Sexual Assault on Campus: What We Can Do

By Nicole Greene, Acting Director, Office on Women’s Health

*Originally published on the Women’s Health blog on September 27, 2017″

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Content Warning: Sexual Assault

One in five undergraduate women (PDF – 282 KB) are sexually assaulted during college. When I think about that number, I want to change it so everyone is safe. This National Campus Safety Awareness Month, I encourage you to support the theme “Take the First Step” and work to create a safe campus.

The Office on Women’s Health is committed to preventing sexual assault on college and university campuses. That’s why we launched the College Sexual Assault Policy and Prevention Initiative. This initiative provides technical assistance and support for implementing sexual assault policies and prevention strategies on college campuses.

At just a year into the initiative, we’re encouraged by the programs being implemented around the country. Schools are conducting bystander intervention trainings that are focused on fraternity and sorority advisors. Others are offering awareness and prevention video resources. Some have been conducting trainings on trauma-informed responses for their staff and incorporating messages about consent and bystander intervention into fall festivals.

I’m personally excited about these programs and prevention activities because they address this issue from multiple angles: awareness, prevention, intervention, and response. Demonstrating to students that their schools are aware of this issue and care enough to provide these activities and resources is a huge step in the right direction. So, what else can we do to help prevent sexual assault?

What Communities Can Do

Education about sexual assault and consent begins long before college, in the messages children receive from their parents and other adults. We can plant the seed of consent and respect in children from an early age with this simple lesson: People should not touch each other without asking first. As children grow, the messages grow with them. We also all have a role in modeling respectful and consensual interactions, both sexual and nonsexual. In addition, community members should pay attention to their local and state policies and legislation, and they should advocate for positive change in support of sexual violence prevention efforts and effective reporting and supportive services for survivors.

What Colleges Can Do

Administrators, faculty, staff, and coaches must work with students to implement comprehensive prevention programs. Schools should consider teaching consent and healthy relationship/communication skills throughout the academic year, institute stricter intolerance policies on assault, and make it clear that sexual assault has no place in higher education.

What Students Can Do

Students have a large role in preventing sexual assault of others, too. If they see someone at risk for assault, they can help prevent it by using the C.A.R.E. bystander intervention technique: Create a distraction, Ask the person directly, Refer to an authority like a resident assistant or security guard, and Enlist others’ help.

Every person on campus has a role to play in eradicating sexual assault from universities and colleges. When your sons and daughters go off to college, remind them what respecting themselves and others looks like. After that, it’s up to them to make the right choices and for the colleges to support them.

This National Campus Safety Awareness Month, I encourage students, administrators, faculty, and coaches to take the first steps together to prevent sexual assault. For more info on preventing sexual assault, visit Sexual Violence on Campus: Strategies for Prevention (PDF – 3.5 MB) and STOP SV (PDF – 2.85 MB).


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Nicole Greene serves as Deputy Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) and acts as the primary advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health — Women’s Health. A former Council for Excellence in Government Fellow and a graduate of the prestigious Leadership for a Democratic Society program through the Federal Executive Institute, Ms. Greene leads change management in the office. One of her first projects at OWH was to lead the restructuring of OWH, improving the efficiency and effectiveness by aligning the mission of the Office so it can better serve American women and girls. Read more here.

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Strengthening the Domestic Violence Field: Building the Evaluation Capacity of Community-Based Organizations

By: Dr. Rebecca Rodriguez, Martha Martinez-Hernandez, MPA, and Dr. Josie Serrata

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Domestic violence organizations are tasked with providing evidence to funders and other stakeholders that their programs have a positive impact on program participants. For some organizations, evaluation can seem like a daunting task, especially if they have limited internal capacity, or do not have experience conducting their own evaluations in a way that is palatable to external stakeholders.  This is the reality faced by many small community-based organizations (CBOs) working in the field of domestic violence across the United States, in particular for those working with communities that have been historically marginalized.

Responding to the need for CBOs to document their work—while understanding that perhaps not all of us have experience with evaluation—the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities (NLN), a project of Casa de Esperanza, set about making the evaluation process accessible and practitioner-friendly.  Led by their research and evaluation team, the NLN partnered with several Latina community-based organizations from across the country (La Paz, Trans Latina Coalition, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, Voces Latinas, Casa de Esperanza’s Amigos program) to develop the Building Evidence Evaluation Toolkit,  a free web-based tool for organizations that approach domestic violence prevention from a culturally specific framework and are seeking to demonstrate the importance of what they do.

Using the analogy of a receta, or recipe, the evaluation toolkit seeks to build and expand the capacity of organizations to conduct evaluations of their programs. The evaluation toolkit is divided into different sections according to the level of knowledge and expertise of the user. For example, there is a beginner’s section that introduces the basic ingredients or concepts of evaluation and provides worksheets to walk the user through the various components of evaluation, including creating logic models; thinking through how to organize, interpret and analyze data; and how to use the results. In addition, the Evaluation Toolkit has more in-depth guidance for users interested in using community evidence to document the culturally specific nature of their work. It includes a Community Centered Evidence Based Practice approach, which is an adapted Evidence Based Practice model for practitioners and evaluators who engage community members in their programming (Serrata et al., in press).

There is also a learning community for those interested in sharing resources and learning more about each other’s work. Our team continues to add new tools. We are in the process of developing measures that capture the added value of culturally specific Domestic Violence organizations.

Here are links to what we have included:

We hope that you will find the toolkit beneficial to your work, and we would love to hear your feedback.

Source: Serrata, J.V., Macias, R.L., Rosales, A., Hernandez-M, M., Rodriguez, R., & Perilla, J.L. (in press). Expanding Evidence-Based Practice Models for Domestic Violence Initiatives: A Community-Centered Approach. Psychology of Violence.


rebecca-casaRebecca Rodriguez, Ph.D. (email: rrodriguez@casadeesperanza.org) is a community psychologist and manager of research and evaluation at the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities. Rebecca’s research interests broadly focus on culturally specific and community-centered approaches to prevent family violence in Latino@ families. Her research has examined marital and dating violence by investigating family dynamics (e.g. gender roles, parenting), U.S. immigration policies, and by working directly with Latin@ youth witnesses and survivors of violence in conducting participatory action research on topics they find important to their communities.  Her evaluation work includes participatory and culturally responsive evaluation practices and developing the evaluation capacity of community based organizations.

martha-casaMartha Hernandez-Martinez, MPA (email: mhernandez@casadeesperanza.org) serves as the Research Associate for the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families & Communities. She is originally from Managua-Nicaragua, where she holds a License in Psychology from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua. Her work experience in Nicaragua included providing services to victims of natural disasters and domestic violence, and research on men’s sexual health. In addition, she designed, delivered, and evaluated gender based education programs targeting health workers. Martha moved to the U.S. in 2002, and worked as a community organizer in issues of affordable housing, immigration, and education. Martha also holds a Masters in Public Affairs from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Martha’s major interest and passion consist of issues related to the intersections of gender, social norms, intimate partner violence (IPV), healthy masculinities from a Global South perspective, and the impact of public policies on women’s lives (e.g., reproductive health, human rights, development policies).

josieserrata-10Josephine V. Serrata, Ph.D. (email: jserrata@casadeesperanza.org) is a clinical community psychologist and director of research and evaluation at the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families & Communities, a project of Casa de Esperanza. Her research and evaluation work are embedded in practices that are culturally affirming and community driven. Her research includes studying the intersections of domestic violence with issues of oppression, privilege and strength in Latin@ families and communities. Her evaluation experiences have included evaluating community based prevention and engagement efforts, including a leadership intervention for immigrant Latina survivors of domestic violence. Her clinical work focuses on trauma informed, culturally relevant approaches.

 

When It Comes to Ending College Sexual Assault, We All Need to be Leaders

By Elizabeth Wilmerding, PIRCBlog guest

*Originally published on the FUTURES Without Violence Blog on April 14th, 2016*

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Last month, I had the opportunity to join the ten other FUTURES Campus Leaders for a meeting at the White House with members of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Launched in January 2014, the Task Force’s goal is to “help schools live up to their obligation to protect students from sexual violence.” As someone who has been working in the field of sexual violence prevention for the past seven years, and as a current master’s student in UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, it was an incredibly thrilling experience to meet with the federal officials charged with ending such violence once and for all.

While the members of the Task Force have great expertise and influence, I’ve learned that it takes leadership at every level to create sustainable change. As I sat in the meeting room in the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building, I was particularly impressed with the work each of my fellow Campus Leaders has been doing in their community. From awareness campaigns and peer education to campus policy advocacy and staff training, each leader offered a critical perspective into how to create safer campus communities.

The significance of leadership across all levels was highlighted for me when I returned to Berkeley in the days following the Task Force meeting. The university has been trying to address a recent flood of allegations that involve a lack of consistency when it comes to holding faculty and staff accountable when they harass or assault students and colleagues. While this is not a new issue for the school (in fact, the University of California formed its own system-wide task force in the summer of 2014 to address sexual assault on all of its ten campuses), students and community members have been speaking up more than ever before.

We are at a critical juncture when it comes to preventing sexual violence on college campuses. Those of us who have been on the ground doing the work have felt this movement building for some time. People who are new to the issue are often simultaneously shocked by the prevalence of sexual assault and eager to jump in and do their part to create change. And, all the while, more survivors are bravely contributing in any way they can―from taking care of themselves and getting support, to widely sharing their stories.

It’s time for us to acknowledge the power of leadership coming from every level. As exciting as it is to join other student leaders in meeting with the White House Task Force, it’s far from enough. We need everyone on campus—undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, administrators—and everyone who cares about the campus community—prospective college students, parents of students, alumnae, legislators—to stand together. Each and every member of a college campus community deserves safety and respect, and it’s on us to hold schools accountable until it happens.


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Elizabeth Wilmerding is currently a first-year master’s student in UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare and an intern at FUTURES Without Violence. She has a background in the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, and suicidality. Elizabeth lives in Oakland, CA.

A New Approach: Supporting Victims in the Justice System

Perhaps the criminal justice system is learning how to support victims of sexual assault and consequently becoming more effective in prosecuting rape cases.

By Amy Vorenberg

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The above Tweet came from the Metro Nashville Police Department just after a jury convicted a former Vanderbilt football player of raping an unconscious woman. Among the horrific details of the case—the perpetrators took a video of the assault.

When it comes to rape, the criminal justice system gets a bad rap, and deservedly so considering its past lack of effectiveness in prosecuting rape cases. Prosecutors have historically dropped or pled out cases, afraid of taking the ill-named “he said, she said” case to trial.

But maybe we are seeing a shift and the Metro Nashville PD tweet is just one example of it. The recent Stanford rape victim’s statement, which was read aloud by 18 members of Congress on the House floor, is another significant event signaling a possible shift.  Perhaps more victims are coming forward because the criminal justice system HAS improved its support for victims.

Recently I sat down with Lara Saffo, chief prosecutor of northern New Hampshire’s Grafton County. Her jurisdiction includes several colleges, including Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, the site of a recent high-profile sexual assault case. I asked Attorney Saffo about the efforts she and her fellow prosecutors make to support and protect rape victims as their cases make their way through the system.

Vorenberg: What steps does a prosecutor’s office like yours take that provide support to a victim before a case goes to trial?

Saffo: First, we have sexual assault resource teams (SART), including on the college campuses. These are teams of medical, law enforcement and victim advocate professionals who have been specially trained as rape first-responders. By working together, the SART teams develop and implement a victim-centered approach that, hopefully, will encourage more victims to come forward.

Vorenberg:  Do you also work with local crisis centers?

Saffo: Yes, we strongly recommend that all victims of sexual assaults seek services from their local crisis center.  Crisis program advocates, unlike first responders, can have protected, confidential conversations with victims.  Crisis centers make it possible for victims to speak freely, without the risk of unwanted exposure.

Vorenberg:  You also have victim advocates in your office. What is the difference?

Saffo:  We have victim-witness coordinators. The distinction between our victim-witness coordinators and a victim advocate at a crisis center is important. Although victim-witness coordinators absolutely provide support for victims, they are there to answer questions and explain the process. Our victim-witness coordinator’s communication with victims is not protected, whereas the communication between victims and crisis center advocates is considered confidential and protected by NH statute. One of the things that everybody has to remember is that victims may not process information instantly, so you often need to explain the process over and over again. Victims need to feel comfortable calling back and saying, “Wait a minute. What is the difference between bail and arraignment? Why is bail being set again?” They are usually new to this system, and it is more than a little confusing. The victim-witness coordinator is there to answer any questions or concerns the victim has about the legal process.

Vorenberg: The first time you meet with a victim are you actually introducing her to the victim-witness advocate?

Saffo: We are trying to do that; that is our protocol. Law enforcement calls us when a victim reaches out to them so we can initiate the relationship with the coordinator. We have an on-call county attorney, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so any officer, can call and say, “I have a sexual assault case, a victim will be coming in.” We can then reach out to our victim-witness coordinator to be on hand to meet with the survivor.

Vorenberg: After a case comes into a prosecutor’s office and a complaint or indictment is filed, both the defense attorney and the prosecutor make pre-trial motions, asking the judge to either limit or allow evidence that they think will help prove (or defend) the case. What motions do prosecutors make specifically to protect the victim?

Saffo: It’s pretty standard for the defense to ask the court to allow questions about the victim’s sexual history. State statutes do not allow such information because it’s not deemed to be relevant, and for good reason. We always object to these requests.

Vorenberg: What other types of motions do you make concerning the victim?

Saffo: In most adult sexual assault cases, there’s been an examination and the medical record contains a lot of information that needs to be protected. For example, medical providers will ask, “What medications are you on?” Medications like birth control or anti-depressants, or really almost any kind of medication, is just not relevant. There may be a little more of a fight over medications like anti-depressants but I generally feel that I can keep that information out of the record, although you can’t make any promises to the victim.

Vorenberg: What about counseling records?

Saffo: You want to protect the victim’s counseling records. However, sometimes counseling records may contain helpful information. They may contain proof of trauma that you want to tell the jury about. Often judges will do an in camera review, which means he or she will look at the records outside of the courtroom and decide which, if any, of the records are relevant.

Vorenberg: Before trial you make motions to keep out a victim’s private information. What about during the trial? Do you take steps to protect the victim’s privacy?

Saffo: We really are in a new era right now. We not only protect the victim in court, we also try to protect the victim in the media and no one really knows how to control that right now. We can ask the judge to limit live tweeting, and we can file motions to seal victims’ names. The judge may not grant these requests if the victim is an adult, although with the new reality of social media harassment of adult sexual assault victims, that request may be granted

Vorenberg: How about post-trial, whether there’s an acquittal or a conviction, is there anything you do on behalf of the victim?

Saffo: We make sure they have a support network and ensure that the victim-witness coordinator is available for them. However, we don’t want to presume that we are going to be the best support person for them, whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty, or in the case of a hung jury. So, it’s being there but not presuming that we are going to be the right resource.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

There was much more to talk about, but Attorney Saffo had a busy day ahead of her. The work she and so many others in law enforcement are doing to make the justice system more effective in rape cases was evident in our conversation.

This might be one reason why we are hearing powerful statements from victims who may feel the support of the system behind them. Recently, in a New Hampshire courtroom, a teen victim faced the man who admitted to kidnapping and sexually assaulting her over a period of nine months before she managed to escape. Her courageous statement included these words:

“I want you to know that I did not do this to you,” she said. “I didn’t put you in prison. You put yourself in prison.”


amy vAmy Vorenberg is a Research and Evaluation Consultant at Prevention Innovations Research Center, and the Director of the Legal Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire Law School. She began her legal career in New York as a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney. Later she worked as an Assistant Attorney General in New Hampshire. She moved to the NH Public Defender’s office in 1993 during which time she started the criminal clinic at the University of New Hampshire School of Law (then Franklin Pierce). She served for ten years on the New Hampshire Adult Parole Board. Amy started teaching Legal Analysis and Writing in 1998. She has also taught Criminal Law. Amy’s research and scholarship focus is legal writing, juvenile and criminal law. She is currently working on a three-volume legal writing practice-based textbook, “Preparing for Practice: Legal Analysis and Writing in Law School’s First Year” (working title). She has written editorials and spoken out on campus sexual assault.

Lara SaffoLara J. Saffo, JD is the County Attorney in Grafton County, New Hampshire.  She has prosecuted hundreds of cases involving all types of crimes, and has specialized in sexual assault and domestic violence cases, as well as alternative sentencing solutions, such as drug court, mental health court, veteran’s courts and juvenile diversion/restorative justice. She graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Law in Nashville Tennessee in 1992.  She began her career as a prosecutor in 1993, as an Assistant County Attorney and district court prosecutor.  Attorney Saffo then became an associate, civil attorney at Van Dorn & Curtis, PLLC in Orford New Hampshire.  She returned to prosecution in 2004.  From that time, until she became county attorney in 2009, she was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) prosecutor at the Office of the Grafton County Attorney. She currently serves as an advisory board member for the Grafton and Sullivan County Child Advocacy Center at DHMC, involved in initiates to expand Sexual Assault Resource Teams in Grafton County, the prosecution representative on the state-wide committee for Justice Involved Veterans, a member of the protocol review committees for the Adult Sexual Assault Protocols and Human Trafficking Protocols, a member of the NH Attorney General’s Commission to Combat Human Trafficking and an adjunct professor at Plymouth State University and White Mountain Community College.

Gender Essentialism, Engaging Men in Sexual Assault Awareness, & Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®

By LB Klein, Jen Przewoznik & Jeff Segal

*This post first appeared on Stop Street Harassment.*

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Every April, men all over the country stumble through public parks in high heels to raise awareness for the gender-based violence movement for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has been a staple of SAAM programming since 2001, and has been praised for engaging tens of thousands of men in conversations on gender, power, and sexual assault in an accessible and fun way. Men have embraced Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®—it’s very often the SAAM event with the most men in attendance, and its popularity has raised necessary funds for rape crisis centers and other national and international anti-violence organizations. However, many activists and organizers have begun to voice serious concerns over the popular event.

It is vital that we consider not only the intent but the impact of our sexual assault awareness events. In Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®, men step into high heels to show their solidarity with women. Wearing high heels is therefore equated with being a woman. But while some women wear high heels, many do not. Furthermore, women are often targeted specifically because they express themselves outside of the normative societal expectations of their gender. By equating high heels and women, we remove gender non-conforming women from our conversations about sexual violence entirely, and reinforce the common myth that people presenting in ways considered masculine are not vulnerable to violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® positions women as victims and men as perpetrators, but there are survivors of all gender identities, including men.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® also creates spaces where transgender people are marginalized. National transgender rights organization Forge (http://forge-forward.org/2013/04/walk-a-mile/) says participants in the walk should consider “whether they are re-victimizing more than a third of all victims by ignoring their very existence.” According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf), 64% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Transgender women are often incorrectly and offensively described as “men wearing women’s clothing,” a description that is often used to justify violence against them. Transgender women, particularly those of color, are at disproportionate risk of experiencing not only sexual and intimate partner violence but also street harassment, police brutality, homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, and murder. It is vital for people working to end gender-based violence to closely ally with transgender and non-binary people instead of holding events that exclude and further marginalize them.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® has raised attention, awareness, and funds, but at what expense? We cannot afford to raise awareness by perpetuating an essentialist view of what people should wear or how they should look and act. The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® narrative is accessible because it is reductive, and oversimplification in our work is dangerous. Of course, communities should still hold events to raise awareness, but we must be intentional about changing the norms that perpetuate violence instead of reinforcing them. Events that re-victimize, erase, or marginalize survivors do not have a place in our field.

So, what can we do instead to engage men during SAAM? We can hold events that encourage folks of all genders to work together. We can bring smaller groups of men together for meaningful conversation, or mobilize larger groups for fundraisers not built around reinforcing harmful gender norms. Perhaps, as Forge (http://forge-forward.org/2013/04/walk-a-mile/) suggests, we should hold events that encourage everyone to break stereotypes about gender and discuss how harmful gender norms perpetuate violence. Then, we will be raising awareness of the true message of the movement to end sexual assault: that to end sexual assault, we must change culture.


LB_Klein

LB Klein, MSW has dedicated her professional and academic life to ending gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and advancing social justice. She is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this August.

 

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Jen Przewoznik, MSW has over 15 years of experience working with/in women’s and LGBTQ communities as an educator, trainer, technical assistance provider, practitioner, and program evaluator. She is founder of the Queer Research Consulting Collaborative, a project designed to consult with researchers studying LGBTQ issues. Jen is currently the Director of Prevention & Evaluation at the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault and co-chairs the NC Sexual Violence Prevention Team and the NC Campus Consortium.

JeffSegalJeff Segal, BS resides in NYC, where he works in the tech sector and moonlights as a professional dancer. He has been a part of the movement to end sexual violence for ten years. Jeff has four years of experience as a sexual violence crisis counselor, and currently is leading initiatives to make social dancing in New York a safer space.

 

Society’s Survival Guide to Not Getting Assaulted

Why I shouldn’t have to be startled by my own shadow…

By Emily Hammerman, B.A.

*Originally published on the Catharsis Productions Blog on April 21st, 2016*

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It is 8pm on a Wednesday. Location: CTA Tunnel.

I’m wearing black leggings and a long jacket. One of my headphones blasts an old Blink-182 anthem in my ear and the other hangs down my chest getting lost in the frill of my scarf. I reach a hand up to fish it out and twirl it around my un-manicured finger while my other hand clings tightly to the set of keys in my pocket. I survey my fellow commuters and check the train tracker app on my phone. Due.

My train arrives, flying fast and past me until it comes to a stop, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Not because it finally arrived, but because no one pushed me in front of it.

I would not categorize myself as paranoid. Sure, I participate in the occasional glance behind my back, the quick hand to my purse to ensure my wallet is still there, and every so often I jump at the sight of my shadow. But paranoia? Not a condition I suffer from. Something I do suffer from, however, is the backlash of being a woman in a culture obsessed with fearing assault.

Let me break it down. I don’t expect anyone to push me in front of the Red Line train to Howard. In fact, I truly believe that most people have genuine natures, kind hearts, and good intentions. Why would someone want to hurt me?

But it’s not about whether or not I believe someone will hurt me. In fact, according to our society, it’s not even about that “someone” at all. It’s about how I am considered solely responsible for how other people decide to treat me. It’s about it being my fault for putting myself in dangerous situations that welcome others to attack me. It’s about how instead of teaching human beings to not inflict harm on one another, the world has spent its entire career training me to avoid becoming the victim of assault.

Backwards, much?

Let’s rewind.

Around 7:41pm I prepared to leave my apartment to go to dance rehearsal. I threw on a pair of black leggings and a t-shirt and reapplied a natural shade of pink lipstick. Random choices? Quite the contrary. The lighter lipstick draws less attention than the edgy deep burgundy I’d really prefer to wear and the black leggings slim my plump rump down to an appropriate size for the public eye.

If the black color wasn’t enough to hide the invitation to attack me otherwise known as my behind, I made sure to slip on my sweater jacket that falls just above the knee. Conservatively dressed women don’t get raped, says society. I winked at myself in the hall mirror, thankful for the tip.

On went my handy dandy running shoes. Not only would they be helpful should I need to run for my life, but they allow me to walk at the quick pace I need to maintain in order to appear that I am confident about where I am going, and walking with a Don’t-Mess-With-Me purpose. Sometimes I add in a stank-face just for fun. It’s important to repel anyone who crosses my path.

Next, I pulled the strap of my purse over my head so that it stretched across my torso, the bag resting against my hip. I did this because it makes it much more difficult for someone to strip it away from me, as opposed to the easy access style of simply stringing it over my shoulder. That’s amateur stuff right there. A woman should know better than that.

After I triple checked that my purse was fully zipped and that I had everything I needed, I prepared to take the leap that would force me into the unknown: a misty, dark metropolis where all is silent but the squeak of a rat and my lone hollow footsteps. The streets are barren, a post-apocalyptic concrete jungle where the only witnesses to my probable attack are the faceless mannequins who hover over the sidewalks through glass. It is a perilous place, this unknown. One where the key I use to enter my home is now the key I use to shank my rapist. One where every man becomes the villain, and every look misinterpreted, judgements and unprovoked fears clouding my grasp on reality.

I mustered the courage to embark through this unknown and opened my apartment door. The journey was treacherous and full of terrors, but I luckily made it to the Red Line tunnel where I waited and eventually successfully boarded the train.

No one pushed me in front of it.

Society would call this a miracle; a job well done on taking the necessary precautions to protect myself from all the forces of evil this world has to offer. But let’s play out a different scenario. What if I had gotten pushed by evil?

Would the headline read “Young Woman Gets Pushed Onto Tracks” or “Girl Falls, Too Close to the Edge”?

On the train, my stop approaches, and I stand to walk towards the door. The eyes of a man who was sitting across from me follow my strides and I realize that my jacket hiked up to reveal my leggings from the butt down.

Gasp.

I quickly pull down my jacket. The man stares. As soon as the doors part ways I’m off the train and hurrying to the exit, my running shoes thankfully serving their function. This was a close call, society has taught me. I survived tonight, but maybe the next time I leave my apartment, I should consider wearing a different pair of pants.

You know, pants that would prevent me from being assaulted.


Emily Catharsis

Emily Hammerman, B.A., is a proud graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Cinema Art + Science and a double minor in Dance and Fiction Writing. She works as a Marketing Intern for Catharsis Productions, a position that allows her to explore the intricacies of human behavior and relationships and create meaningful work to share with the community. An artist passionate about story, Emily finds inspiration in a variety of creative disciplines and draws from each to construct engaging characters, compelling relationships, and authentic narratives. As she continues to grow professionally, she hopes to educate and inspire audiences while further developing a unique voice and style!