Scott Tibbs
Hoosier Review, September 24, 2003

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"Take Back The Night" raises awareness of sexual assault

"My number one priority is to make our community more safe and secure," -- Fred Prall, Republican candidate for Mayor of Bloomington, at the Take Back the Night rally.

The Women's Student Association, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Middle Way House, and office of Women's Affairs sponsored the 2003 Take Back the Night event October 3. TBTN included a candlelight vigil in Dunn Meadow and a march through the streets to the County Courthouse. A moving t-shirt display was in the background while the Bloomington Feminist Choir sang and others spoke.

Colleen Yeakle, Volunteer Services Coordinator at Middle Way House, said "every individual, every woman and every man, has a responsibility to end sexual violence." She said that regardless of questions asked about what the victim was doing, where she was, how much she had to drink or what she was wearing, the victim is not at fault. "The rapist makes a decision to rape and he alone is responsible for that decision."

Amanda Stevens, Public Relations Coordinator for the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, said that this event is important because the act of speaking out "is a really important and assertive act" that shows women and men won't take sexual abuse lying down. She said that it is important to vote for elected officials with good records on women's rights and that are pro-choice. Stevens said campus safety is not enough of an issue and the overtures by the Rape Crisis Center are for show.

Stevens said the claim of sexual assault should be taken seriously and the current Monroe County Prosecutor does not take these allegations seriously. (There was also someone passing out flyers at the event regarding "Crime Victims Against Salzmann.") Stevens said that there needs to be more lighting on campus and more attention to the Safety Escort service.

Jeff Melton, Green Party candidate for Congress in 2002, said that the amount of violence against women in society is ridiculous. He expressed concern that Arnold Schwarzenegger, someone who has treated women poorly in the past, could be governor of California. (Schwarzennegger recently apologized for his past behavior.) Melton said not much can be done at the federal level, but action can be taken locally and prosecutors have to do their job.

Melton said that in some states, there are exceptions to rape laws within marriage. There was a move to have Virginia's exception repealed in 2002, and 33 states still have exceptions for rape within marriage. This fact is astonishing to me, and it is clear that these laws are in direct conflict with the statement in the Fourteenth Amendment that "No State shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

IU Dean of Students Richard McKaig said that the first meeting of the Commission on Personal Safety was this week, where they discussed safety phones and campus lighting. He said that they hope to be able to streamline the process for rape victims while still respecting the due process rights of the accused. The University has advocates for victims of sexual assault and that a bigger problem is the underreporting of incidents.

I made a small donation to Middle Way House after the march. I would encourage others to donate as well, as the services provided by Middle Way are priceless. "Take Back the Night" was an event that raised the community's awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence, but it is the volunteers at Middle Way that are in the trenches on a daily basis helping victims of rape put their lives back together. Social service agencies like Middle Way often operate on a shoestring budget, and the most effective way to open up your heart to a rape survivor may be to open up your wallet to Middle Way House.

One important question that should be asked is, "how much responsibility do women have to prevent rape?" This is a very difficult question to consider, because there is a razor-thin line between considering what precautions should be taken and blaming the victim. We live in a society where people too often assume that a rape victim was "asking for it" by the way she dresses or how much she had to drink, etc.

There are precautions that a woman should take to avoid being in a situation where rape is more likely. Avoiding intoxication, having friends watch out for her, and avoiding being alone with someone she does not know or trust are important. In a perfect world, no woman should ever have to take precautions to avoid rape, but the depravity of the human race makes such things necessary.

Other situations where precautions are not taken are more clear-cut. Leaving a wallet with cash in it unattended or leaving your car unlocked are unwise actions and can result in your things being stolen. Many people would say that if someone leaves their car unlocked and the car or items in it are stolen, it is partially the victim's fault. Of course, the act of theft is always the fault of the thief, but it is the responsibility of individuals to take common-sense precautions to protect their property.

Rape is different. First, it is clearly a much more serious crime, an attack on the very personhood of the victim. There is also a large gray area between what is and is not "responsible" with regard to rape prevention. There are also differing community standards on what kind of attire is "suggestive". It is important for women to be aware of their surroundings and the situation they are in, and it is important to educate women on measures they can take to avoid being attacked.

However, it must again be stressed that the act of rape is never the victim's fault, and is always the fault of the rapist. Education of women on how to avoid rape must go hand-in-hand with a very clear message that it is not her fault if she is attacked. There also must be an education of society that while precautions to prevent rape should be taken, people (especially women) should not blame victims of rape for the crime.

From a societal perspective, actions taken after a rape are important also. I believe that it is the moral responsibility of a rape survivor to seek prosecution the person who attacked her. Prosecuting a rape case can be very painful for a rape survivor. Such pain cannot be ignored and there must be programs in place to help a rape victim through the prosecution.

The reason rapists must be prosecuted is to take them out of society before they rape again. Allowing a rapist to go free to rape again compromises the rights of his next victim. It is important that a rape victim make sure that what happened to her not happen to another woman, or to a child. Law enforcement must take rape seriously and aggressively prosecute people charged with rape to the fullest extent of the law.