Election results affirm ubiquity of sexual assault

Walking out of the Halloween Pause dance several weeks ago, I stopped in my tracks when I felt someone grab my butt. I turned around and found the perpetrator standing behind me with a smug grin plastered across his face. He cocked his head to the left, followed directly by a self-assured nod in my direction. I shook my head and turned the other way, perplexed at the entitled expression he dared to maintain after touching my body without my permission.

In light of an alleged child rapist being elected to the highest political office in the United States, it has become clear that rape culture, as well as apathy towards it, permeates every aspect of our environment. As many of us know, sexual assault and the mistreatment of survivors runs rampant on college campuses across the nation. This truth has been confirmed week after week, as countless headlines flash across our newsfeeds detailing mishandled cases by university administrations, the criminal justice system and the 2016 presidential election.

While some universities have begun to acknowledge the gravity of this issue, administrative responses to sexual assault have continued to fail those who have been or will ever be affected by it. Many universities are now addressing sexual assault through the re-examination of campus alcohol policies. These reactionary measures are founded in the logic that if everybody at a college could be more aware of their actions and surroundings, students would be less likely to either commit or experience sexual assault. In 2015, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that alcohol played a role in 97,000 cases of sexual assault and date rape.

While alcohol clearly contributes to sexually aggressive behavior, changing relevant policies inherently places blame on the wrong component of this nauseating equation. For starters, reevaluating alcohol policies further perpetuates the idea that by drinking alcohol, the survivor placed themselves in a dangerous situation. This, in turn, negates all the work done so far to avoid blaming survivors for what others have done not only to their bodies, but to their minds and hearts as well. In regards to perpetrators, these measures imply that in many cases alcohol so severely inhibits the reasoning of sexually aggressive individual that they lose their respect for others, awareness of their actions and general morality. While alcohol is a powerful substance, drinking alone does not have the power to generate a sexist and aggressive individual. We must place blame on the culture that encourages sexual assault, not the perpetrator’s choice of beverage.

I take issue with this response because it suggests that universities are ignoring the fact that so many people – male and female – have accepted gender inequality and sexual violence as the norm. They have demonstrated this through employing an ideology that responds to sexual assault by encouraging students to drink less alcohol, rather than mandating perpetrators to keep their hands to themselves. This fails to address the overwhelming number of incidents that are rooted in male entitlement to female bodies.

What must be addressed are the mindsets of the individuals who have previously, or will in the future, assault one of their peers. This would entail educating entire college campuses about the intricacies and history of sexual assault through workshops and required classes. It is unacceptable that efforts to put a stop to rape culture through education have not yet been made on a nationwide scale. In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, I sincerely hope the pervasiveness of sexual assault has deeply disturbed those who have the power to reverse it.

This is not to say that reviewing alcohol policies is not necessary, as statistics clearly show the integral role inebriation plays in sexual assault. However, alcohol policy reform alone is not, and will never be, enough. When a university blames alcohol for sexual assault, they enable perpetrators to do the same.

Later that night at the Pause dance, I observed the same man who grabbed me stand on the sidelines of the dance floor watching women walk by, reaching out to touch them as they passed. It reminded me of when I was little, in a clothing store with my parents. When I saw something sparkly I would reach out to touch it and shortly thereafter be scolded for touching something that I didn’t own. I don’t understand why he felt as though he could touch anyone in that room whenever and wherever he wished. After watching this individual touch woman after woman, I had had enough.

He caught my eye, and replicated the suave expression that he had flashed me earlier. But as I walked in his direction, his entire demeanor shifted. The smirk was gone, as was his drunken posture once he realized I was approaching him out of disgust rather than flattery.

“Never touch someone like that again,” I said.

He readily bore a shiny smile, apologized and replied, “Are we good? I’m sorry. I had way too much to drink tonight.”

Avery Ellfeldt ’19 (ellfel1@stolaf.edu) is from Denver, Colo. She majors in communications, cultural studies and Spanish.