, the statements are tinged with an implied conjunctive, “or you’re just asking for it.”
Ironically, most of us cannot fathom what “it” actually is. Hopefully we’ll never have firsthand knowledge. But we do know that “it” is something bad, nasty, horrific that happens to women who don’t listen or forget what they’ve been told. If “it” happened outside of a school environment, the perpetrator would be prosecuted.
But within the realm of friendly advice, the implication is that the person who had “it” done to her is either partially or wholly to blame.
What we must tell our daughters, sisters, wives and friends is that not one thing on the friendly advice list is illegal. It is not against the law for women to wear certain types of clothing. It isn’t illegal for women to attend parties alone or with friends. It isn’t against the law for women to leave buildings after dark.
Touching someone intimately and without permission is illegal. Unprovoked hitting, kicking and shoving of a person is against the law.
The blame and the shame needs to rest firmly on the shoulders of the individual violating the law, and the realm of friendly advice needs updating to include our sons and brothers and husbands and friends.
This week the renovations began.
The White House has released the first report of the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Item one in the report is to survey campuses during the next term. Item two calls for men to be engaged and included in prevention efforts, and public service announcements have already been released to select movie theaters.
“This PSA is about reaching out to people and letting them know that there is an epidemic of sexual assaults,” said actor Benicio Del Toro, who appears in the spot. “Those who commit sexual assaults will be condemned, whoever they are … It is about protecting and respecting our loved ones — our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and girlfriends.”
Vice President Joe Biden reiterated the actor’s words as he rolled out the initial task force report.
“If she doesn’t consent — or can’t consent — it’s a crime,” said Biden. “And if you see it happening, help her, don’t blame her. Speak up.”
Schools throughout the country are being provided resources to develop their own bystander intervention program. Individuals regardless of gender are being reminded of their rights and responsibilities through the new websites Not Alone and One Is Too Many.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 3, 2014. Photo credit: