by Leow Hui Min Annabeth, ’16, Sara Maurer, ’16, Diego Argueta, ’13, Arianna Wassmann, ’13, Monica Alcazar, ’13, + Teresa Caprioglio, ’14
Last month, The Stanford Daily published an article by executive editor Brendan O’Byrne, “Culture of silence surrounds sexual assault.” As victims, survivors, and allies, we find ourselves shocked, upset, and outraged at the article—at the methods used in contacting sources, at the framing of the story, and at the failure to substantially address real issues surrounding sexual violence on campus.
The writing of the article itself was founded on ethically dubious practices. One of the methods which O’Byrne used was to cold-email strangers whom he knew were possibly rape survivors, and to proceed without any warning to ask for their thoughts on the Alternative Review Process. While there may have been no malice in this act, there was certainly a lack of sensitivity which made him ill-suited to write on such a sensitive topic.
A trigger warning, while helpful to many victims and survivors, merely cautions readers that the following subject material can be psychologically distressing and triggering. It does not give the writer licence to proceed from that point onwards with needlessly, egregiously graphic and gory details. Yet that is precisely what happens in this article, which begins in medias res with a painfully and unnecessarily elaborate description of a rape. That description—especially a description framed by an outside party, rather than given first-hand—serves no purpose other than to shock and sensationalise an extremely personal experience of raw and humiliating vulnerability.
There are many issues pertinent to how campus services handle incidents of sexual assault. In fact, the article mentions some of them—problems with timely medical care, problems with pursuing criminal prosecution for sexual assault, problems with campus judicial procedures that require victims and survivors to repeatedly re-testify and relive the experience. Yet the writer never investigates further; nor does he visit other, related issues important to victims and survivors, such as mandatory reporting of an incident when a victim or survivor seeks help, or mandatory psychological evaluations—which can be, in themselves, traumatising experiences and not always be in victims’ and survivors’ best interests. The article is content to restrict itself to making a lurid spectacle of its subjects, without critically delving into its supposed theme, the Alternative Review Process and campus resources for sexual violence.
Neither does the writer address the ways in which rape culture is cemented by attitudes on campus. Rape culture is the International Student Orientation briefing where a police officer jokes that “consent means you should always get it in writing”—clearly assuming, firstly, that international students are incapable of understanding sexual consent, and secondly, that there are no survivors in the audience who would be triggered by this sudden and flippant reference to sexual violence. Rape culture is the laughter in MemAud during the rape scene in Real World: Stanford at New Student Orientation, which speaks to a refusal to acknowledge the commonness of sexual violence on college campuses. Rape culture is the casual reference to being “raped” by midterms (nowhere close) or “raping” the tests in return (underscoring the massive entitlement and toxic power dynamics implicit in the word). Rape culture is the unquestioning acceptance that of course, of course no girl should walk down the Row by herself at 1am on a Saturday night, and that going to SAE really is “sexual assault expected,” be more careful, what did you think it meant?
As the Daily’s headline suggests, Stanford culture has problems with the topic of sexual violence. There is little real advocacy for victims and survivors—awareness of the incidence of sexual violence is one thing, but there should also be education about campus resources and their potential for reform. We are not having the conversations we should be having, in our living and learning environments, on how the behaviour of members of the Stanford community enables and contributes to sexual violence. And articles like this one from the Daily do nothing to help the cause or create much-needed safe spaces.
The authors are residents in Casa Zapata, a Stanford residence with a focus on Chican@/Latin@ cultures